Friday, June 27, 2008
DC at Orono
A group of DC poets (and DC expat poets) went up to Orono two weeks ago to participate in The National Poetry Foundation’s Conference on The Poetry of the 1970s, at the University of Maine. Tina Darragh, Lynne Dreyer, Peter Inman, Joan Retallack, Phyllis Rosenzweig and I constituted a panel to discuss Washington in the 1970s. The same group plus Diane Ward gave a reading. Kaplan Harris, Chris Nealon and Tom Orange presented papers. Rod Smith and Mel Nichols gave great support and read in one of the late night open readings. I was also glad to see Barry Alpert there. It was very gratifying to be there with everyone, and the whole conference was rewarding, inspiring, enlightening and fun. For me it was a completely new experience, since I’d never been to an academic conference before. Although I’ve taught at an art school for 40 years, I’m not an academic by training or inclination (not a pejorative statement). But this was just fantastic – a large gang of people all talking about and reading poetry. The one odd thing was how few women were involved. I’m not getting all PC here, it was just something you could not help noticing.
The conference schedule was intense. A typical day had five panels from 9:00 to 10:15 a.m. Then a single (plenary) panel from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p,m. Then five more panels at 2:30 p.m., and five more at 4:00 p.m. Following this, one (plenary) reading at 7:30 p.m. and another at 8:30 p.m. Then a group reading at 10:00 p.m. and open readings at 11:00 p.m. The fact that there were often five panels running simultaneously that you might want to attend was both frustrating and exciting. There are links to reports, photographs, and other material (including a link to ThoughtMesh where some of the papers presented at Orobo have been uploaded) at The National Poetry Foundation
I'm going to write about the DC panel and reading here and write about the conference in general elsewhere.
On Friday, June 13th at 1:00 p.m., there was the plenary panel: DC Poetry in the 1970s. Tom Orange introduced the panel. Joan Retallack presented a paper titled The New Spirit in Dog City, and remarks from the rest of the panel members followed, as well as questions and answers. Joan gave a really terrific account of the DC scene in the late 1970s, as expected, and ended with a powerpoint(?) display of pages from the two issues of Dog City magazine, which were published in 1977 and 1980 respectively. Peter and i had both prepared short statements and I had circulated mine to Joan and Tom and the rest of the panelists via email, but neither one of us read our statements. I felt totally anxious during the time before I was to have an opportunity to read, and I was particularly anxious about the possibility of my nervousnees being apparent to a room full of people that I so admired and respected, some of the best minds of my generation as it were (including the other panelists). Fortunately, I realized that I was feeling pressure to be something that I was not, and as soon as I decided to just be myself and to just talk, I was fine. I talked very well. We all did. The question and answer period was very lively. It was all very exhilarating. I loved it. And we finished on time, which was a serious rarity at the whole conference. My favorite moment came duringthe Q&A with a rhetorical question from Rod Smith. During my talk, I had mentioned that in DC during the Mass Transit days, the alternative poetry scene in DC was closely aligned with the counter-culture, at which point Peter interjected a remark (clearly humorous) that he had never used drugs during that time. Later, during the Q&A, Peter was engaged with Barrett Watten in a discussion of the apparently minimal interest shown in theory among the DC poets in the 1970s, at the end of which Rod asked Peter if he thought the fact that he had not taken drugs explained his lack of interest in theory back then.
I will compose an approximation (and slight extension) of what I said in my talk in a separate post.