I fully intended to write separate blog posts for stops 7 and 8 on the book tour, and really, both deserve more than one blog post each. I suppose it speaks to the excitement to the Gathering of Poets in Winston-Salem yesterday that I didn’t have an ounce of energy left to spare for a blog after the day-long conference was done.
First of all, as a West-Coast person who’d never been to The South before and had a number of preconceived notions about what North Carolina might be like, I have to issue a blanket statement: I was wrong! I imagined, I’m sorry to say, a bleak landscape with shanty-like buildings along fast-food lined roads and people who might look at a liberal chick from the Pacific Northwest with suspicion. But North Carolina was truly gorgeous, and at every opportunity, people embraced me with such graciousness that I felt truly at home. The South has it going on, friends.
Speaking of immense graciousness, Kevin Watson, the editor of the impressive and ambitious Press 53, is officially the nicest man in publishing. Not only does he have a wonderful editorial eye, and not only has he published some of my favorite poetry and fiction collections of late, but he’s also genuinely interested in developing a vibrant literary landscape through positive, community-building approaches. The Gathering of Poets conference, where I was delighted to teach and read yesterday, is one such approach. The Gathering brings together serious poets from across the region for an intensive (and intense!) day of workshops, fabulous food, books, and a final faculty reading. I was pleaded and impressed by the quality and seriousness of the writers in my workshops on publishing in literary journals, and I hope I was able to provide those writers with the tools and inspiration to submit poems, to risk rejection, and to contribute to the literary ecosystem.
Personally, I was moved by two later-career poets I chatted with after the workshop–each had feared that she wouldn’t be taken seriously in the journal landscape, one because she was a lesbian writer, and the other because she had spent her career as a nurse, not as an academic. I was saddened to hear that they’d felt their words would not be heard in the literary world, and I hope I managed to convince them otherwise. I believe that there is room for everyone in poetry’s tent, and I have a feeling we may be reading some smart, well crafted poems from both of those writers in journals soon.
Wearing my “teacher hat” is often easier for me than wearing my “poet hat,” and I must admit that I still feel nervous before I give most readings. Yet the group at the conference was so warm and receptive that my nerves subsided quickly (though I was the first of the group of faculty readers, joined later by such talents as Alan Michael Parker, Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Shirlette Ammonds, Joseph Bathanti, and Fred Chappell) and I felt that my poems were really being heard by this group. That’s not always true of readings, and I left the event, and Winston Salem, with a full and appreciative heart, as well as with admiration for my fellow faculty members’ work.
I also left North Carolina a belly full of caffeine, because this morning, I headed off to Chicago at about 4:00 am. (Remember how I mentioned that Kevin is the nicest man in publishing? His beautiful wife is the nicest spouse in publishing–the two gave this itinerant writer a ride to the airport at 4:00 a.m. Amazing, right?)
Getting into Chicago involved two easy flights, then some interesting maneuvers on the ground; taking the airport shuttle downtown involved getting around a 40,000-person marathon. (At least, the shuttle driver referred to it as a marathon. Perhaps it was a race of another length, but it sure did appear to be 40,000-strong.) After trying in vain to get me to my hotel, my frazzled driver dropped me many blocks away and wished me well. When I came to the street on which my hotel stands, which also happened to be on the race route, I had to look for a break in bodies. The tides kept coming, and it was clear that the traffic cops weren’t about to let city pedestrians through. Eventually, I felt I’d better treat it as freeway merging: the only thing to do was to start running alongside, eventually merging. So I got up to a good trot, my pink polka-dot suitcase trailing behind me, and ran in the Chicago marathon until I could heave myself onto the other side of the street.
I should mention that I was winded. I should also mention that my friend, Ann, actually completed the full Paris Marathon today. I am duly put to shame.
After my short-lived marathon career, I had just enough time to spruce up before reading at Woman Made Gallery. I was privileged to be able to join a stellar lineup that Chicago’s own Nina Corwin put together. I was excited to read with poets whose work I knew–like Amy Newman and Rita Mae Reese–and left also in love with the work of Simone Muench, Xanath Caraza, and, especially, the phenomenal Marty McConnell (if, like me, you’d not been familiar with Marty’s poetry in the past, do yourself a favor and read her work immediately. You’ll thank me later.).
I’m not sure I’ve ever read in a venue as beautiful as Woman Made Gallery, which exhibits impressive new pieces by, you guessed it, women artists. I love to see women artists helping one another in their careers, and I especially love to see it done at the exquisite level at which the gallery is doing so.
As if this weekend could possibly be improved, my best friend and her new husband ventured up from Indiana to hear today’s reading. I never get tired of meeting new people on the road, but there is something priceless about the people you love coming out to support your work.
I leave Chicago bursting at my heart-seams.
Twin Cities, I’m coming for you next! Come see me and the brilliant Peter J. Gloviczki at Common Good Books in St. Paul this Thursday at 7pm!