The conference is really in full swing now, and when I get to the small auditorium where the readings are held, there are little clumps of people sitting together talking about their workshops and stuff. I sat with two local friends, one of whom is "doing" the conference (she's in Ruth Ellen Kocher's workshop). The energy from a gathering like this is contagious, and I found myself envying those who are doing the conference all week, & consoling myself with the thought that in less than 3 weeks I will be in Provincetown enjoying a workshop myself.
So, tonight's readers. First David Lazar read an essay called "The Melon Man" and I didn't take too many notes on that.
Then Martha Rhodes read poems from Mother Quiet, which I have not read but am going to have to buy now. She read them straight through with no introductions whatsoever -- in fact, she did not even read the titles, saying that she thinks of them as one book-length sequence and reading the titles would feel like putting on the gas, then letting up, then putting on the gas, etc. I thought it sounded a little odd at first, but once she started reading, I saw that it made perfect sense for these poems. She read very well, not at all monotonous but not shoving the poems at the audience, and some of those poems walloped me so hard they took my breath away. The book is about her mother's long illness and death; she didn't say it, but it sounded like Alzheimer's -- I remember one line to the effect of "her brain has withered to the size of a pea, and we are not in it" -- I'm pretty susceptible to poems like that right now, as my own mother's health has not been the best over the past year, and these just walloped me. (And consider that I hated Sharon Olds' book about her dad's death, because I just felt battered by it, almost abused by the relentless painful intensity. I would have expected to feel the same about these poems, but I didn't at all.) Usually during a reading I'll drift off for a poem or two, but these poems held me all the way through. Just, just, wow. I know Martha Rhodes teaches in Provincetown most summers, and maybe sometime soonish I'll take a workshop with her.
Finally Brian Leung read fiction. I'd forgotten that he got his MFA here at IU a few years back (I knew his name sounded awfully familiar for some reason) and he mentioned that in his intro. Anyhow, he was a tease. He talked about trying to decide what to read tonight, and read the first few paragraphs of one story, then said "But I realized this story was too long to read tonight, so I'm not going to read it." Then he read parts of several other stories (all from his book) and always broke off after a few paragraphs or a couple pages and said why he had decided not to read that one. He said he'd finally settled on a new story, and read that, but then he stopped in the middle and said we'd have to wonder about what happened until it gets published. Tease! To his credit, though, he didn't go overtime.
More tomorrow. Phew! I feel a bit like I'm on reading overload. Many years I don't go to the readings every night, because when I'm working all day it's just tiring, but I'm taking one for the team so I can tell you guys all about all of the readings. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it. ;)