Saturday, February 2, 2008


Oh, New York City. I love you, but how did I ever live here? This is a hard place to live. I mean literally hard--all brick, pavement, concrete, asphalt, stone--as well hard in all the ways you can tell just by looking. (Portland, on the other hand, is soft--sodden turf, dewy air, hoodie-swaddled.) I'm staying at my former home in Fort Greene. Turning onto my old street at 8:30 am yesterday and approaching the front steps, I felt overwhelmed for a moment. I had not been to this house since May 2004. The time shift made me feel like a deck of cards cut in half.

It's the dove-gray one there.

I am here for the AWP Conference: seven thousand writers + academics + aspiring-such, scampering around in the airless windowless carpeted habitrails of the midtown Hilton. There are panels and parties and a bookfair of mostly small presses, and all of these are lit with fluorescent lights.

Last night Cathy and I went to a party at the New York Times building. The prospect delighted me: my favorite newspaper, their fancy new modernist building, a benefit for some small presses. I had forgotten for a moment that this was a writing conference party. Of course it was in the basement and looked like this.

A vast red expanse of social awkwardness, slightly helped by pre-mixed bottled mojito. A tiny table bearing cheese cubes and grapes was pushed up against one wall, and the Postal Service was playing at elevator-levels in the background.

But look, we did see the prettiest Midtown moment I've seen in close to ever--the sun invented new windows on the buildings.

Today outside a realism vs. nonrealism panel, my treasured knit cap was thieved--the only Marc Jacobs item I have ever owned and probably ever will, and a sentimental favorite. My only consolation is that it was not my laptop. I will attempt to knit a replica. And my spirits were lifted considerably by the stellar and sadly underattended Akashic Books Fiction Bonanza (w/Amiri Baraka, T Cooper, and Marlon James); a cozy dinner and drinks with Cathy at Nancy's Whiskey Pub in Tribeca, which is battered and hobbitt-sized and feels like old old New York;

and finally some wild genius at the most entertaining and out-there poetry reading in town. Here I give a shoutout to Johannes and Joyelle and their incredible press Action Books. It is wild brainiac punk madness and funny as hell. If all poetry readings were like these readings, people would not loathe or mock poetry. There would be a scalpers' market.

This is Johannes Göransson reading from his new book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place (actually an Apostrophe Book.) He read one poem in Swedish that said fitta over and over and made me giggle.

Those cute ladies are my two favorite living poets: Cathy Park Hong, who is so on fire the alarm went off during her reading today (second time it's happened to her!), and Joyelle McSweeney, whose poem "Still Life With Influences" I letterpressed and to this day hangs above my writing desk, influencing me. The best part of Iowa was making friends like these.


Matthew said...

That's a great picture of CPH and Joyelle. Maybe someday I'll go to an AWP conference.

Anonymous said...

Woah, Cathy Park Hong is seriously hot.