Monday, March 28, 2011

The audience for my reading with Rae Armantrout on March 25. At the front table, L-R,
are Jeff Derksen, Steve McCaffery & Jed Rasula. At the table right behind them, also L-R,
are Chuck Korkegian, Antonio Rossini & Timothy Yu

TSA employee at the Detroit airport (viewing x-ray of a copy of The Alphabet in my luggage): I’m going to have to examine that big book in your suitcase.

Me: I wrote it myself.

TSA employee (looking at the book): Are you going to get it published?

The Alphabet Symposium at the University of Windsor was a blast. It was a great gift, and was remarkably upbeat from beginning to end. There is no way to register just how deeply indebted I feel to its participants, especially to Louis Cabri who had, he said, never attempted anything on this scale before, but made everything flow smoothly.

In addition to seeing old friends – some of whom, like Jed Rasula & Asa Watten, I had not seen in years – and making several new ones, perhaps the most profound value I got from the conference was an opportunity to see the project in the hands of others. That came about even more in the interchanges between different people than in the papers themselves.

Barrett Watten & Jed Rasula were well-paired as keynote speakers, showing how you could approach the project from two completely different directions. Some talks were extraordinary: Timothy Yu did a close-reading of racial references in “Albany,” picking up on the link between them & the strained relationship I always had with my grandfather, that had me close to tears for its accuracy. Several of the graduate students from Windsor who presented showed themselves to be at least equal with their more experienced peers, or perhaps they showed the value of rigorous preparation combined with approaches that were fresh precisely because they weren’t situated into already existing literary discourses. Braydon Beaulieu, Jasmine Elliott & Ashley Girty offered some of the weekend’s best work. Steve McCaffery led off a final open-to-all-parties roundtable discussion on whatever threads people wanted to follow that led to a discussion of whether we had finally arrived, with flarf & conceptual writing, at a post-Language moment.

And the readings – Jeff Derksen, Steve McCaffery, Rae Armantrout, Watten & Carla Harryman – were consistently solid. I got goose bumps when Carla chose to read “For She,” the prose poem that provoked me into writing “The New Sentence” over 30 years ago. And Barrett Watten appears to have a lot of new work.

I do believe that most if not all of the papers will appear in a future issue of Rampike, a journal that always seems too lively to really be connected to a university, but does in fact have some relationship to the U of Windsor.

The entire weekend had a this-can’t-be-happening feel to it. On the ride to the airport, the US border guard seemed dumbfounded when the retired police officer who was driving explained to him that in Canada retired cops don’t keep their service weapons, so that, no, he wasn’t packing heat. This delayed us only by about ten seconds. And the Detroit airport was so empty that even with that curious exchange with the TSA security screener I arrived at my gate so early that I realized an earlier flight to Philly was boarding just one gate over, and talked my way onto it without having to pay a change fee. Plus, on the ground in Philadelphia, I ran into Michael Hessel-Mial between flights on his way back to Atlanta, found my suitcase to be the second one popping out of the luggage holding system and was out of the Philadelphia airport even before I had been scheduled to take off.