Poet-Publishers [a small press symposium] was held in Buffalo at the State Univ. of New York, and at the Karpeles Manuscript Library, April 19 and 20, 2009. And a fine time was had by all, actually an exciting, dynamic, sharing, questioning, rollicking time. Heady days, as Brenda Iijima and I have said to each other.
Brenda and I arrived by plane from New York City about 11:30am on April 19, and some 40 minutes later we boarded the shuttle for our hotel, ready to see people, meet people, get this symposium rolling. The rest of the next two days more than satisfied whatever we were seeking. We walked from hotel to Betty's for a good Sunday brunch, and Brenda hit the Rust Belt bookstore, where an arts reception was happening, while I retired to my room for a bit of a respite before the evening.
First up was a dinner at the home of Jim and Lauren Maynard. More of party than dinner, but with good food and drink, and a houseful of people. Lots of conversations about presses, poets, eco-issues with regard to both and more, renewing hellos with old friends and meeting new, such as, for me, Jim Maynard, Gregg Bigglieri, and Margaret Konkol. Mike Kelleher took us to the party. No one really wanted to leave the party, so we all arrived at the first conference event, a poetry reading by Richard Owens, Anna Moschovakis, Jay MillAr, and Kyle Schlesinger, at the Karpeles Library, a former church now displaying important manuscripts, with a quite ample room for readings. I think Myung Mi Kim, Steve McCaffery, Karen Mac Cormack, and others there were glad to see us finally arrive. A very good feeling about the night, despite the location's cool temperature.
I am trying to remember all the introducers of poets. I think that Andrew Rippeon introduced Richard Owens, and that Rich sat down but had to get up again to introduce Kyle Schlesinger, and that Sean Reynolds introduced Anna Moschovakis; and now I have just been reminded that Steven Zultanski introduced Jay MillAr. While I remember faces of everyone, I can't quite put names to all of those faces. I needed another day, another round of talks. Introductions at SUNY Buffalo Poetics program are important, too — they are thoughtful, intelligent, quite studied, often humorous, and definitely a part of the show in a way that seems altogether appropriate. They help transform the event from "reading/performance" into sharing, even community building. Bravo to all those Buffalo organizers & introducers! If anyone can fill in my blanks as to names of introducers, I'll be happy to edit this post to make it more complete (I have already done so a couple of times). Or, if people can correct my misspellings of names or other such annoying mistakes, please do.
I'm not going to try to summarize or critique the actual readings. Uniformly very good, but certainly not uniform. Some quiet and compelling, some more performative and rousing. Definitely "inhabited," i.e. everyone who read on Sunday night (and later, on Monday night) were there, into the poems, not blankly reading text, but wearing the work, moving it from inside out. After the reading, the conversations moved to a bar in Buffalo but lasted not too long — I think we were all to our respective homes and hotels by 12:30am or so.
The following morning, breakfast at the hotel (not as good at Betty's, but OK for a holiday inn), then we woke Kyle Schlesinger (our guide and ride) whose alarm clock had failed, just in time to be only a few minutes late for the 10am opening talk. There was a little time to sample the coffee, rolls, juices, and other fare the library provided — the daytime activities were at the SUNY Buffalo Poetry Room, that fantastic rare book and manuscriptive/archive collection managed exceedingly well by Michael Basinski with the help of Jim Maynard and staff.
I gave the first keynote address to the audience of faculty, community members, and students -- a good-sized and quite active audience full of energy, curiosity, questions. My talk was titled "Between Poetics, the Poetics of Between, Pressing Between," and had to do with the meaning of text and "context" created by the book, but also with my own entry and work in the field of books and poetry, and what led me there, and perhaps where it's going. I posited several "betweens" that characterize the work of poet/bookmaker as well as my own experiences, such as "between 'not the book' and 'the book'," "between the pages," "between the letters," and a few more, each section being a sort of mini-essay, all adding up to something like a lifetime in books and also positing some ideas and problematics of the poetry book, the visual book, etc. Sometime soon, that talk will be available at the Pennsound web site in audio form, from a version I gave of it a couple of days earlier for the "Threads" series at Granary Books in New York City — I'll try to remember to post the link to this blog when it happens.
There were a few questions, more than enough to fill up the 15 minutes or so allotted for them. Geoffrey Gatza (BlazeVox) had particularly good questions about the work of books and community, which is both a practical question having to do with distribution, and a theoretical question as well. Others asked about specific bookmaking issues as well as relationships with poets, and my work as a poet.
After which, a brief break, then a roundtable talk, with Buffalo poet-publishers taking seats in front of the audience. These included Joel Brenden (Enthusiast), Robert Dewhurst (Satellite Television), Geoffrey Gatza (BlazeVOX), David Hadbawnik (Kadar Koli / Habenicht Press), Margaret Konkol (Small Press in the Archive Series), Aaron Lowinger (House Press / Just Bufalo Small Press Reading series), Edric Mesmer (Yellow Edenwald Field), Douglas Manson (Little Scratch Pad), Richard Owens (Damn the Caesars / Punch Press), Andrew Rippeon (P-Queue / Queue Editions), Jessica Smith (Foursquare / Outside Voices), and Andrea Strudensky (Broke). At first, a breath at the beginning, and I wondered what this would be like — I mean, that's a big roundtable, and I wondered if everyone would have time to talk, whether there would be time for interaction. But quickly, as people simply stated what they do, it became a dialogue, with those people and with the audience, and a really comfortable sharing. This was when I really had the sense of, "Hey, we are all colleagues here, AND we really like each other, AND this gathering is a much-needed interaction, whereby we learn more about each other, about this work, and all get things we need to move on." Those things we need included practical issues as well as talk about eco-concerns and their place in poetry and publishing, and gender concerns (thank you Jessica for bringing this up), and a lot more. If I have any negative criticism of this entire conference, it is that it couldn't go on for about two more days. This session could have gone on for two or three more hours, I'm certain.
Lunch was down at the deli on the lower level of the library complex. Another chance to sit at a table with a few and talk at a different level. Mine was shared with Anna, Kyle, and Mike. But quick, then back upstairs.
Michael Basinski gave the second keynote address, titled "Exploration and Acquisition: Collecting All of Small Press Poetry." The emphasis here was on the ALL, and Mike alerted us to various enclaves of poets, fields of the work not all of us knew about, but how they connected with other niches, some more famous, how it all became a field, and all was critical to collect. And while that title may not show it, the talk was lively, a terrific performance by a poet and librarian/archivist. Basinski is a treasure those in Buffalo know well; yet he is a treasure for everyone of us in this field of poetry and its publications. He was inspiring. I hope it will be available in some form for others to read and/or hear. Mike, if you're reading this, I hope you alert us to where and how we might access your talk. And I thank you deeply for it.
The final panel was titled "Rethinking Poesis — Making / Remarking / Responding," and it was moderated by Steve McCaffery, a self-described "immoderate moderator." It included 15 or 20-minute presentations by Brenda Iijima (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs), Jay MillAr (Bookthug), Anna Moschovakis (Ugly Duckling Presse), and Kyle Schlesinger (Cuneiform Press). Brenda's talk, "Five Micro-Ecologies —A Presentation of 5 Portable-Press at Yo-Yo Labs Chapbooks," focused on five portable press titles as ecosystems, and the way into the books was through the covers, the art work on the covers as actions/interventions/collaborations with respective texts. This highlighted ways in which the poet/publisher is sometimes also artist/publisher, and thinks deeply and creatively about the physical and textual book. The Portable Press books were projected large on the screen behind Brenda, and we were all illuminated.
Jay got up and asked, "what do you want to know," and proceeded to interact with the audience, informing us in useful and hilarious ways about book publishing, distribution, the communities of which we are a part, and more. All in a quite laconic way, recognizing that, while we all think the work IS terribly important, it's also just "what we do." And it exists with us amid our lives, active in so many ways.
Anna presented "the temptations of anti-sustainability, or wherefore survival?" which explored how a press might work, how it is constantly at risk, the numerous people who help in the case of Ugly Duckling, as they "shepherd" or "midwife" books into being. Ugly Duckling emerged not only as the collective of many that it is, but also as a concerted effort to enter literary and book arts culture on a multiply charted and multiply effective path, all the while putting it together as it goes, flying on, and maybe even sometimes being seen as a swan. Anna's talk was elegant and improvisational, moving.
Kyle Schlesinger may be the dean of this conference, that is, he has been proving himself not only as a brilliant publisher, but as one of the great documenters of poet-presses, poet-bookmakers, and poet-publishers. His talk, "Ragged Edges," was further evidence of the ragged existence we have, if I may use my own term, "between" the many things we do, "between" the many communities we inhabit.
My summaries here are both extremely minimal/partial, and possibly not all that well-remembered, i.e. I remember moments more than wholes, impact sometimes more than detail. So please, once again, if there are others reading this, who were present, and who would like to say more about these talks, and the questions/answers following them, please do. And if Brenda, Jay, Anna, Kyle, Steve, Rich, Andrew, and all the other participants could add to this, please do!
The final event was the Monday night reading, back at the Karpeles Manuscript Library. Andrew Rippeon read, introduced by Rich Owens; Michael Basinski read, introduced by Jim Maynard; Brenda Iijima read, introduced by Robbie Dewhurst; and I read, introduced by Andrew Rippeon. Again, ALL introductions were magnificent. There was a nod toward an event that was "all introductions" for several hours. I think ordinarily I'd flee from such an event, but being around these people, at this conference, I know I'd listen and enjoy an event like that put on by these folks.
All of the readings were terrific, too, and by now we really were, at least for this short time, a community. I know when I read, to close the entire proceedings, I felt like I was among my people, and it was one of the most pleasant and involved readings (not just me feeling involved, but feeling others were involved with me) I have ever given.
Bravo to Andrew Rippeon and Rich Owens for organizing such a terrific event. May it be inspiring to all the poet-publisher-bookmakers there, and to those in the audience active in various ways. May it continue to live! And bravo to Myung Mi Kim for her stewardship of the Poetics Program as it presents such events as well as carries out its work in education and poetics! And bravo to Steve McCaffery for being a presence behind (and sometimes in) this particular event, doing so with immaculate humor and grace. Chax Press and I were very glad to be a part of the symposium.