Thursday, September 03, 2009

Poetry etc

Been very busy and exhausted but I wanted to say a few things I've been meaning to write.

A while back I talked about the "mediocre" selection criteria of the AWP. What I meant by that is that there is still this noxious notion of "the average person" that should for some reason be catered to (even though AWP in part creates this figure). This in turn does cut out a lot of interesting work, many titles of which have been mentioned on the Net. And that does include a lot of women panels.

I was on some panels that seemed very interesting to me and that were rejected and I'm on one panel - on US writers of non-US ethnic backgrounds or immigrant poets or something like that - that was accepted (and which is also interesting to me).

It is however curious to me that there are like three or four panels with immigrant poets but I can't find any panels on literatures of foreign countries. Which is what I think I'll end up talking about anyway because that I think explains quite a bit about where I'm coming from (and why I so frequently feel like I'm jamming my head into a brick wall).

In the most recent Fence there are good poems by Janaka Stucky, Sean Kilpatrick and others. And there is a great Bataillean essay by Joyelle and an interesting critique of "Fabulism" by Kate Bernheimer.

Somebody wondered what the Expressen interview with Aase Berg linked in a previous post said so I meant to quickly translate that but I don't think I have time, so I just hastily translated three paragraphs from it:

“I have one reader and he’s a UFO. That’s enough for me.” That’s what Aase Berg told me in the beginning of her career. She didn’t talk about he critics – they had reacted strongly, immediately and with varying views of her first book. Berg was identified as a kind of literary breaking point. Her poetry was respectless, ritual, rhythmic and linguistically violent.
After the third book, Forsla Fett, her statement had no mandate any longer. The book was widely admired and the wider readership discovered Aase Berg’s writings…

Anybody who knows anything about contemporary Swedish poetry knows that Aase Berg is one of the most important authors around. Her books are analyzed at universities, discussed at writing programs; people read her literary criticism on the cultural pages of the daily papers and cultural journals, and hear them on the radio’s cultural programming. But even though she is so widely read and respected, she has trouble seeing herself as any kind of role model for other poets.

“But I notice that what I write receives a certain response and I can see how various writers have been inspired by my books. It’s not that I recognize the way I write in other people’s poetry, they don’t copy me. It’s rather an attitude,” says Berg.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Johannes, I really don’t see how “the average person” is catered to at AWP. I mean were talking about a bunch of writers and academics, right? These people, though I love them dearly, are hardly a good representation of average. Yes, some interesting work always falls on the cutting-room floor, but didn’t they say they received more panels than ever this year. I mean it’s probably impossible for them to accept everything. And it’s probably impossible for them to accept everything they want to accept. When I work on journals I have moments where I feel terrible about things I wanted to take and don't have the space for.

And I have to say, I see very little difference between panels with immigrant poets and panels on literatures of foreign counties; though I do like the idea of targeting specific foreign literatures outside of immigrant issues. Not that immigrant issues aren’t interesting too. Since this is a conference that takes place in the US, and is made up of mostly of Americans, I would be willing to bet panels like the one you’re talking about doesn’t get proposed all that often . . . except, in different ways don’t the panels below do that?

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Latin American Poets in the USA

Description: This bilingual poetry reading (Spanish and English) aims to present six outstanding Latin American poets in mid-career. It is a very representative selection, with authors coming from strong poetic traditions all over the continent, namely Argentina (Zemborain), Cuba (Rodriguez Nuñez), Peru (Chirinos and myself), Puerto Rico (Valle), and Uruguay (Espina). All these authors are long-time residents in the US and their poetry collections have been either partially -or fully- translated into English.
Participants: Lila Zemborain, Mariela Dreyfus, Eduardo Chirinos, Víctor Rodríguez-Núñez, Carmen Valle, Eduardo Espina

Africans Writing American

Description: African writing in the United States has been in the news in recent times. Such books as Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie and Graceland by Chris Abani have found a large audience here. African writers have recently won such awards as the MacArthur ‘genius’ Grant, the Guggenheim and the Orange Prize. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart remains an all time staple on college reading lists. A few people have posited that African writing is experiencing a Rennaissance akin to what Indian literature experienced in the 80's and 90's. How true is this? This event will feature readings by African writers who you probably have not heard of, but who you'll hear of pretty soon.
Participants: E.C. Osondu, Akin Adesokan, Chielozona Eze, Victor Ehikhamenor, Maik Nwosu

Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America

Description: Where is the best short-short fiction in the world being written? Authors whose work appears in a new anthology from W.W. Norton, Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America, read their work and debate questions about short-short fiction and the influences between Latin American and U.S. writing. Lisa Alvarez, Stephen Gutierrez, Daniel Olivas (moderator), Pedro Ponce, Alicita Rodriguez, and Edmundo Paz Soldán.
Participants: Daniel Olivas, Lisa Alvarez, Stephen D. Gutierrez, Pedro Ponce, Alicita Rodríguez, Edmundo Paz Soldán

Writing South Asia – Issues of Representation and Identity

Description: South Asian writers have taken the Western literary world by storm in recent times. But this recent popularity gives rise to new challenges. How do you represent contemporary South Asia in authentic, original ways and stay commercially viable? How do you write for a Western and a regional audience at the same time? How do you balance the political and aesthetic? Come hear writers of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and Indian origin read and discuss their fiction.
Participants: Samrat Upadhyay, Rishi Reddi, Ru Freeman, Anis Shivani, Gemini Wahhaj, Oindrila Mukherjee

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shift the Ground Under Your Feet: Studying Writing Abroad

Description: Programs to study writing abroad offer opportunities to meet with local writers, explore other literary traditions, and experience previously unfamiliar cultures. Taken out of the familiar linguistics of our home territory, all our senses are sharpened. From learning literary translation, to finding a new voice as a writer, new job opportunities, and new depths in their own lives to plumb, these writers will share how their study abroad, in programs from Thailand to Ireland, Slovenia to Spain, have left them profoundly changed.
Participants: Kelly Lenox, Katherine Durham Oldmixon, Rebecca Hoogs, Soham Patel, Cody Walker, Tim Kercher

Siren Songs From Across the Seas: Women Poets in Translation

Description: Extraordinary women poets from around the world have recently been given voice by a number of American poets and translators. This panel will feature readings of the work of Luljeta Lleshanau(Albanian ) by Henry Israeli, Coral Bracho (Mexican) by Forrest Gander, Inger Christensen (Denmark) by Susanna Nied, Ayane Kawata (Japan_ by Sawako Nakayasu, and Reina María Rodríguez(Cuba) by Kristin Dykstra, followed by a discussion about capturing the poets’ distinct voices in American-English.
Participants: Henry Israeli, Forrest Gander, Susanna Nied, Sawako Nakayasu, Kristin Dykstra

Translations of Spanish-Language Poetry from the Caribbean

Description: We will present translations of contemporary Spanish-language poetry from the Caribbean region. In addition to reading work from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, presenters will discuss cultural and historical contexts that are significant for understanding the poems and may, in some cases, influence decisions made by the translator.
Participants: Kristin Dykstra, Urayoán Noel, Juan Manuel Sánchez, Mónica de la Torre, Daniel Borzutzky

p.s. I love Fence. Field, another great literary magazine that begins with F, also put out a great last issue.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

I'm another reader who sometimes falls off Fence into Field.

7:16 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Yes, my point is that the notion of the "average person" is a totally mistaken criteria for admitting panels. That this in fact hides a number of criteria that I think should/could be analyzed (clearly I am pretty uninterested in such an activity, since my statements are pretty vague).

I wrote the first entry in response to a lot of posts I saw on the Internet in which people argued that the AWP was anti-women. I would say it's opposed to a certain kind of woman panel, but not just down the line anti-woman. And that this anti-woman was part of this false notion of an "average AWP goer."

I find your argument perplexing. Are you saying that there is NO CRITERIA? Or that there is such an objective criteria for evalluating? That seems strange to me.

There is a huge difference between immigrant panels and foreign literatures. Two different but related groups of writers.

It's also worth asking: Why should it be that it's so strange for americans to be interested in foreign literature panels?

What argument are you making?

It should of course be noted that a certain kind of prize, a certain kind of reputation etc, always helps.


7:22 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I think there should be a "UN Panel," where poets from every nation simultaneously discuss/argue about poetry, yelling over each other in their native tongues. The audience will be wearing headphones sending them comprehensive interpretations, as well as unreliable babble.

Johannes: What is your damage here? It's an American writing conference, catering to members American writing programs. I'm not sure why it has to play the role of international literature conference, just because it happens to be the biggest writing-related event. I think that your reformist attitude is wrongheaded. Just like MFA programs are never going to be anything more than degree mills that feed cushy salaries for established poets, the AWP conference is never going to be anything more than a glorified industry event.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I'm not arguing the AWP should be this or that, I'm trying to analyze a certain criteria of its selection process. THis in response to much criticism on the Net and suggestions of sexism etc.

The international thing is just one instance that seems paradoxical to me. Though it's of course even more maddening at academic modernist conferences which are just as provincial.

And on the whole, I'm not all that invested in changing the AWP. It does seem like a pretty hopeless project. I go there because I meet up with a lot of people I like and I go to readings by poets I like. And hopefully poets I don't yet know.

As for MFA programs, I obviously don't think they should be mills, but yes it's hard to change such paradigms.


6:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Johannes. I really don’t understand why people are complaining about this. The committee that makes the decisions on the panels is posted on the AWP website, as is their criteria for the selection process. It doesn’t seem like they’re not trying to be transparent about their process or cater to an “average” type of attendee. And if the process was detailed at the time the proposals were made, I think it’s really petulant to complain about it after the fact.

You say there has been “much criticism on the Net” but how many people are we really talking about here. It’s obvious to say that the number of people accepted far outweighs the number of complains on the net. Comparatively, the number of complains is probably negligible. And this is an interesting comparison, because of how many different kinds of people, people of all different genders, sexualities, nationalities, sexualities, and religions, are going to be presenting at the conference this year. I mean the AWP conference hardly seems like they’re trying to be exclusive, keep anyone from attending, or keep any ideologies from being represented. Just look at the number of women presenting this year, look at the number of panels on women’s issues.

And what is the kind of women’s panel AWP is opposed to? You really want to make this assumption off of the hoopla over the one Cate Marvin panel that was rejected? I bet you a week’s salary the kind of women’s panel you are referring to is either at the conference this year or last year. I don’t be mean this pejoratively, because I really enjoy going to AWP, but there is very little at the conference that ever seems wholly new to me. Any argument stating AWP is anti-women seems circumstantial at best, and idiotic at worst. The chair of their committee deciding the panels is actually a woman.

People want to present on issues that are important to them which is understandable, but that in and of itself doesn’t make their take on those issues relevant. People are always going to disagree on the best way to present on anything, but what makes any of the complainers opinion on this more relevant than the people picking the panels. From what I can see of their tentative schedule it does seem like they did a good job of opening up the conference to as many different kinds of people as possible. Simply put, the argument that I’m making is how the complaints you’ve been seeing are, with very few exceptions, without any merit.

And yes, reputations always help, but isn’t that the way this kinds of things always work. I would say though that it’s not a “certain kind” of reputation because the presenters, even the famous people, have all different kinds of reputations and backgrounds.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between immigrant panels and panels on foreign literature would depend. Several of the panels I’ve ever attended in relation to immigrant issues always have some foreigners on them who at some time or another talk about literature from their homeland. Many immigrants would consider themselves foreigners wouldn’t they? So what immigrants have written, both before they left their homeland and in some ways after they get wherever they’re going, is considered a foreign literature. Or do you think the moment they immigrate they’re incapable of writing foreign literature anymore? Did Broadsky and Milosz stop writing as a foreigner when the immigrated? When Rilke was living in Paris or Italy was he not writing literatures that were foreign?

That being said, I don’t think it should be strange for Americans to be interested in foreign literature panels. But do we have any idea how many panels are proposed like the ones you’re interested in seeing? I find many American writers and academics to be self-important and not particularly thoughtful which I’m sure not only has to do with their disinterest in foreign literatures but also has something to do with the complaints about panels being rejected. However, I also do have many American friends who are interested in foreign literatures so who can really say.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


I wonder if you're at all reading my replies to you.

1. I'm not saying the AWP is anti-woman. What I am suggesting is in difference to that claim that AWP has other criteria. And I've begun - though I'm really not very interested in continuing it - a sketch of that criteria.

2. Do you really think the AWP has no criteria when it comes to evaluating proposals? Of course they do. They have to! Otherwise the conference would last for weeks.

3. I'm really annoyed that you characterize this thread of thought as "complaining." To some people any attempt to have a conversation about something suddenly becomes "complaining." I don't get it.

4. I was wrong to characterize AWP as anti-intellectual. I would love for it to be anti-intellectual. Rather it is medium-intellectual.


4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Johannes. I am reading your replies, but I question how much you really understand what you’re saying. Your argument is vague and is based on conjecture and supposition. Indeed, you’re not saying AWP is anti-women, though you acknowledge these claims are made, but you do say AWP is “opposed to a certain kind of woman panel.” So, and please correct me if I’m wrong, you are then saying AWP is anti-a-certain-kind-of-woman. Your qualifying is further misleading because it’s based on the complaints of few individuals. And I do challenge you to quantify what kind of woman’s panel is it exactly that AWP is opposed to. Are you reading my replies? Of course I think AWP has criteria which is why I’ve acknowledged as much above and I even went to their website to find it. Have you even looked at their criteria?

While I don’t believe any attempt to have a conversation about something becomes complaining, I do believe when you attempt to have a conversation based on poor logic and offhanded claims you produce results that are obtuse, generalized, and cheap. You use terms like “medium-intellectual” and I wonder if you even have an idea how elitist that sounds. You say your posts are “in difference to that claim that AWP has other criteria,” but you barely explain where those claims are coming from and what those claims purport exactly. You make it clear you are bothered by something, but you also make it clear you are not particularly interested in examining what bothered you except in a superficial way. This is the problem with blogs isn’t it? People are able to render information in ways that are distanced, ill-conceived, and poorly explained or researched. But of course, this is the problem with a lot of poets too.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


No, I don't think the AWP is anti-woman. I think it's opposed to certain panels, which may in turn exclude certain kinds of feminism say. Do you want me to repeat it one more time?

You are right, I'm not all that interested in analyzing the AWP ideology. I'm not even really "bothered" by it. I think panels have tended to be pretty boring on the whole, but that's the nature of the beast.

This year does actually look like the most interesting selection of panels I've seen so far (I've been to 4 AWPs).

My point was at the start of this discussion to oppose the people who claimed that the AWP was flat-out anti-woman. That seemed to reductive to me, and also seemed contradicted by a lot of experience of the AWP (however, if someone should do the number-crunching on women's presence, that might be useful).

These are the supposed criteria on the blog:

Artistic or Academic Merit (30%)
Committee members evaluate the artistic value, pedagogical value, intellectual value, or (for administrative discussions for program directors and publishers) business value of the proposal. High scoring panels should be artistically meritorious, intellectually significant, or pedagogically relevant to our members, with a roster of talented artists or accomplished experts on the topic.

Importance to Members (25%)
Committee members evaluate how useful the presentation would be to one or more of AWP’s constituencies: students, young writers, mid-career writers, adjunct faculty, tenured faculty, program directors, editors, publishers, etc. The program may be something we see every year, such as “How to organize your first book of short fiction.” Still, to a large number of our attendees, this is important, and it will be new to them. How important is it to our attendees that our conference offers this event?

Diversity (20%)
Committee members evaluate how much the artistic, intellectual, regional, political, ethnic, and cultural diversity the proposal would help to provide for the conference.

Appropriateness to Module, Originality (15%)
Committee members rate whether or not the proposal is appropriate to the module and how unique it is to the module and to past modules of conference programming. Is this cross-genre reading really a poetry reading in disguise? Are there other proposals with similar topics?

Proposal Integrity (15%)
Committee members evaluate how likely it is that the presenters will execute the proposal well. Is there truth in the proposal’s advertising? Is the proposal complete, well-organized, and error-free? For good proposals, the necessary information, such as biographical notes, is complete, and the proposal reflects a high likelihood of occurring with the roster intact. The moderator and presenters are experts on the topic, and they are reliable professionals who are likely to fulfill the expectations of the proposal.

Thomas, these are decidedly *not* objective criteria. They seem to prove my initial feeling that it's a matter of "averageness" - what's "appropriate" (to whom? etc)? Interest to the members (to me? I was never asked)? etc All these questions are based on an idea of a general "member." Thus proves my point. Who is this average member? I'm opposed to the very notion of such a figure and the idea that this should somehow guide the selection process.

It is this "averageness" and "appropriateness" that bothers me about the AWP and a lot of the discourse that surrounds poetry (and which is guarded by leagues of people who apparently don't want that issue raised).

What would be of use would be to see how that "average member" is indeed constructed through the AWP. And I'd like to see an analysis of that.

I wrote that post under the assumption of the blog world as a participatory social formation, hoping somebody else might pick up on that hint and build on it. I don't know if that has happened, but your posts have all been entirely opposed to such a venture. I can't see how this would be harmful. And why this freaks you out so.


12:56 PM  

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