AWP and Prose Now

Last week was a big week for a small portion of America’s publicly literate. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs held its annual conference. While typing this, I happened upon a typo-induced neologism, ennual, which I take to describe something that produces ennui once per year. As for the conference, it was enormous. Unofficially, everyone came. Officially, I heard there were about 7000 registered attendees.

The event, which is called AWP and known by its host city (ie: AWP Chicago, AWP Denver, or, this year, AWP DC- kind of like ‘The Real World’), seems to have a perpetual identity crisis, as it is not sure if it wants to be an academic conference, an arts festival, or the literary equivalent of a Comic-con (I looked it up, it’s not ComiCon, although it ought to be). AWP has panels, receptions, parties, off-site readings and events, and, most importantly, an overwhelmingly large bookfair/MFA program trade show with well over 600 booths and tables.

There are two good things that happen at AWP: 1 You meet people, especially internet friends that you can now actually know; 2) You get books. I bought and/or traded for probably 20 different books and journals at a total cost of around 100 dollars. Since returning home, I’ve begun to work my way through them. So far I’ve read Michael Stewart’s ‘The Hieroglyphics’ (freshly released by Mud Luscious Press, who I was doing some book-selling for at AWP and who are putting out exciting exciting stuff), Joanna Ruocco’s ‘The Mothering Coven’ (strange, small book of witches, their favorite foods, a birthday, and their very charming neighbor), and Andrew Zornoza’s ‘Where I Stay’ (text and images that grew on me slowly and then stuck- the kind of book that might haunt). Am currently reading Maggie Nelson’s ‘Bluets’ (a book about an obsessional romantic love of the color blue, sort of, in numbered text blocks that could be called prose poems or fragments- need to read more but already know I like it). Amelia Gray’s ‘Museum of the Weird’ is on the nightstand and ready. And there are more and more, but that’s another post.

The upshot of this reading is that it confirms that there’s a lot of good, language-thinking, thinking-thinking prose happening right now. It’s maybe fiction, often something else. ‘The Hieroglyphics’ is based upon a book of completely inaccurate translations of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Both that book and ‘The Mothering Coven’ borrow from older texts, weave in source material without direct citation ala Kathy Acker (the key difference is that both Ruocco and Stewart make note of their sources in notes, they just don’t directly cite passages). Zornoza’s text might be fiction, prose poems, documentary, (or as suggested in the dedication) lies. What’s exciting is that this is the now of prose, genre-transgressive, hybrid, better described than classified.

To close, I want to leave a longish passage from ‘Bluets.’ It was chosen at random from the part of the book I’ve already read. It isn’t fiction, it isn’t quite critical or essay writing either. The passage almost reads like an excerpt from an article in Cabinet, but it comes immediately after several more personal and stranger passages. The effect is almost collage-like, shades of blue, images in relation to blue, with the numeration of the segments providing the only obvious marker of forward progression. In any case, I think it’s pretty great.

23. Goethe wrote Theory of Colors in a period of his life described by one critic as “a long interval, marked by nothing of distinguished note.” Goethe himself describes the period as one in which “a quiet, collected state of mind was out of the question.” Goethe is not alone in turning to color at a particularly fraught moment. Think of filmmaker Derek Jarman, who wrote his book Chroma as he was going blind and dying of AIDS, a death he also forecast on film as disappearing into a “blue screen.” Or of Wittgenstein , who wrote his Remarks on Color during the last eighteen months of his life, while dying of stomach cancer. He knew he was dying; he could have chosen to work on any philosophical problem under the sun. He chose to write about color. About color and pain. Much of this writing is urgent, opaque, and uncharacteristically boring. “That which I am writing about so tediously, may be obvious to someone whose mind is less decrepit,” he wrote.


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