AWP has come and gone, and as you know, many poets and writers and books sellers and editors missed it, believing it best that they not travel or socialize or present their books or new poems during this time of the coronavirus. I wanted to do a post or two featuring a few of the poets and writers I would have liked to have seen, had I been there, had they been been there, had things been different.
The first is the poet, Amy Woolard, whose much-awaited first book won the Alice James Award. Her poems are smart, sexy, dark, witty, and surprising. I think that if I had bought just one book at AWP, it would have been her collection, Neck of the Woods. Here’s a poem by Woolard, first published in April 2018 by The New Yorker.
Was born a shamble. Was raised, as many, by a marrow & a follow.
Made first fortune before first word. Had it made. Follow left
The house each morning. Marrow worked to the bone. One
Sinister, one borrow I loved more than my own stalled self;
Early knew for certain one tomorrow I’d make a great ain’t. I
Lived from we to we. Tried to save my crumpled singles. Put on
A bold lip, pulled firm on my love like hinging down
A set of attic stairs. What a racket. What a small cord
Attaches us. My heart, still the spelling bee I throw each time
On purpose: we had words, then slept like ice in the slit
Of a tucked top sheet. After a spell, sure I slow-ached, sulked
My way awake. Once upon a table: coffee with chicory & make-
Shift bliss. My eyes, bigger than blue-plates—truth, it was almost
Too much to swallow. Took it to go. Clocked myself out. A time
Or two had my lights knocked out, my knee socks knocked off,
But soft. But still—a ceiling fan, a sill, & a souse who hung
On my every world. No two ways about it; I fell for us, hot &
Mussed as all get out. Took my Eastern time across to the Pacific,
Doubled down & doubled back. Put my face in the path
Of another’s full-palmed slap—struck by how dumb I was
Struck. Inked myself clear until I was sure as sure was
Numb. Got my house in order but never quite could give up
The drink, the way it confects me, the way I stay spoked
With what wrecks me. Curled myself all the way inside
The inside of our last joke, the punched line we lured
The most, as thicket as our thievery, our ashed plot
Unfallowing me like a neck’s own woods toward a choice
Choke of light: I can’t imagine, I reckon I can only imagine.
Next, I would not have missed Denise Duhamel’s reading in which she was to read poems from her next book, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press, including this one, originally published in The American Poetry Review, September/October 2019, Volume 48, No. 5:
What have you done with my keys? I blame you
though it’s hard to hold a grudge these days
because I usually don’t remember
why I was angry in the first place.
I look at a person sure she’s done me wrong
though the inciting incidents are lost. Former students
seem familiar, but their names disperse like cigarette smoke
blowing towards a stool where I once drank myself sick.
Now I’m not even sure what city that bar was in,
the welcoming pink neon letters, another cloud,
as though I am looking at tiny print
without my reading glasses. I was on a pink cloud
when I first stopped drinking. In fact, I once looked up
at the moon, weeping in gratitude. So there,
I do recall something! I was walking across
the Brooklyn Bridge in an ex’s sweatpants
though I’m not sure anymore of his name or if I ever
gave those sweatpants back. I’m usually halfway through
a movie on Netflix when I realize I’ve already seen it,
probably in an old-fashioned freestanding theater,
perhaps a matinee or a midnight screening.
Perhaps a popcorn bucket on my lap—
that is, if I wasn’t on some fad diet.
Did I take my pain pill or not? I’m drinking water
but not sure I can detect that bad taste all the way
back on my tongue. Maybe I have been drinking
more water than I thought. Is it time to go
to the gynecologist again? The office usually sends me
a reminder postcard, but today I’m holding
a letter from the Breast Center saying it’s time again
for my mammogram. I usually get a prescription
from the gynecologist about a month beforehand—this is how
it’s been the last few years. I wonder if my doctor is retired
or dead. I would call him, but I have forgotten his name.
It begins with an S and I think I remember the exit.
I look through the stack of business cards
I save for moments such as this, but no card for him.
I go to take out the recycling just moments
after I took out the recycling. I stand at the fridge,
its door ajar—the cold lightbulb, an idea for a poem
which I’ve also forgotten, a sublime dream
that woke me in the middle of the night, a sublime dream
I was sure I’d never forget. Ah, here is my key ring!
But this gold one with the big square head—
what lock could it possibly open?
I would also have gone to a book signing by Sheryl St. Germain, whom I had the good luck of hearing read at the Lit Youngstown Literary Festival last fall, a festival I highly recommend to any poets and writers looking for a smaller conference to present their work. St. Germain’s heart-breaking poetry book, The Small Door of Your Death from Autumn House Press and her stunning memoir, Fifty Miles, from Etruscan Press, tell the story of addiction, her son’s death, grief, and more. Here are two excerpts from Fifty Miles:
The Amaryllis Bud
opens slowly over the weeks after his death–it will be in full bloom come Christmas day. Grief doesn’t come into one fully grown. It’s slow, long-living, not like this potted amaryllis, a gift that will die soon after blooming. No, grief’s roots go deep, touch enough to last a thousand years.
January 9, 2015, 3:18 a.m.
You’re dead a month today. Tonight one of your songs comes to me in a dream, you know, the one you called “weekend beats slow,” the one you said was less a song than a collection of beats? Over and over it runs through my head, insistent, until it wakes me, and I can’t help but feel you are trying to speak.
If you do come, I guess it will be in ways that are not embodied as you were on earth. I’m selfish, though, and want you back as you were, as a suffering, beautiful young man. But thanks for the music, if that was you.
And, if it was some vision I created from the bowels of the unconscious, some hallucination, well, bring it on.
Amy Woolard is a legal aid attorney working on civil rights policy & legislation in Virginia. Her forthcoming debut poetry collection, NECK OF THE WOODS, received the 2018 Alice James Award from Alice James Books. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, Boston Review, Ploughshares, Fence, & elsewhere, while her essays and reporting have been featured in publications such as Slate, The Guardian, Pacific Standard, and The Rumpus, as well as Virginia Quarterly Review, which awarded her the Staige D. Blackford Prize for Nonfiction in 2016. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Denise Duhamel’s most recent book of poetry is Scald (Pittsburgh, 2017). Her other titles include Blowout; Ka-Ching!; Two and Two; Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems; The Star-Spangled Banner; and Kinky. She and Maureen Seaton have co-authored four collections, the most recent of which is CAPRICE (Collaborations: Collected, Uncollected, and New) (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). And she and Julie Marie Wade co-authored The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose (Noctuary Press, 2019). She is a Distinguished University Professor in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami.
Sheryl St. Germain is a poet and essayist whose work has received numerous awards. Her most recent book, a poetry collection, The Small Door of Your Death, was published by Autumn House Press in 2018. For 14 years, Sheryl directed the M.F.A. program in Creative Writing at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, and is co-founder of the Words Without Walls program.