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The conference as a point of light
In the poem, the body of the poet. Every poem the poet, not a metaphor, not a symbol, not a representation, not just the poet’s words…but the star stuff, the connective tissue, the manifestation of the one writing the word…is the one being the word. I’m under the ever-reaching expanse of sky that blankets Montana, here for a writer’s residency at The University of Montana Western Foundation in Dillon, Mt—following the whirling churn of AWP, the panels, the readings, the exhaustive gladding, the affirmations that filter through your defenses, the gratitude for like-minded souls. Rebecca Knotts, English professor and my host, picks me up at Bozeman Airport, we settle into her Beetle for a 90-minute drive to the university. One of those long picturesque drives that remind you how huge this country is, how much space we have and what do we do with it all? Snow-peaked mountains and rolling flatlands looming over shapeshifting ranch-land that changes with the catch of light settling under an unreachable immensity that keeps your soul in check. We enter all sorts of dialogues allowed by a lack of ceiling. How the gestures of trees relate to people when they’re secondary dots on the horizon, here, distant characters waving…and there (east coast) packed closer, the main focus, with no space to step away…how the bark, the wrinkles, are where the story is. I catch her up on the conference and the story of the poet who reads one, which reverberates throughout the room. But it is that room with that audience at that time who was ready for that poet, which made the moment live. Or else it was just me waiting for that one, coming to me when I needed it, for my body to complete the circuitry to tell me, right…this is why you’re here! How many readings we go to and how many times an internal tectonic shift allows the capacity for movement to settle within? How often does that moment of hearing the exact poem you needed, happen? How grateful for conceptual gods, imagined and written. And the gigantic book orgy masquerading as pub tables…a utopian twilight zone of titles, at discount, that will give you a hernia. Like a medina in Marrakesh where, in my role as tourist, you don’t want to look at any seller in the eye because it’s a signal that you might possibly be interested in some merch, so you invent a walk where limbs are still in forward motion as you slow down to quickly glance at titles without committing yourself. Or if you have the stamina you sign every single email list and keep your options open, all the while on the lookout for familiar faces, unknown clouds, heroes old and new. Ultimately draining, to search while looking. The hologram of the poet gets split into 16 self-reflections, each one, a microcosm of the one, splitting further into the word, the poem becoming the many selves of the poet, becoming the book, the ink, the reader…holding the poet in their hands. The matter of the made. A sign lives along the highway with the words, change required, tossed between both roads, upside down with the stem of the g missing…so that it reads, chance required. The Montana sky awesome, pressing down while lifting your eyes. Ghosted tractors left on hilltops, survey the fields, lords of the ribboning road. On one side the steer roam free, on the other, fenced-in compartments. Which ones will taste better when they’re slaughtered? Baby lambs, cows, meat country, we enter a discussion about zen poets, while listening to brazilian samba in the car. Senses on. A discussion of zen in poetry while jet lagged under the endless grey evolves into multiple apparitions or an agreement of shared apparitions affecting a continuous perception of light points as attainable viscera. Illumined etherea, one after the other, pulling your altered state, reminding the steps where to go. The panels at the conference, emblems of generosity, my notepad filled with illegible scribbles that will one day become poems or will only exist in the moment of capturing the panelist…already having settled into bone memory. My brain, terrible with names and facts, functions in a virtual capacity of recognition that intuits data into history—why I find more ease in lines than in sentences. The group readings, still amazed at folks who ignore the etiquette and go way past their time…simple respect, isn’t it…for audience, peers, your own work…eh, so be it! The immersive dunk of it all. The deejay at the hotel afterparty playing music for poets to dance by, which ended up being Top 40 radio, who’d a’thunk Bon Jovi and 80’s hip hop would be such a salve to tear loose on that floor…with a smidgen of salsa that immediately got the boricuas and latinos busting post-colonialist moves in a tightly packed implosion of bodies. A tropicalia guitar riff grooves along the highway, lilting bossa nova vocals float above the molecules to meet western mountains. We’re almost there, she says, the patchwork of shapes informing the ride. Here not even a day, and my body’s weight re-proportioning feet to allow air its entry at waist level. Skyscrapers from downtown Denver give way to nothing but sky. Elegaic landscape. Body’s capacity for awakening. Time for the workshops. The students are thirsty, she says. Absolutely!