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Journal, Day Three
This week, five poets dispatch from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont. Bread Loaf, which has been meeting annually for 81 years, divides its participants into different categories—scholar, fellow, waiter, staff, and participant. Each day of the blog will feature a poet from a different category.
Jason Schneiderman, poetry fellow
Grrr—I just lost all my notes for this blog entry—I know—blog entries aren’t supposed to have notes, it’s all stream of consciousness, a celebration of process, everyone communicating in some kind of speedy, up to the minute, guess what I thought JUST NOW kind of thing. Anyway, the computer won’t let me open the file “blog” that’s on my jump drive—so goodbye organization, hello meet-the-deadline.
Besides the editors at PoetryFoundation.org just told me that they want more gossip. I would be the worst gossip columnist in the world—I get everyone’s name wrong, and I always tell stories wrong. But actually that’s how gossip columns work. But I’m afraid I’m a little low on juicy details. As I sat down to write this, I found out that we’re going to close on our house, so I’m a little distracted. I also keep singing the theme song to Snakes on a Plane in my head, which is also, not surprisingly, distracting. But seriously, it’s the best pop song since “Toxic.”
This is the fellow installment of the Live from Bread Loaf poetry blog. Of course, every time I say that I’m a fellow, I hear Tracy Morgan shouting “I’m Brian Fellows”—but the one time I said that out loud no one knew the sketch, and it’s not funny if you have to explain. As a fellow, I get to give a reading (20 minutes) and I don’t get workshopped, but I do assist in the workshop. My faculty member is Toi Derricotte, and I have the sort of perfect place—I don’t say anything until the end of the discussion and then I can weigh in briefly. I’ve never quite been in this position—it’s a place of honor (no small competition for this fellow thing), but also a place of calm. Toi manages the class, sets the tone, gives us reading assignments, directs the conversation, does all the heavy lifting. I do the writing assignments (solidarity with fellow poets). After the last writing assignment read around (and Toi goes straight for the big stuff—it was a pretty intense read around) Toi said, “We deserve something for that.” And I said, “Chocolate.” And she said, “Do you have any?” And I did, so I went back to my room and brought my candy stash out (Cadbury Royal Dark and Nestles White Chocolate Flips). So basically, I’m the guy in the workshop who gives you candy. Good place to be, I’m sure you’ll agree.
So the rhythm of my days: breakfast, lecture, workshop or off day, lunch, craft class, reading, cocktails, dinner, reading, reading, party. It’s a really nice rhythm, but I’m leaving out all chatting and running-into. It’s a small campus, and chock full of my favorite writers, so there’s sort of constant contact with writers whose work I adore. Poetry editors, do you really want me to name drop here? I mean, it’s poetry gossip when someone gets a book prize (particularly if they know/sleep with/have slept with the judge), but does anyone care that Catherine Barnett helped me work out my ideas about the prose poem, or that Richard Siken and I discussed the manuscripts for our (gestational) second books? Catherine’s here leaning over my shoulder (see—small campus), and she’s reminding me that actually, it was the intellectual highlight of the conference. (It’s the absence of the line break that makes the prose poem, just as the break is the absence that makes the line in a lineated poem—it’s all about the tension between absence, presence, and expectation.)
The craft classes are super fun, and always unexpected. Thomas Heise had one on the sentence as the structuring unit of the (post)modern poem—and I still think that if we’re all part of the consciousness giving rise to John Ashbery’s poems, that I should get a piece of his Pulitzer, but that’s only because I’m reifying my subjectivity (you get the idea)—but the class was hot. I never realized that Gertrude Stein coheres at the level of inflection and intonation. I’m about to go over to a craft class (I left e-mail out of the rhythm of my day) where Michael Collier’s going to talk about Hart Crane. I’m kind of excited.
Wearing angel wings and a halo to the dance was in fact a good idea—I was worried I’d look kind of stupid, and I probably did look kind of stupid, but it was a fun kind of stupid. I mean, I’m not exactly a club kid—although Charlie Clark did remind me that as an undergrad I used to wear pixie wings (angel wings have feathers, pixie wings are nylon stretched over a metal frame) to Ozone, back when that was the hot place to go in D.C., but then Larisa (not a poet, so last name withheld, you don’t know her, OK?) burned a hole in them with her cigarette, and I don’t even think they were my wings—but the point is, I’m cuter here than when I’m not here. Sure, I’ve had less sleep, but so has everyone else. And why was the music at the dance so bad? La Bamba? Seriously? What-ev-ah.
Of course, the highlight of the dance was not my angel wings but rather the crushing victory of the waiters in the waiter/staff dance off. The staff had a leg up (groan) during the individual competition—at least one staff member had a serious dance background that was fabulously on display—but then the waiters pulled out their feather boas and did the hustle on mass (the waiters had arranged with the DJ for “The Hustle” to come on, so the staff never saw it coming), and the victory fell to the waiters. Then one of the waiters was picked up and sort of turned around (it was more or less body surfing sans mosh pit) but I couldn’t tell if it was a victory celebration or part of the dance—it seems more like the former. If it was the latter, it was kind of Dada and lost on me. Mark Doty is the lone voice of dissent—he maintains that the staff won, and that the collective action of the waiters shouldn’t overshadow the individual talents of the staff—but Paul Lisicky agrees with me that the hustle was a victory ensuring tour de force. (Can I stop name dropping now? Please?)
So, I’m sorry poetry editors for my lack of gossip—but I’m married, I’m boring, and I miss you Michael Broder, but when I get back, we’re gonna have a house!
And a shout out to my Mom and Dad, who like to Google to my name.