[I’m writing about Day 1 of the &Now conference (my only day) on Delta Flight 1151 SF to Minneapolis on the way to AWP, so let’s not get our writers conference wires crossed here.]


I wake up first, around 8:30AM, my head feels not awesome, I shower and don’t shave, drink a ton of water, at this point Jason is awake, I think he’s probably feeling like I am, asks me what time it is, I open the big balcony curtain, it's around 9:30, I tell him I’m going to look for coffee for the both of us, he says “that would be awesome.”

Okay now we’ve had our coffee, Jason is hungry, we leave the hotel compound in search of a breakfast spot, I think we probably look a little weird walking the streets of Valencia for the simple fact that there is literally no one else on the streets, plenty of cars but no people, a definite commuter town. I grew up in the East Bay Area, I’ve been to San Jose 2wice in my life, once for an X-Files convention in 1995 (what up William B. Davis, thanks for signing that glossy, a glossy I still have and cherish, it's displayed in the Small Press Distribution warehouse, I guess I like to think of The Cancer Man as the warehouse's mascot, or spirit guide)

my autographed photo of The Cancer Man, straight outta the San Jose X-Files convention

and once on a terrible date in 2009, Valencia feels EXACTLY like San Jose, CA., the cross walks are a mile long and everyone stares at you as you make your way across the street, we look out of place, an incongruity, PEDESTRIANS, what are those?

So after walking the long wide streets for half an hour or so we find a local spot called called _____, we grab a table outside, I order an iced mocha (because I’m on vacation and I deserve it) and a fruit bowl, the waitress says to me “our fruit bowl is just grapes and cantaloupe,” I say “that’s fine,” Jason orders some kind of quiche thing. My iced mocha arrives first, it looks like a birthday cake, it looks like a party, it's dripping with melting chocolate syrup topped with a pile of whipped cream 6 inches high, I think Jason says to me “birthday boy!” I take a sip, my straw gets clogged with chocolate sprinkle chunks, morning coffee right? okay, my fruit bowl arrives next, 6 purple grapes and 4 pieces of cantaloupe, the waitress wasn’t exaggerating, Jason’s quiche arrives, small strange dish on big white plate, it looks a little like the things I tend to eat at 3 in the morning (covered in Tillamook cheddar cheese) after too much drink and lot’s of bad decisions, whatever, I’m not complaining, this place is commercial and convenient right? right.

Jason tells me all about the American South, (I've never been but have family in Nashville and Virginia, vaguely planning a road trip with my brother sometime in the future) Jason's from Atlanta, I tell him I just read Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full which takes place in Atlanta, we get to talking about Tom Wolfe a bit, which segues into a conversation about dialect (successful at it in AMIF (my opinion), and terrible at it in I Am Charlotte Simmons (Jason’s opinion)).

Jason tells me of the Gullah language (Sea Island Creole English), the wild horses of Cumberland Island, the decaying Dungeones Mansions, surfing on the Georgia coast, the towns to visit and to avoid, same with counties, he tells me the story of how over a summer he buffed his parents house with a Lyme mix and a power washer to strip the paint off the bricks, about the protective body suit he had to wear so as not to get burned (re: Fight Club), of the giant mosquitoes that would bite him all day on his face as that was the only exposed part of his body, ghahhh, visceral yeah? at this point Jason stops his Southern soliloquy and says to me “am I talking too much?” and I say “no way tell me more” he does, and then we finish our breakfast and drive to the conference.

Bad Boundaries:

At the conference, following Jason, Lucas De Lima and Gina Abelkop to the Bad Boundaries panel

“Five Signs that you might have bad boundaries:
1. You, like Dodie Bellamy, find yourself adopting the/ an unlocatable first person voice”

etc. etc.

at first I read that as “five signs that you might have bad boundaries, you like Dodie Bellamy…” I LOVE Dodie Bellamy so I thought that my boundaries must be especially terrible, but I missed that comma and that comma is everything.

So anyway, Stephen van Dyck played excerpts of his piece "Customer Care," all about debts (student/ credit card, phone), he would engage customer service reps in long awkward, intimate conversations about family life, technology, skateboarding, fast food, he called them “episodes,” they were funny, boring and sweet all at once, I wish that Stephen didn’t owe so much money.

Sam Cohen up next who presented her anti-capitalist theory of evolution, all about queering the human body, the taxonomy of “potential queers,” evolving the human into a flying creature, The Bat, LOT’S OF COOL IMAGES projected, Sam is a member of The Institute For Flying (TIFF), Sam also has really cool hair.

Megan Milks, our moderator, presented from her "Itchy Occupations" project, showering with the parasite, talking to the parasite, the parasite “as a figure of possibility in writing," what is a muse but a parasite, the parasitic as queer, foreign, LOTS OF HORRIBLE IMAGES of parasites projected, that fish tongue parasite creature that looks like a MAGGOT XENOMORPH (click here if you dare, don't say I didn't warn you), I think she’s onto something, Jack Spicer’s furniture right? though she didn’t mention it, but yeah, what a fun way to think about our bodies, as infested, as occupied, I’d wager that Megan likes David Cronenberg, I like Cronenberg, body horror beats cosmic horror every time, but I guess the parasite can be both, and that’s maybe the point.

Oh look, it’s Matias Viegener again, Matias keeps it simple, reading from the introduction (his? I’m not sure) of the correspondences between Kathy Acker and Mckenzie Wark, “the loss of love to sex,” so sad so true.

It’s lunch time, I eat terrible California rolls with my hands, I run into Michael Cross working on his paper for his panel, me and Michael talk about his Compline Press, alternative models of books distribution, book arts, fine press printing, the East Bay; Michael is the only other poet I know in the East Bay who grew up in the East Bay, scratch that, Julien Poirier also grew up in the East Bay, Michael is one of these dudes who I immediately took a liking to the fist time I met him, back in his Atticus/Finch press days (straight outta Buffalo), Compline does these beautiful, difficult books that are so specifically Michael, he wears his aesthetics on his sleeve (Dense, Difficult, Dark, DDD), James Miller wrote a piece for Drunken Boat on Black Metal, towards the end of the essay he relates the genre to Cross's book The Katechon, I know Michael was very happy with it, and if you've read The Katechon, makes total sense.

Alright where am I now, wandering like everyone else I guess, I see Stephanie Young eating lunch with Catherine Meng, I see Phrydas pacing the large common areas asking folks if they know where he can find some butcher paper for his clay workshop, seems he's having no luck, he looks incredulous "we're in an art school, how is there no butcher paper?!" touche buddy, touche. I don't see Kevin Killian who I've been trying to find all day, I don't see Stephen Motika who couldn't make the trip, I do see another panel called "Pataphysical Innovations," actually this isn't a panel but a reading, sounds fun, I like the press, I like the pataphysics (though don't ask me to define, "answers to questions no one has asked" or something?) just a little roll call of readers:

Mark Tursi introduces/ Richard Greenfield introduces (quotes from Akhmatova)

Tony Trigilio reads poems from White Noise a book he describes as "goofy paranoia meets scary post 9/11 paranoia" SWEET!

Joe Milazzo reads from his forthcoming book The Habiliments

Catherine Meng reads from Tonight's The Night

Gina Abelkop reads from Darling Beastlettes (you know how comedians are always using the word "killed" to describe a good set, Gina KILLED)

Johannes Goransson reads "Pig Circus" from his book A New Quarantine Will Take My Place

and then a Q&A, but Q&A's literally make me want to throw up, the sense of claustrophobia and dread I feel when a moderator says "and now we'll open it up to the audience, does anybody have any questions?" is severe and real, just let us go, we all want to go, there will always be questions, and they are almost always about the ego of the person asking the question, almost never about the subject they are ostensibly asking about, right? we all know this right? I mean I've been that jerk asking a question that is actually totally about the performance of asking the question, I think I did that with Alice Notley at Naropa, my question was horrible, convoluted, something about detective fiction and liminality, haha Jesus Christ, barf barf barf, the Q&A as bear-trap, and what do we do with bear-traps? WE AVOID THEM! so I split and got a big drink of water from the water fountain.

More wander wander wandering.

Okay now it's time for the Nightboat reading, the reason why I'm here. I don't see Bhanu Kapil, I don't see Amaranth Borsuk, I see Paul Hoover, I don't see Andy Fitch, I do see Gracie Leavitt, I do see Francis Richard.

Nightboat crew, I meet Abraham Avnisan (our moderator for the reading) who introduces us all to each other, I meet Brian Blanchfield (who looks and sounds like Matthew McConaughey, this is a compliment, I hope he doesn't mind me saying that), I meet Martha Ronk, I say hi to Gracie again (her book MONKEYS. MINOR PLANET, AVERAGE STAR, was one of my favorite books of 2014), I see Gabriella Klein but we don't say hey (we'll later say hey at AWP and hang out at the Nightboat table for book signing, hi Gabriella, you're rad!), I say hey to Edwin Torres too. And then we all read, you know the deal, boom boom boom, 5minutes each, some of us go over, donzo.

And that's my conference, I had fun, mostly hanging with Jason, meeting the Nightboat posse, being in a new city enjoying the 90degree weather, worth the trip for sure, hopefully it was worth the read.

Oh wait, one more event, actually the event I was most looking forward to, the Thursday night &Now offsite reading hosted by the PRB boys: Ara Shirinian, Joseph Mosconi and Andrew Maxwell.

sandwich board marquee!

So I drive down to LA (30min no problem), make my way to Chinatown, meet up with Mosconi, crack a beer, Timmons brought whiskey, sip a whiskey, meet Andy Fitch, meet Amaranth Borsuk, meet Divya Victor (we talk baseball stats and masculinity),

photo of Divya taking a photo of me taking a photo of crowd

meet and exchange books with Carlos Soto Roman,

Carlos doing his multimedia thing, this was brilliant, the best thing I saw all day by far

Aaron Kunin spots my Candyman hat, says "do you like Candyman?" we get into a conversation about Clive Barker and Nightbreed, The Cenobites, those lovable super-butchers, and now I'm running into Katy Bohinc and fist bumping, and super catching up with an under the weather Rachel Levitsky, Rachel says "age agrees with you," thanks RACH,

me and Levitsky in 2004

I see but don't meet Dan Beachy-Quick and Carla Harryman. The reading is great, more beers are had, folks get looser, Mosconi tells a lovely story of first encountering Carla's work, Katy shouts "let's hear some $#@$$#'n Carla!" Andy and Amaranth do their thing, their awesome sort of vaudeville thing


the reading ends, we all hang at the PRB for a bit, the crowd eventually thins out, I say my goodbyes, exchange books (gift economy) with folks, hugs and laters and sincerely yours, I head back to Valencia and hit my hotel bed hard, goodnight and good luck, back to Oakland first thing in the morning.

Originally Published: April 14th, 2015

John Sakkis is the author of The Islands (Nightboat Books, 2015) and Rude Girl (BlazeVOX Books, 2009), as well as numerous chapbooks and ephemera. Since 2005 he has edited BOTH BOTH, a little magazine of poetry and art. With Angelos Sakkis he has translated four books by Athenian poet Demosthenes Agrafiotis: most recently Y'es and Diaeresis (Dusie Press,...