#AWP16 Featured Presenter Q&A with Douglas Kearney & Gregory Pardlo
AWP | February 2016
Event Title: A Reading and Conversation with Douglas Kearney, Robin Coste Lewis, and Gregory Pardlo, Sponsored by Cave Canem
Description: Three poets read from collections that provoke new ways of seeing and thinking about culture, art, history, naming, race, and home. They discuss how strategies of experimental performative typography, meditations on the roles played by desire and race in the construction of the self, and autobiographical lyric poems connecting the complex intimacies of domestic life with the profound issues of our day create a seamless line between craft, vision, and critical thought.
Participants: April Naoko Heck, Douglas Kearney, Robin Coste Lewis, and Gregory Pardlo
Date & Time: Friday, April 1, 2016, 4:30pm – 5:45pm
Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) and/or bookfair exhibitors you are most excited to see?
Douglas: I’ve been thinking recently about ways to more fully attend to joy in my work—but even thinking of “joy” brings to mind a range of nuanced ideas. There’s the joy cast as an isolated, beatific instance; joy as a measure of resistance; even a kind of spiky joy because of trouble. “Embracing a Poetics of Joy” seems consonant with this inquiry. I am interested in “Reverberant Silence: Making and Meaning a New Silence,” because I want to ask questions about the qualities of being silent versus silenced, how silence in a poem can perform a suspension of more than just sensual noise, but cognitive. AWP in my city means that there will be some panels committed to regional histories and presents; “Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature” and “Innovative Poetry by Black Writers in California” look promising on that front. Of course, Claudia Rankine’s keynote!
Gregory: Diversity and inclusion have been such hotly discussed topics lately. I’m excited about the wealth of panels devoted to those discussions this year. With it being so much in the air, my hope is that the rhetoric will subside all around, and we can move more toward deliberate action to improve access.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
Douglas: Last year, I read a lot for blurbs and contests. Dear Girl by Drea Brown is this nightmarish chapbook as biopic of Phillis Wheatley; I was excited because it wasn’t staid, it didn’t make a performance of careful research or respectability, moving instead toward a more phantasmagoric treatment of Wheatley. It’s nervy and, at times, reckless!
Gregory: Robin Coste Lewis’ book gets a lot of justified attention for, among other things, its “timely” discussion of race and gender (as if there were such a thing as an untimely discussion of race and gender), but I’m also dazzled by the formal innovations in the book. The ekphrastic title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” has much to teach me about the interaction between visual culture and poetry.
Q: Given how much time writers spend alone to practice their craft, what do you think are the advantages of creating the large community that exists at the AWP conference?
Douglas: The opportunity for folks to gather is important in terms of organizing to create opportunities that can sustain writers in and out of that larger community beyond the intense and brief conference dates. There’s socializing, too, certainly.
Gregory: We communicate so much via email and social media that it’s easy to forget how valuable it is to be in a community that physically occupies a shared space and time. The brief connection we get at the AWP conference, where the community is not simply an abstract idea, is invigorating.
Douglas Kearney is the Whiting Award-winning author of Fear, Some; The Black Automaton, a National Poetry Series selection; and, most recently, Patter. He is also a librettist; his opera Sucktion has been produced internationally, and his opera Crescent City premiered in Los Angeles in 2012. He has been commissioned to write and/or teach ekphrastic poetry for the Weisman Museum in Minneapolis, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Getty. He teaches at the California Institute of the Arts. (Photo credit: Mike Bryant)
Gregory Pardlo is the author of the poetry collections Totem, which received the 2007 APR/Honickman First Book Prize, and Digest, awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. A Cave Canem fellow, he is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the New York Times, and the MacDowell Colony. His poems have been published widely in journals and appear in the anthology Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry and two editions of Best American Poetry. He is a teaching fellow in the Undergraduate Writing Program at Columbia University.