#AWP16 Featured Presenter Q&A with Rachel Eliza Griffiths
AWP | February 2016
Event Title: Poetry, Politics, and Place: A Reading and Conversation with Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Luis J. Rodriguez, Sponsored by Poets House
Description: These leading poets read their poems and discuss their poetry-activism in New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and around the country. Each engages poetic practice and community building with projects that expand poetry's place in our lives and culture: Griffiths through photography, Nye through writing for children, and Rodriguez through publishing projects and political organizing. The transformative power of poetry brings these three together to talk about how we can make a better world.
Participants: Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Stephen Motika, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Luis Rodriguez
Date & Time: Thursday, March 31, 2016, 1:30pm – 2:45pm
Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) and/or bookfair exhibitors you are most excited to see?
A: “Poets on Craft: The Furious and Burning Duende”; “Queertopia or Bust: Thoughts on Intersectional Queer Poetics”; “Genre-Crossing and Poetic Truth: Lyric Nonfictions, Reported Poems”; and “It Ain't What They Call You, It's What You Answer To: Peeling Off Genre Labels.” One of the things I like to do most is walk through the book fair. I plan a route each day so that I can see everything. Or try! Then there are all of the books, journals, and literary swag! I enjoy the person-to-person conversations as I'm making my way through the grid. There's always furious hugging everywhere!
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: Elizabeth Alexander's Light of the World. I've also been rereading the works of Marguerite Duras. Lucinda Berlin and Lydia Davis are astonishing. Rickey Laurentiis' debut collection Boy with Thorn is exquisite. Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis and Chord by Rick Barot are both sublime. Thinking about 2016's wild hive of forthcoming poetry, every poem I've read by Ocean Vuong has made me that much excited for Ocean's forthcoming collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. It's just coming out now in 2016 but I read The Darkening Trapeze toward the end of the 2015 and I keep returning to it. Levis continues to dazzle and to break my heart.
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?
A: It's such a large community that each conference you're likely to meet new writers and editors who care about the politics and practices of writing, craft, and publishing. It's useful, for many of us, to be in the presence of so many different communities within the larger community. You can be introduced to ideas and experiences you are unfamiliar with. You can also meet with writers, known and new, where we can engage in conversations that share and communicate shared goals and/or differences. I think it can be important for us to remember that we're not writing in a vacuum. Hearing ideas and concerns expressed by other writers is important as we all return to our various communities to do our work.
Q: What question that you’ve never been asked before would you like to ask yourself? And how would you answer that question?
A: I'd like to ask myself about joy and the practice of cultivating joy. Because I write mostly elegies and about loss, I think it would be important to ask myself about the people, experiences, and work that incite joy, whether it's episodic or in sustained current. I don't mean happiness. I mean joy. And I don't think I'd have one answer; I'd have a hundred different answers because I'd want to keep that conversation open and full in its possibility. I think my immediate answer for such a question, in terms of joy, would be my life. My living.
Q: Outside of the conference, what about Los Angeles are you looking forward to? Are there any Los Angeles activities you would recommend to conference attendees?
A: I'm a person who is happiest near any body of water. I want to watch the Pacific waves and walk along Venice Beach eating something wonderful. Seeing and feeling the ocean will balance my personal rhythm during the conference. Besides walking along the beach I wouldn't mind, if I can slip away, a visit to the Getty Museum.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a photographer, visual artist, and award-winning poet. Her most recent books include Lighting the Shadow and Mule & Pear, which was honored with the Inaugural Poetry Award from the Black Caucus American Library Association. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem, and the Millay Colony, and she works in collaboration with the Academy of American Poets on the multi-genre interview series Poets on Poetry. (Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths)