Sunday, April 09, 2006

Blogging from Birmingham

I've been in Birmingham, Alabama, the past several days, attending and speaking at the CLA (College Language Association), where I've seen lots of friends -- Akiba Harper, Dolan Hubbard, Maryemma Graham, Sandy Govan, Warren Carson, so many others -- many of whom I'd been with just a few weeks before at the Paul Laurence Dunbar conference at Stanford.

That's poet, and publisher of Lotus Press, Naomi Long Madgett in the photo, with a copy of her new and selected poems in the foreground.

Poetry people in academe know what a traveling conclave we are -- conferences around the country are the places where those of us who do critical work around poetry meet to exchange information and reassure ourselves that we are not alone.

Particularly exciting for me was a session on the last morning -- Aissatou Diop, Zacharie Petnkeu and Frew Hailou, three lecturers from Howard University, reviewed ten Rwandan authors who have written about the genocide in that country -- Only two of these books have been translated into English to date, so these works and authors were news to most of us in attendance.

But there wasn't a lot on poetry this year -- that may be in part due to the "film and literature" theme of this year's conference -- but there is a deeper problem, one that I was talking about with Howard Rambsy as we sat in the lobby of the hotel at the end of the conference.

Howard Rambsy is a recent graduate of our program at Penn State, and is now on the faculty at Southern Illinois. He's one of the more impressive new faculty members we've seen in recent years, and he has a strong interest in poetry. At one point he related to me a conversation he'd had with the editor of a prominent scholarly journal in the field of African American literature. Howard had asked the editor about the relatively small number of articles about black poetry. The editor told him that she hardly ever received submissions about poetry (as opposed to submissions OF poetry, which writers submit endlessly) -- We've seen some really good books coming along in recent years, with more on the way, but we are still far from where we need to be. I think all of us need to do even more work to interest graduate students in the field of poetry and poetics. It is striking, if not surprising, that our graduate programs will receive 300 applications from poets wanting to join the MFA program for every one student who wants to do scholarly work in the area of poetry. Maybe the visible return of the poet/critic in recent years (Evie Shockley, Meta Jones, me, T.J. Anderson III, Brent Edwards, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Hank Lazer, Duriel Harris etc.) will help to attract more people to writing ABOUT (and maybe even reading) poetry.

Getting ready to fly away, if not home at least back to Penn State --

today's reading in my briefcase -- Ed Roberson's wonderful new book from Atelos, CITY ECLOGUE

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