Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Icing on the Louisville Cake

The conference formerly known as the Twentieth Century Literature Conference wound down just this past Saturday, but several returning participants have already begun posting photos and reports. Among them, I'd advise you make a call at Tom Orange's blog site, a link to which you can find over there on the lower right of this site if you just scroll down to the "persons of interest" category.

This is a conference I've found to be really useful over the years, and so it was particularly gratifying when I received an invitation to be one of the plenary speakers at this year's sessions. At first I was a bit worried about being the last thing on the conference program, but as things turned out I was in the end not just the final plenary speaker on the critical side of things, but the only plenary speaker giving a critical talk.

I flew down Wednesday so that I would be sure to make the opening session, a reading by novelist Maryse Conde. Weather, as weather would, intervened, wiping out Conde's reading, the other scheduled plenary critical talks, and an entire day of panels. As the last person left the bus from the hotel that first morning, a campus security guard poked her head out of her gazebo to tell us not to let our bus leave. The campus was closing down tight in the face of an approaching ice storm, and everything was off. This was a resourceful group, though, and on the bus ride back to the hotel one of the presenters suggested that we try to organize ourselves into a spontaneous conference in exile, a sort of tennis court oath of critics and authors. And so we did. For the rest of that day, people came and went as we took up residence on the mezzanine level of the hotel, whose staff were never quite sure what to make of us -- it was far more fun than any of us could have expected and heartening to see that many scholars from wide-ranging disciplines actually cooperating with one another.

By the next day things were relatively back to normal at the University of Louisville campus (and one of the organizers made sure I got to meet Conde, which more than made up for missing her reading). I did regret not getting the promised first night pizza party, but I especially enjoyed the conference dinner, where I sat at a table with some of the presenters I'd met during the long day of iced-in conferencing.

Alan Golding has for years been hosting a sort of closing party for this conference, to which this year he added an open reading. I had neither my poems nor my glasses with me, so didn't throw in with the others. I also didn't have my camera with me -- but I did, of course, have a cell phone, hence these few records of the evening. More and better photos will emerge elsewhere on the web, but this will give you a sense of how poets, lovers, and lovers of poetry broke the ice one year in Kentucky.

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