Sunday, October 30, 2016


Our series of conferences continued this past week with a program of panels and keynotes, poets and scholars, that more than lived up to the reputation the event has garnered over the years. The incomparable Shirley Moody Turner really pulled together an amazing range of work for us, "live editing" we might call it.

The high points of the panels were too many to list in a blog, so I'll just mention the plenary sessions here and let the photos tell you the rest. Things kicked off with a keynote from Mary Helen Washingon, whose work on revising mid-century literary histories continues to provide fresh insights.

The second plenary was another of our What I Say panels, featuring work from the anthology as well as new works by the poets. This was a homecoming for Pia Deas, a Penn State PhD, whose chapbook Cargo is one you really do need to read. It was practically a homecoming for Evie Shockley, given how often we have been blessed to have her here. And Mendi Obadike seemed quite at home. A powerful set of readings.

That evening wound up with Mendi + Keith Obadike offering the audience a guided tour of their recent projects and installations. 

Saturday morning my colleague Keith Gilyard introduced Carmen Kynard, whose keynote on using digital technology in the composition classroom included a surprise shout out for Anna Everett. Keeping with the pattern from the first day, that was followed by a poetry reading hosted by Gabe Green. This was another homecoming event, as one of the featured poets was PSU grad Will Langford. He was followed by Mahgony Browne, who had driven all the way from New York that morning to be there early.

Our closing keynote was a reading from his book Counternarratives by John Keene. I'd first met John at a conference back in 1994, the first Furious Flower conference at Madison University. John came over and introduced himself to me as the person who had edited my recent essay in Callaloo, but I already knew him from his poetry. John read a short piece reimagining the last days of Bob Cole, the composer, with J. Rosamond Johnson, of so many show tunes. Keene's piece got started when he discovered Cole was the composer of the song from Meet Me in Saint Louis we see in the cakewalk scene.

This was no cakewalk, but we did close out with a champagne toast and torts. And I did leave with a singing in my ears.

Friday, October 21, 2016


Juan Felipe Herrera --

Eleven years having passed since his last visit, Juan Felipe returned to Happy Valley to spend three days with us -- This time he had been invited to read poetry for the annual Emily Dickinson "lecture," sponsored by George and Barbara Kelly.  

This Is My Last Report

Related Poem Content Details

This is my last report:
I wanted to speak of existence, the ants most of all,
dressed up in their naughty flame-trousers, the exact jaws,
their unknowable kindnesses, their abyss of hungers,
and science, their mercilessness, their prophetic military
devotions, their geometry of scent, their cocoons
for the Nomenclature,

I wanted to speak of the Glue Sniffers 
and Glue Smoothers who despise all forms 
unbound, loose in their amber nectars, I wanted 
to point to their noses, hoses and cables and networks, 
their tools, if I can use that word now—and scales and 
scanners and Glue Rectories.

I wanted you to meet my broom mother 
who carved a hole into her womb 
so that I could live—

At every sunset she stands
under the shadow of the watchtowers
elongating and denying her breath.

I wanted to look under the rubble fields 
for once, for you (if you approved), flee 
into the bullet-riddled openness and fall flat,
arched, askew, under the rubble sheets 
and let the rubble fill me

with its sharp plates and ripped dust—
alphabets incomplete and humid. You, 

a little closer
to the chalk dust—this child swinging her left arm,
a ribbon, agitated by unnamed forces, devoured.

At last report. having presented me with a happy birthday cactus, Juan Felipe was heading into Newark -- Hello New Jersey!