by Erika Jo Brown
Most travelogues of Tucson probably start with the weather, so I’ll avoid that (but not before putting in parentheses – I can’t help but spread it on, I’m coming in from the midwest here – that the climate is mystical, Brigadoon-like, unable to be imagined unless experienced, in a word: sunny. Very.).
I came to visit raconteur-about-town Jake Levine, and to attend some readings (and parties!) he helped organize for the poetry quadrant at the Tucson Festival of Books.
The line-up was impressive and inspiring, starting with a kick-off reading with Charles Bernstein, Tenney Nathanson and Barbara Henning, moderated by Chax Press editor and Tucson-local Charles Alexander. I picked up Charles Bernstein’s new selected from FSG, “All the Whiskey in Heaven.”
Next was a chapbook panel moderated by Jake, featuring sundry and heartfelt presentations by Wendy Burk (librarian at the Poetry Center, who gave a comprehensive introductory history), Charles Alexander, Lisa Bowden, Laynie Browne, and Ander Monson (editor at Diagram and New Michigan Press, who gave a striking presentation on possibilities of the internets).
Following that was a joint-reading by powerhouses Kim Addonizio and Abe Smith. And I wanted to know, so I asked, (most festival sessions were followed by q & a’s, which ordinarily I find annoying as hell – I’m selfish with the oral, and want to walk away carrying the sound of the work around in my head) about their distinctive performance aesthetics. And dealing with voice, and idiosyncratic delivery, and mirroring spoken language on the page. Smith asked candidly, “why can’t a person be trembling and shouting . . . without wearing the helmet of slamness?” answering my question with a question, well.
Then we had lunch. We love lunch.
That was also a lot of proper names all clustered together, so a little pause.
At lunch, I explored 10 of Diagrams, the ten-year anniversary anthology celebrating the online journal. Actual playable poker cards.
At the night the states aligned to allow Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (sounding like a songbird and talking about communicating with plants) and Alice Notley. I always felt her spirit stalking the Poetry Project back in New York, where I got my learn on. The weekend bent towards NY School and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E arts, home in the desert and that’s how I liked it, but was roomy enough to percolate new voices.
Lastly on Saturday, there was a reception at the gorgeous stand-alone Poetry Center, followed by Mexican dinner, and a walk through the historic neighborhood, Barrio Viejo, with much adobe-fondling.
We woke up to another zany day of poetry.
I managed to slink into the second half of a reading, catching D.A. Powell, author of the books “Cocktails,” “Lunch,” “Tea” and “Chronic,” all delightful rituals. I then hung by the Sonora Review booth for a while, where I witnessed courageous young people courageously pushing a beautiful new issue. This edition is eye candy, and I highly recommend taking a ganders.
The festival was capped off with a reading by Laynie Browne and Anne Waldman, doing her shamanic thing, breaking it down about manatees and ideal, “matriot” acts.
The weekend was like a fill-up of a valuable, restorative thing. It’s definitely an event to look out for next year.