March 15, 2013 § 4 Comments
This Friday, we have a very special jokealong: the AWP 2013 edition! I was lucky enough to spend all last week in Boston attending this wonderful conference, where I met old friends and new, learned about writing and publishing, and bought more books than I could fit in my suitcase on the way home. While there, I was also on the look-out for the best literary laughs to bring back here for our jokealong.
This was my fourth time at the conference, and it seems I’ve finally learned a few things, as I didn’t stress myself out trying to cram as much in as possible; in fact, I never even made it over to the convention center in time for the 9am panels. In previous years, I felt I had to be at each panel so I didn’t miss the “secret” to writing a masterpiece or getting published or getting 100 followers for your twitter, but this year, I tried to be more open what found me instead of what I might be looking for.
This worked in my search for humor, as well. For example, one of my biggest laughs of the week came when I sat around in a conference room for half an hour with a bunch of other awkward writers quietly wondering if the presenters would ever show up. They never did. In past years, I would have been frustrated by the time wasted and knowledge missed. But this year I just had to laugh; it makes perfect sense that none of the panelists for “Authors Who Rock Social Media to Sell Books” would bother showing up in person.
One of the most enjoyable hours of the conference for me came when my fiance dragged me along to “A Muriel Rukeyser Centenary.” Never having encountered Muriel’s poetry before, I was expecting some sort of somber remembrance, not the spirited celebration I found—but then that was the sort of surprise I was waiting for. And there was quite a bit of serendipity at play in the discussion as well: to ensure the room didn’t fall into the eulogistic tone I’d been fearing, the poet Olga Broumas started off by encouraging us all to clap for Muriel—raising her hands above her head to make sure our applause stayed up for a long span—until I’d been clapping so long, I felt a little crazy. After that, we all laughed. And then we clapped some more, a giddy wave you could feel coursing through the room. When Olga finally started to read a poem Galway Kinnell had written about how Muriel once suffered a stroke while reading but wanted to persevere with the show,she only made it a few lines in before a loud but ghostly applause could be heard from some adjacent room. Olga said, open-mouthed, “The podium is rising!”, and we all laughed some more.
My choice for best joke of the conference came from the very same panel, as Sharon Olds explained her time in a workshop led by Muriel. Apparently, Olds wasn’t yet the master of the lasciviously literary, because she’d brought in an erotic poem to workshop that was all “milky this and creamy that.” Another member of the class, maybe a little scandalized, struggled to find the words to discuss the poem: “It’s too… too…” “Too dairy,” Muriel suggested.
In any event, I know I only took in one hundredth of what the conference had to offer, so if you were there and heard or told an even better literary joke, please do share it below. And if you didn’t make it out to Boston, I hope these few anecdotes brought some of the inspiration to you.