April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment
We’ve got a very special Jokealong today: the #AWP15 edition. Last week, the Twin Cities were lucky enough to host writers, editors, publisher, and professors from across the globe for the 49th annual Association of Writers & Writers & Writing Programs Conference. If you’ve never been, it is a blast, and you can get a feel for the general atmosphere in this New Yorker Recap.
With it in my hometown, this was the first year I wasn’t overly distracted by the tourist sights and culinary delights of the host city, and I managed to stay on task for most of the conference, spending lots of time in the book fair selling chapbooks and meeting authors while working the Red Bird table, as well as taking daily laps of the other tables were I gained a ton of cool books, journals, and new acquaintances.
That said, I didn’t really hit the panels like I used to. While I feel there is always a lot more to learn about craft for a writer at any point in their career, I am not convinced you can learn much about writing from a fifteen minute speech followed by a Q&A. Reading, writing, and reading again feels like a better use of time to me. Worse still are the panels about the secret to this or that aspect of the business. If there is a secret, no one is going to tell it to a room full of a hundred twittering writers, but the confused and contradictory accounts of success only make it clear that no one really knows what they are doing. If there is a joke to be found in these sorts of panels, it is that the only secret to success is pretending that there is one and you know it.
So I went in search of panels that would instead entertain and inspire me—and that’s where I found the bets jokes, too!
One of the funniest moments came as part of Keri Miller’s interview of Charles Baxter and Louise Erdrich for a special Talking Volumes. I love both of these authors, and it was great to hear their wisdom and insights on everything ranging from craft to the midwestern landscape, but the real laughs came when they tried a few different recitations from memory: despite the fact that they both listed the Bible as an early education in the importance of story, both had an easier time remembering bad reviews, word for word, than any psalm.
The biggest laughs of the conference, for me at least, came in the awesome panel Rain Taxi put on about hip-hop and poetry, making good use of our local luminaries POS, Dessa, and Kevin Beacham, along with poet Adrian Matejka. Highlights included Eric Lorberer quizing the panels on whether certain lines came from rap or page based poetry, but POS was responsible for most of the big laughs (which I never would have guessed, listening to his mostly punchline-free music). It was great to know that he shares an affinity for another one of MN’s most famous word-smiths, F. Scott Fitzgerald, especially once he revealed the secret to overcoming his early distaste for the author: a friend told him to read it again and imagine Gatsby was black.
My favorite moments came, though, as he looked through the rapgenius.com exegeses for several of his lyrics. One of the best was his line “Who really listens? Precision with a verse draws a crowd,” from “Let It Rattle”. A commenter wrote that the line is, “A commentary on the fact that most people don’t understand the meaning behind the words, they are only interested in the rhymes and whether or not it sounds good,” which POS explained he was flattered by, though all he’d actually meant by the line was that he was great at rapping so lots of people came to his concerts. In a conference dedicated to dissecting every little aspect of a business that really just comes down to whether you are actually writing or not, it was the perfect bit of levity.
That said, I know I didn’t hear a hundredth of the jokes that were told by and about writers at the conference, so please relive the fun and post your favorites below—jokes about Minnesota and Minnesotans are especially welcome.