Wednesday, April 01, 2009

"It Seems Like They are Trying to Do a Food Chain on Me."

Greg Williamson, Steve Almond, Karen Russell, Chuck Klosterman and Charles Baxter were among the authors at the 2009 UND Writers Conference. The theme was wit. There were other invited authors. These were the ones I saw.

In fact, on Wednesday April 1st, I got to have dinner at the Toasted Frog with Greg Williamson as part of a group from the Red River Valley Writing Project. What a treat! We'd all read Williamson's book of poetry Errors in the Script.

We heard Williamson read some of his poetry at 4 pm. First he read several of his "double exposure" poems which could be read together or each separately. He talked about how the concept was inspired by a roll of film that was double exposed and he tried to carry that over to poetry. Pretty cool actually. Next he read some poems from his new book A Marvelous Piece of Luck which is comprised entirely of sonnets all with a 9th line turn in which the guy dies and, of course, is resurrected again in the next poem. It all sounded very Edward Gorey to me!

Something that reminded me a bit of Jillian and her hot dog test on The Bachelor was Williamson's "taco test" in which he tried to envision various authors eating a taco. I'm not sure what it means if he can see them that way or if he's unable to. It was just an amusing concept imagining Charles Dickens eating a taco. I think he said he was pretty sure Shakespeare would and certainly Chaucer was a taco guy. But Edith Wharton? Not so sure.

Williamson ended his reading with a wonderful bit of "creative non-poetry" called "The Yard of Constant Sorrow" in which a man struggles with a fire ant attack and then if it could go wrong, it does.

Our dinner conversation was lively and interesting. He teaches in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and he comes from a father and uncle who are both engineers and a wife who is an electrical engineer. He's surrounded by lots of math and science and here he is... in the arts. We discussed teaching, poetic forms, specific poems, his road to writing, his book's cover art, and much more. We reminded him that if our group and the UND writer's conference is a sort of touchstone, he should be expecting his Pulitzer Prize nomination any day now.

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