Thursday, January 01, 2009

random bay area notes

Back from MLA; no kudos to US Airways, which now charges $2 a pop for bottled water on their flights, along with all the other indignities one suffers flying coach. Best moment of the conference (most of which was spent interviewing): the redoubtable Daphne Gottlieb, signing my copy of Kissing Dead Girls at the oh-so-stuffy book expo, looking distinctly uncomfortable in her killer bangs & dreads among all the university presses, asks: "So, how's your MLA going?" Me: "Not so fun. Interviewing. Sitting across a table and soaking up lots of young people's angst." DG: "What's not to love about that?"

Meanwhile, my heart leaps up at the sight of not one but two copies of The Poem of a Life on display behind her. You see, now that Soft Skull (her publisher) has been incorporated into the new Counterpoint (which has absorbed Shoemaker & Hoard, publisher of the LZ biography), Daphne Gottlieb & I have more or less the same publisher. Small world.
The marathon reading was marathonish as usual. Only the straight-'n'-narrowistas keep to the 2-minute limit, so by the time I snuck out of the vast space of the Yerba Buena Arts auditorium some 2 1/2 hours into the thing, we'd only gotten I think to the O's or P's. Walter Lew didn't cut anybody's tie off this year, but he spent so long footering around with a hotel bedsheet & a portable laptop projector (which didn't work) that he managed to clock in around 12 minutes.
Didn't get out enough to savor the varieties of the "MLA gaze." You know how it works: someone walks towards you, glances at your face, drops their eyes to your name tag, & if it doesn't register high enough in their own academic pecking order, proceeds to let their gaze wander around the room in search of bigger game. How to say "hello" while looking around for someone more important to say "hello" to.


tyrone said...

yep--12 minutes at least--thinking that was my last know, that MLA gaze thing covers, I guess, both status-seekers and bosom-stalkers...or does it?


Steven Fama said...

Happy! New! Year!, Mark.

Thanks for the notes on yr convention. As an outsider (not an academic), these things fascinate me.

Do people interviewed at "the MLA" get hired / agree to a job without ever having visited the school itself? Or is "the MLA" interview the first round, with a follow-up at the school later?

As for the marathon poetry reading, the kindness of your soul is suggested by the fact that you merely "snuck" out. As opposed to jumping up, screaming "this is farce," pulling the fire alarm, and as you skipping out of the auditorium.

I should keep my mouth shut. But these events are appalling, if the point is poetry. An over-sized room, an endless parade of truncated presentations, very little connection to individuals and their words across time and space. I'm puzzled as all heck as to why poets would want to read at one of these things.

And thanks for mentioning my blog post a couple days back.

Joseph said...

I did not go to MLA this year, but your account fills me with such nostalgia. Maybe that's why I began the new year reading Cavafy, and why I can't help but hear a versions of his Ithaka sounding through your lines:

Keep the MLA always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all,
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the MLA,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting the profession to make you rich.

The MLA gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out . . .

Mark Scroggins said...

Hi Tyrone, Steven, Joseph, & happy new year to all!

Sorry no time to talk, Tyrone; but you were there at that dreadful scene, etc. Perhaps next month, closer to home?

Steven: yes, the MLA interview process is really only a semi-finalists roundup, tho it's not unheard of for particularly desirable candidates to get job offers at the convention. We for instance will be inviting three finalists from each of our searches to visit over the next few weeks -- which makes the whole hiring process interminably long & tiring for all involved.

Kevin Killian said...

Hi Mark,

I'm sorry I didn't see you (or your badge) in the crowd, and I was hunting you out hoping you were there and carting around my copy of your book for you to sign.

Tyrone, please don't give up on those marathons, you were worth waiting hours for. Maybe you could be Tyrone Williams Esquire next time and appear in the E's.

Happy new year,

Kevin K.

Brian said...

I'll give USAir this much--they were on time for us and encouraged people to bring their own snacks on board as opposed to holding us hostage for their products.

Side question: why is it that MLA and AWP are so often in cold places. The City was a welcome change, as the weather was beautiful, but after previous years in Chicago, NYC, etc. I'm looking for one in San Diego or Miami or even Austin again.

Mark Scroggins said...

Short answer, Brian: Austin's too small for MLA, which is a monster convention. I've been to MLAs in San Diego & LA, but from what I understand Miami is simply too expensive during the holidays -- the hoteliers make more money from regular vacationers than they would from thousands of lit scholars paying convention rates.

(I thought "The City" was NYC!)

US Air was indeed on time, but they also charged extra to check baggage, which led to horrendous holdups while people wrassled carryons (half of which had to be checked ultimately anyway).

Steven Fama said...

Suggesting that a poet call himself something different so that maybe he could read at a marathon earlier is not helpful.

If these marathons are to continue (and they shouldn't), here are two suggestions:

(1) all reader's names get put into a hat, and then are drawn out, and that random order -- not alphabetizing -- determines the order of reading.

(2) Enforce the time limits for each reader, by turning the stage microphone off once the allotted time period (and some reasonable grace period -- say 20 seconds for a two minute slots) is reached. If too many poets, as apparently is the case, are inconsiderate egoists at these readings, then courtesy must be enforced.

It's regrettable that some writers just "la-di-da" the complaints of listeners, readers, and even other poets about these awful marathons.