We all knew that West Chester Poetry Conference 2011 would be different, but we didn’t all necessarily believe it would be different-better. Well, I’m here to report that from this participant’s viewpoint, it most definitely was.
Good things started happening on the very first (unofficial) night of the conference, when anyone who had arrived early was invited to an adorable local B&B for drinks and a buffet. Aside from the gnats, for which we can hardly blame new conference director Kim Bridgford, this was the perfect way to reconnect with old friends in an informal setting. Those who had worried that the alcohol would flow less freely under the new administration were also immediately reassured that this was not the case. Indeed, rumor has it that the 2011 conference was the hardest drinking ever and that the administration had to send out twice for more booze.
It is impossible to communicate how much energy was added by the newer, more diversified elements of the conference, beginning with the Hip Hop workshop on Wednesday morning. Although some of us, myself included, approached the morning with trepidation, it proved to be a highly entertaining way of learning how to teach RAP to kids. Later on, the Seminar Report panel, typically a dry and dusty affair, was hugely enlivened by the African-American Experience Seminar, all of whom delivered their own performance pieces. Toni Blackman was absolutely brilliant!
Having said that, there was enough continuity with previous conferences so that more conventional attendees should not have been disappointed. Who would want to miss Richard Wilbur’s 90th birthday celebration with Sam Gwynn’s hysterical vocal tribute and poems read by Jennifer Reeser, among others? (Although we could have done without DW’s esteemed biographer reading an entire chapter of the forthcoming book as his forty minute contribution to the preceding panel!)
Keynote speaker Robert Pinsky was tremendously entertaining (How do you say the alphabet in New Jersey? Fucking A, fucking B, fucking C…) and the various other panels and readings did not, on the whole, disappoint (although the air conditioning did, alas, in various spaces and at various times.)
My own publishing panel and critical seminar went very well, and I am happy to say that I have been invited back next year for a repeat performance.
As always, much social and professional networking was conducted at the various meals and drinking hours. (The food was pretty good, too.) I was delighted to chat with old friends (Nick Friedman, Deborah Ager, Amy Lemmon, all my Timeline ladies), solidify acquaintances (John Foy, Andrew Sofer, Rhina Espaillat, Gerry Cambridge, Alicia Stallings) and make new friends (Dick Davis, Robert Abbate, Susan de Sola, Alex Pepple.) Please note: these lists are NOT exhaustive!
Finally, the conference ended with an unmissable concert by Alicia Hall Moran and the Motown project–opera and Motown, who knew it could work so well?–and a dance party in a thunderstorm. Rock on, West Chester! See you in 2012!