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Friday
Mar292019

AWP Portland

Somewhere there's a poem by Shinkichi Takahashi that begins with the line, I have thrown my "me" away.

The poem's in a little book of his poems that I carried around for years, put in my briefcase and looked at before buisness meetings, stashed in my luggage when I went out of town, would consult in odd moments of any spare time I had. I'd almost always get something from the poems that my life at the time wasn't giving me; though I had a good life it often seemed to be not much different from the good life others around me were having. A poem by Takahashi's, almost any poem in the little book, would snap me out of it and give me immediate access to some other sort of consciousness in which I could correct my thinking about the situation. One little poem would do the trick, sometimes all it took was the first stanza--it was like sticking my head out of an open window for a few seconds while driving 80 mph on the San Diego Freeway and coming back a brand new person.

Many of the images in Takahashi's poems carried me--there was a bus that roared through cherry blossoms, a crab polishing its claws in the shade of a tree, the sparrow that cut the day in half, the happiness of breathing--and still carry me.

I thought of that little book, 6"x3" or so, and how many times it had saved me from myself, as I was walking through the AWP at the Oregon Convention Center yesterday. All the publishers, all the books, all the people with nametags, all the seminars, the lines for registration, all the smiling and handshakes, all the free pens and chocolates, all the commotion of promotion, the deals, the sales, the yearning for recognition, the achievement of success versus the achievement of failure--all those feelings from my past life, attending conferences, working the room, looking for business, came in hard on me.

A slight depression ensued. I found an empty chair, sat down and scribbled a note on the pen provided by The American Poetry Review on the margins of the latest issue, the one with the poet Brenda Shaughnessy on the cover. I felt a little better. Perhaps there was a book among the thousands upon thousands of books at AWP that had something to say to me, that could become as valuable to me as Takahashi's book has been, and that it was possible I'd find a writer here to publish whose writing would become to someone what Shin Takahashi's had become to me.

AWP is the acronym for Associated Writers and Writing Programs. Portland is the site for AWP's annual convention. The Takahashi book was titled Afterimages. I remember the poems were translated by Lucien Stryk. I still have it back home.

Downtown Portland from hotel room, March 29, 2019. Photo by author.

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