Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bread Loaf: Day Seven

A long one. First up was a lecture by Tom Sleigh on "Some Measure of Insanity: Poetic Language, Versions of the Self, and the Struggle Against Fascism." I was attracted by the part about struggle, but I confess that I failed to fully grasp Tom's meaning here. There is hope that he'll make available his lecture notes, in which case maybe I'll be able to figure out what it is he said.

My workshop with Baxter followed and we discussed the stories of two participants, Erin and Noel. Both stories were such, in my opinion, that a traditional workshop approach would have resulted in a catalog of flaws. But the descriptive approach that Charlie takes--focusing almost exclusively on what the story is trying to do and in what way it succeeds--invariably (well, so far anyway) elevates the discourse and ends up revealing the flaws, but in a far more constructive way.

In the afternoon I attended a craft talk by Steve Almond on Writing Erotica. Steve is a riot. He provided a "twelve-step program" for writing erotica (including "never compare a woman's nipples to Frankenstein's bolts--or anything else), and then we looked at some highly erotic passages from a few texts: Mary Gordon, David Lodge, James Salter, Jamaica Kincaid, and Peter Hoeg. Then he read to us an entrant (the winner?) in the "Bad Erotica Writing" Contest. Oooh.

Then there was a fine reading. First up was Merrill Feitell reading from her collection of stories. She read half of a story she workshopped at Bread Loaf a while back. [Later I happened to stop by Kat Denza's blog and saw that she had read the collection and commented favorably on it. I told Merrill this and gave her the url so she can check it out. That was fun.] Then came Thomas Mallon. Tom read from a novel in progress about a couple of gay men working in Washington D.C. in the 1950s, and the absurdity of the persecution they experience. It seemed like funny stuff, but I'm not sure it was meant to be!

We had a very nice cocktail reception on the lawn, combined with book signing. I have mixed feelings about getting these signatures, but brought several volumes along anyway. I got Charlie Baxter to sign a couple of things, then Steve Almond signed his latest story collection. Steve knows my friend Rob in Boston, so we talked about that. Perceval Everett signed one of his books for me, and we talked about how we have a friend in common, too--Emily. Jay Parini is a Theta Chi and I told him I first became aware of his work when I saw him mentioned in a fraternity magazine. We had a very nice talk about that and other things. I've picked up his biographies of Frost and Faulkner while here. I've read one of his novels and plan to read another soon.

We had three major readings in the evening. First was the Fellow/Faculty reading. H.G. Carillo read from his novel Losing My Spanish. It was terrific and now I'm going to have to buy it. Susan Orlean read sever non-fiction pieces from various sources. She was absolutely hilarious and now I'm going to have to read her, as well.

That was followed by readings of the Social Staff. They only get 4 minutes each and there were about 10 readings. Some really good stuff, including an amazing long poem that made me think I was in a poetry slam.

At 11:00 pm we had the Erotica Reading, hosted by Steve Almond, in the Barn. The place was packed. Anyone who signed up could read and there was some excellent writing evident. But I bailed early, around Midnight. As I say, it was a long one.

3 comments:

katrina said...

Thanks so much for highlighting each day, Cliff.

katrina said...

Do you have an opinion of which conference was the most useful to you this year?

Clifford Garstang said...

This year? Bread Loaf, by a long shot, primarily because the vast array of craft talks and readings, access to great writers and the talent of the participants. Sewanee last year was also good, but of the workshops I've been to this year, there is no contest.