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Fourteen Hills at AWP

I cornered our Editor-in-Chief Ari Moskowitz and our Poetry Editor Ryan Nash, fresh from an exhilarating weekend in Seattle.

When asked what was his favorite panel, Ryan Nash gave the following thoughtful and exquisitely written response.

"The panel that most resonated with me was 'Ecstatic Lyric: A Reading and Conversation with Mary Ruefle and Brenda Shaughnessy,' moderated by Matthew Zapruder. Mary Ruefle has such an exceptional mind. Just hearing her read and discuss her work, I felt enriched. It wasn’t so much about any particular thing she said. It was about her presence. In fact, that was the major takeaway for me, from the conference as a whole. Presence.

There were so many things going on, so many panels, so many discussions, so many books to read, endless worlds to delve into — it was too much for me. I prefer to take one thing, and chew on it for a day or two before moving onto the next idea. But the simple presence of certain people can be enough transmit a whole wealth of meaning, and it has very little to do, even, with the specific words they use. I know that is a strange thing for a writer to say, but when you have 12 or 15 thousand writers all together in one place it becomes necessary (for me, at least) to close down a bit, and start listening on another level.

The panels were interesting. They were like mini-classes, very academic and some of them very thoughtful. But the sorts of moments which stayed with me were those when an artistic presence would just cut through all the noise, sometimes with only a word or two. Here, let me give you an example.

I attended a panel about the possible interactions between poetry and visual art. The topic was interesting, but the real reason I was there was to see Bianca Stone, the poet and visual artist. I had heard her read, the night before, and had been (and still am) completely blown away by her.

The other panelists were also interesting, but there was a bit of the feeling, after a while, that nobody was really saying much. I don’t mean any disrespect in that. We all know how it is sometimes, and we all have been guilty at one time or another of talk-for-talk’s-sake only. There is even the remote chance I am guilty of that right now, so I’ll get to the point.

One of the panelists brought up, and was very excited by, the fact that AmTrak is going to start offering writers' “residencies,” in which, for example, a writer might get the chance to take a train to Chicago, and back, for free. The idea behind this is that so many long hours on a train are just excellent for writing. And the ever so grateful writer is bound to say something good about AmTrak and trains in general, so, win-win.

It is a fine idea, and the audience all sort of perked-up and you could feel we were all really, genuinely excited about this: that one of us might actually get to take a train somewhere! Then, Stone sort of laughed, and said, real smooth-like, “Yeah, I guess the Greyhound writers’ residency wouldn’t be as popular.”

Just that. And the whole ridiculous reality of the situation was put in perspective. How pathetic we are in our middle-class desperation. That we can’t even afford a trip on a train. That, if only we could get a crumb of that good, white bread we imagine the rich feast on, we could actually turn our writerly fantasies into reality. And in the meantime, of course we won’t ride the Greyhound bus with those people. You know who I mean. The commoners. The forgotten poor. What on earth would we write about in a situation like that."

I asked Ari whether he had an opportunity to network with other small presses/literary journals and what were the major difference in philosophy and production techniques, if any. This was his response:

"This is a tricky question. Most of my conversations with other small presses involved me giving a brief overview of 14Hills, and then listening to a brief overview of other journals. I always talked about our art. It's striking, and I think people take notice of it. Most other journals only mention their writers, and they never touch on their art. I think most art in other journals doesn't compare to the art in 14Hills. Probably because they don't put time into it. "

When asked if he had a Eureka moment at AWP, Ari responded:

"My eureka moment (Panel on Research): One of the panelists said: 'Don't be in a hurry to demystify. It's not our jobs as writers to always be deconstructing things. Don't be afraid to stare at an object for awhile. Be open to learning, writing about what you want to know. Always be in touch with pleasure and with play. We need to reconnect with our joy of play."

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