AUSTIN INTERNATIONAL POETRY FESTIVAL: I'm back from the festival and have much to tell. This is going to be a long post, so I'll break it down into easily digestible morsels in case you want to read a little and then come back to it later. I did six readings (!!!) in four days and am exhausted and elated. I got to hear some amazing work, see friends, make new ones and totally immerse myself in poetry. Here goes...

THURSDAY, APRIL 14:

The departure from Atlanta and plane ride to Austin was fairly unremarkable. I had a two hour layover in Houston, so I grabbed some lunch and went to the totally empty gate. It was very quiet and I got to dive into the Jane Fonda bio (which is fascinating). As the gate area started to get more crowded, I happened to look up and see the beautiful poet Sholeh Wolpe walking toward me. She was also featuring at the festival and we coincidentally were on the same plane. We chatted about our hectic schedules (after AIPF she was on her way to NYC for another reading) and then boarded the plane. We actually sat at the gate waiting to leave longer than we were in the air. Austin is only 30 minutes by plane from Houston. Sholeh later remarked that she thought Austin would be a small town, and was surprised to find it to be a bustling city...complete with skyscrapers.

Sholeh already had a ride, so I picked up my rental car in a flash and was on my way. The Austin Bergstrom International Airport is such an easy place to navigate. It's modern and whoever designed it actually had some sense. Hats off to whoever you are. Unfortunately, Austin is going through a growth spurt, evidenced by all the highway construction on the southside of the city. All the crisscrossing ramps and exits reminded me of Atlanta's dreaded "spaghetti junction," where all the major interstates converge to cause traffic gridlock on a daily basis. I'm sure Austin will be dealing with this soon. Good signage is non-existent in the work zone, so I totally missed my exits to get into downtown, but luckily remembered enough about the city from last year to find my way to South Congress (SoCo to the locals) and the Austin Motel.

Another poetry pal from Atlanta, Cleo Creech, was also in town for the festival and had already checked into the Austin Motel when I arrived. I stayed there during last year's festival and it was fun. The motel was built in 1938 and has kept the charm of that era, with a dash of 50's kitsch thrown in. My room was small and comfy, with saltillo tiles on the floor and a big rocking chair. I had a few minutes to catch my breath and decide what I was going to read that evening, and then Cleo and I headed over to the opening ceremonies at Ruta Maya, a massive, hanger-like coffee house on SoCo. This was the headquarters for the festival and the main meeting spot. I got checked in, picked up my schedule, name tag and a copy of the di-verse-city anthology containing my poem Georgia Toll 400. I was honored to be included, especially after editor Vicki Goldsberry said it was a tough decision this year. With over 200 poets attending (and from as far away as Singapore and New Zealand), I'm sure she and the selection committee had a tough job.

The opening ceremony went on a bit longer than it should have, and made many folks late to the first round of readings that evening, that just happened to be for the poets featured in the anthology. My reading was being held at the Borders at Westgate, which was south of the city. I got totally lost on my way there, but luckily my friend Joy B. (who I used to work with at The Fayette Neighbor) lives in Austin with her brood and she was able to help me get to the store. I was thrilled to see her, husband Afshin and her kids, Jon and Kevin. The loverly Stazja McFayden hosted the reading and I really enjoyed it. My work seemed to connect with the audience and I sold a few copies of Better To Travel as well. The stand out readers from the evening were a trio of women: T. Keyser (who's started her own small press, MetroManiaPress), Maggie Jochild and Claiborne Walsh. Really good stuff.

After the anthology reading, I rushed back to the hotel to pick up my box of HalfLife Crisis cds to take to the next reading, but I shouldn't have bothered. The "After Hours" reading started at 10 p.m. and went on far too long. A good-sized crowd was there in the beginning, but the later it got, folks started drifting away. It was nearly midnight when I finally read, the audience had dwindled to about 20 people and my first poem (First Gay Crush) went over like lead balloon. That poem usually gets a laugh, but it fell totally flat. I reversed course and read some of what I now call "the greatest hits" from the book and CD and closed with Why I Want To Be Pam Grier. The audience loved the final poems, and the great Mahogany Brown told me afterwards that she liked my set, esp. Pam Grier. She's a brilliant poet, so hearing that praise from her was a great way to cap off the night. After the reading, I went back to the hotel and crashed hard. Totally exhausted.

FRIDAY, APRIL 15:

After having back-to-back readings on Thursday, I inexplicably had none on Friday. I slept late and then met up with Cleo for burgers at the Waterloo Ice House downtown, and then we stopped by the record store next door to browse. They actually had vinyl records, which I still love. We then picked a reading at random from the program. Cleo had read last year at Cafe Mundi, the line-up looked promising, so we headed that way. Cafe Mundi is in the funky warehouse district on the eastside of the city. We got some beverages and were sitting outside in the gorgeous weather waiting for the event to begin when host Mike Guinn came up and said a couple of the poets couldn't make it and asked if I would fill in as a featured poet. Luckily, I had my poems in the car. This was another great reading. Mike's stuff is outstanding and Tito Perez blew me away with his beautiful voice and poetry about the immigrant experience. I sold a few cds and books, so it turned out to be a nice afternoon indeed.

That evening was the AIPF Slam, which was a highlight of last year's festival, so I wanted to get to Ruta Maya early and find a good seat. The place was packed! Some of the best poets in the world were competing, but one immediately stood out above the others: Joaquin Zihuatanejo. He's a ninth grade English teacher in San Antonio, and all I can say is those are some damn lucky kids. His work was passionate and his love of teaching was obvious. I'm sure every one of his students -- male and female -- has a crush on him. Hell...I have a crush on him. He's gorgeous, smart, and loves poetry. His wife is a very lucky woman. Sigh.

After the slam, Cleo and I met up with Sholeh and had a late dinner at the Magnolia Cafe. It was tasty and the conversation was lively. I had a big plate of eggs and a tall glass of milk, which I had been craving all day. After dinner we went back to Waterloo Ice House expecting to see Talaam Acey and Larry Jaffee hosting their usual gig, The Larry & Talaam Show. However, Larry was a no show at the festival this year. I never did get a straight answer about why he wasn't there. I love Larry and his work and missed his energy at the festival. Come back, Larry!!! Brit poet Tim Gibbard filled in for Larry and he and Talaam traded some fairly sharp barbs at each other. It made me uncomfortable when Tim called Talaam "boy." Calling an adult African-American man a "boy" is horribly racist, but Talaam shot back with some great lines about Tim's failure in the slam earlier. They hugged and shook hands at the end of the reading, so I guess they're still friends.

SATURDAY, APRIL 16:

I slept in again and missed Tony Hoagland's workshop, thinking I'd have a chance to meet him and hear him read at Ruta Maya later in the evening. That was not to be. More on that in a moment.

Again, the scheduler for AIPF decided I should do back-to-back readings. My afternoon event was at St. Edward's University in a fairly sterile room. Frankly, the poetry read that afternoon was not very good. Some of it was cringe-inducing. I didn't do very well myself. I was stumbling over words and kept changing my mind about what to read. The poets and audience were restless and kept getting up and coming back in, or running out to use their cell phones. The bright spot was Segun Akinlolu, who read his beautiful poetry and played music. He totally saved the reading in my opinion. I could have stayed all afternoon listening to this beautiful man speak.

I went and picked up Cleo since we were both performing that evening at the gay and lesbian reading. Once again, the scheduling of this event made no sense. They stuck the reading way out at a Barnes & Noble in Sunset Valley, full of kids and families who certainly had no idea what to make of the fags who descended for the event. Host Scott Wiggerman couldn't understand why we were their either, and predicted that we wouldn't be asked back. The fabulous Dr. Madelyn Hatter (great pen name) made sure of that. I had heard her at the "After Show" and her poetry was obscenely fabulous. There's something about the sound of "fuck," "cunt" and "pussy" wafting out over a Middle American bookstore on a Saturday night that was just electrifying. The poor store manager was standing in the back and looked like she was moments away from a stroke. Kids and old people kept poking their heads around the corner to see what was going on. It was hilarious. We did a round-robbin, so when I got up to read again, I decided to pull out Sex In My Parents' House and First Gay Crush, and I saw the manager drop her head into her hands. Cleo did a great set...his work gets better and better. It was a great reading, a respectful audience and just plain fun.

Let me mention here that before we went to this reading, Cleo and I were looking for a place to eat near the B&N and decided on Luby's Cafeteria. Most cafeteria food these days makes me want to puke, but Luby's was so damn good I nearly cried. I had roast beef, green beans, corn, cornbread and sweet tea. Damn it was good! Of course, the average age of the patrons at Luby's was death, but the dulcet tones of oxygen tanks whirring in the background made the food go down in the most delightful way.

After the gay and lesbian reading, we hauled ass back to Ruta Maya to hear Hoagland and Naomi Shihab Nye read. They were the big features at this year's show. However, Hoagland was a no show. They said he was sick, but I heard later this was probably a bit of PR fiction. While I missed hearing him, Naomi Nye was fucking ON FIRE! Her set blew me away. She's brash, clever, political and her poems are beautiful. She read one about avoiding alligators on Louisiana swamp boat rides that had everyone screaming with laughter. She got a standing ovation at the end, and deserved it. There was a party afterwards, but since Cleo had to get up early to catch his flight back to Atlanta, we went back to the motel. I was, again, tired as hell after a long day.

SUNDAY, APRIL 17:

I got up early and took Cleo to the airport and then came back to the motel and went right back to sleep. I finally got up around 2 p.m. and headed over to the closing ceremonies at the B&N on Capital of Texas Boulevard. Vicki Goldsberry had asked me the night before to read something by a poet who inspired me. My first thought was Anne Sexton, but they didn't have any copies of her books, so I decided to read Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo, which is one of the best poems ever written. Those final lines (For here there is no place that does not see you; you must change your life.) always give me goosebumps. Festival president Byron Kocen brought us all to tears with a story about his grandson, who has been living on the streets for years addicted to drugs and alcohol. Byron managed to get his grandson involved in the festival and it had a positive impact on him. He's now at a treatment facility cleaning up. Byron was so brave to tell this story. Thank you, Byron, for reminding me about the power the written and spoken word can truly have.

After the closing ceremonies, I drove up to Round Rock to meet Joy and her family for dinner and to see their new house. After dinner, we sat on the couch catching up and cutting up as usual. Her son Kevin is nine and way too clever for his own good. If I were to ever have a kid, I'd want him to be just like Kevin. He can be a total goofball and then say something so disarming it just melts your heart. He gave me a little purple porcupine, which is now sitting on my desk. I was actually sad to leave, because I know it will be a year or more before I see them again.

I got back to the hotel around 10 p.m. and rather than go to bed, I started watching Field of Dreams. I love that film, especially James Earl Jones. It's the best thing Kevin Costner has ever done. I finally went to bed around midnight, but got very little sleep since I had to be up at 4 a.m. to get to the airport for my flight home.

MONDAY, APRIL 18:

The Northwest flight attendant named Kelly on the plane from Austin to Memphis was a rude bitch. I have flown a lot, and she was the mostly surly flight attendant I'd ever come across. She was supposed to be doing beverage service, but passed by most people because she thought they were asleep. Nice try, you lazy bitch. She was incredibly rude to the couple sitting next to me after they pressed the call button. The man asked her to bring him some juice and she turned around and walked away, completely dismissing him. We called the main flight attendant back and complained, and also filled out complaint forms at the airport. Before we had even boarded in Austin, I had heard her complain to a co-worker about having to get up in the middle of the night to work the flight. Here's some free advice for Kelly: Shut the fuck up and bring me a beverage or get another profession.

Memphis has a shitty airport and I was totally confused about the connecting flight. And of course, the plane from Austin landed on one end of the terminal and the connection was at the opposite side. No tram or shuttle service, you had to hike. The flight to Atlanta was easy. I hopped on MARTA and came straight to work to proof pages for the May edition. I did that, wrote this, and now it's sleepy time.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Damn that took forever to read, but it sounds like fun. All you homos should be ashamed for scaring those midwestern breeders at the Barnes and Noble. hehe

TJ
shamanic said…
Hey Collin, this is completely off topic, but did you see that the disputes stemming from foetry.com made the New York Times?

I thought of you. :)
Teamaster said…
Mother Mercy, what a prodigious post! MY fingers hurt when I think of all the typing. :)

Interesting experiences, I see. Good that you didn't get any major letdowns. Sure, when audiences miss/dislike a poem it's not fun/comfortable in the least - but it could have been worse. So...good. The St. Edward's situation? Ugh. Everyone has stumbled and felt like a dork. No prob.

I look forward to the day when anybody/any race can call anybody/any race "boy" and not piss their panties about it. So many other things to worry about in this world, right? :)

Hey, if you dig James Earl Jones, check out the underrated A FAMILY THING with Jones and the great Robert Duvall. Decent flick. (By the way, I plug Duvall's masterpiece, THE APOSTLE, any chance I get. Ignored by stupid-ass Hollywood, but worth a viewing. The pay-off is the last 20 minutes.)

Highlight? AN F-ING PURPLE PORCUPINE! Wooo!!!

What ever happened to cute, short-skirted, obedient, bimbo stewardesses??? :)

Glad you had a cool trip overall!

-D.
Kevin said…
Thanks Collin for what you said about me. If you don't know already, this is Kevin. Mama said that if we'd known you had already been to Waterloo we would have taken you somewhere else! I'm glad that you came and I wish you were coming back before a year. Too bad Teammaster is so jealous of your purple porcupine!

Note from Joy: You are way too modest about the St. Edwards reading. YOU were the highlight and woke up the audience that had been lulled into a stupor by what was passing as poetry before and after you. You and Segun Akinlolu showed that there being a Featured Poet is more than just a title.

We loved getting to see you!

Joy
BLUE said…
what a wonderful Sunday treat ... to sit at my computer and have a wild visit with Collin in Austin ... i felt like i was in your pocket peeking out the whole time. and the entry about the "family" bookstore is off the richter! thanks for the free trip. going to go think dirty thoughts now about purple porcupines ... light! ~BLUE
Friend of T said…
Joaquin Zihuatanejo~OMG, the name gives me chills~ Blew everyone away at Nationals last year.He's a favorite. Brings people to tears, that one.
Damn, and to see Nye & Acey, too~fantastic!
~karen g
Nii said…
I had forgotten Tito's surname, did a search and found this amazing Austin diary! Anyway, I thought I'd let you know that, although I don't talk much about poetry at Austin, I enjoyed your work too.

Nii
London

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