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Room 220: Andy Stallings Launches Second PXP Poetry Symposium at Tulane


Press Street's Room 220: By Zach Savich 

Last fall, local poet and Tulane University instructor Andy Stallings launched the Poetry Exchange Project (PXP), an innovative program that connects Tulane students to readers and writers from across the country. This year’s PXP culminates with a conference at Tulane University on November 8-9. The 2013 PXP Symposium will feature readings from dozens of poets, panel discussions on writing and publishing, student presentations, and the opportunity for readers and writers from New Orleans and beyond to talk with one another about poetry. A full schedule of this year’s events, which are free and open to the public, can be found here.

 

Below, celebrated poets Caryl Pagel and Kiki Petrosino reflect on last year’s PXP Symposium, the professional lives of poets, and New Orleans’ dynamic literary community.

 

Caryl Pagel is the author of the poetry collection Experiments I Should Like Tried at My Own Death and the publisher of Rescue Press. Kiki Petrosino’s most recent book of poetry is Hymn for the Black Terrific. She teaches at the University of Louisville and co-edits the poetry journal Transom.

 

Kiki Petrosino: One of my favorite moments at the PXP conference happened far away from the conference itself. We were all sitting around the table at dinner, and suddenly I got this idea that I had to ask everyone to compare the person they were in their 20s to the person they are today. “Does growing up mean forever burying the self you were?” Which led us all to reflect on what growing up really means. I don’t know why I asked the question, why it seemed like such a burning query. Looking back, it must’ve been because I’d interacted with so many bright young people at PXP that weekend. I even got to attend a presentation by an undergraduate student from Shippensburg University, in which the student analyzed several of my poems. It struck me that I’d never had a chance to attend a professional conference like PXP when I was an undergrad, let alone make a presentation. It was the brightness of the young people there, the depth of their inquiry, that struck me at the time, and made me think of my own younger self.

 

Caryl Pagel: I recall this dinner as a magical moment of that weekend as well; there was something about the wildfire energy of the undergraduates that attended PXP and their absolute (what seemed to me) sophistication and enthusiasm that cast a spell and necessarily stunned us into some pretty serious reflection. I also remember being impressed by the range of conversations that occurred in such short span of time: we talked about or watched people talk about or stood around and listened to compelling exchanges concerning trends in contemporary poetry, the process of publishing, community building, editing, revision, and poetic procedure with students from both near and far, poets, activists, artists, and prose writers in panels and before and after readings, at lunches and during breaks, in the park and hallway and on porch-swings and under awnings. Opportunities like that are so rare and yet sustaining for artists at all points in their career. To come together in a place like New Orleans—because the place and space and local events were such a large and important part of what occurred—with such gifted writers felt like a lucky act of commune and a gift. I wonder: We saw so many great poets perform and share their work, do you have a memory of a certain reading or reader that sticks with you?

 

KP: Yes! I loved the series of afternoon panels that addressed building community among writers, and that offered insight into the publishing process. It was wonderful to hear editors from large and small venues discuss how “the business” works and answer participants’ questions about it. So much of this process is invisible to young or otherwise beginning writers. I was happy to see that PXP tried to make this aspect of the writing life more transparent (and hopefully less scary for newcomers). The strength and dynamism of the local literary community were particularly in evidence during that part of the proceedings. What did you think of New Orleans as the setting for the conference?

 

KP: Yes! I loved the series of afternoon panels that addressed building community among writers, and that offered insight into the publishing process. It was wonderful to hear editors from large and small venues discuss how “the business” works and answer participants’ questions about it. So much of this process is invisible to young or otherwise beginning writers. I was happy to see that PXP tried to make this aspect of the writing life more transparent (and hopefully less scary for newcomers). The strength and dynamism of the local literary community were particularly in evidence during that part of the proceedings. What did you think of New Orleans as the setting for the conference?

 

CP: I can’t think of a more magical location for a poetry conference. Perhaps this was in part because I had never been to New Orleans before, and was completely charmed by the food, the landscape, the various and wide ranging academic and non-academic poetry communities, the neighborhoods, the students that I met, the histories and stories that I heard, the parks, the weather, the music, and the energy of making that infiltrated everything we did. And this was only one weekend! Tulane was especially generous to host a bunch of poets in this manner, and I couldn’t help but to have wanted to stay longer. Maybe a week next time!

 

KP: Hear, hear! I would have loved to stay longer, if only to continue interacting with the wonderful students at Tulane. I had the opportunity to visit one of Andy’s classes during my visit, an undergraduate poetry workshop. We fell into a sustained group conversation that ranged far from the immediate discussion of my book. It was clear that these students value poetry as a form of expression that can meaningfully address the culture at large. It was inspiring to absorb some of these students’ energy and enthusiasm for this art form. Besides all the chances for student interaction, how do you think PXP differs from other professional conferences you’ve attended?

 

CP: Well, the most immediate and obvious comparison is probably with AWP, the massive creative writing conference that many of us attend annually. PXP differs in its intimacy and care, in the fact that it was so obviously curated by a small selection of poets with a unified vision of how the weekend would proceed, and of the pacing and rhythm of a weekend in which everyone actually has the chance to meet and converse with everyone else involved. What a pleasure to know you’ve gazed upon every face, you’ve heard at least one word from every mouth!

 

KP: I agree. I left last year’s conference thinking that PXP was just the right size for New Orleans, or that New Orleans was just the right size for PXP. Other professional conferences can feel very overwhelming; you’re pulled in multiple directions by all the events competing for the same few time slots. At PXP, we gathered as a group for each component. The proceedings felt more like a convocation or symposium–a chain of discrete but related events. And as a showcase for the unique literary community of New Orleans, PXP shone particularly bright. In that environment, you’re invited to perceive writing as a local matter, a pursuit that involves students, teachers, schools, families, and the city itself. 




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