I've been going to The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture — what everybody just calls "the Louisville Conference" — on and off since I was a graduate student, and I should probably be writing up my paper for this year's conference, which takes place later this month. Instead, though, I've been thinking about the conference and all the changes it's gone through over the years. The name has changed — it used to be the "twentieth century literature" conference, but the 21st century brought that to an end. The post-conference party venue has changed — from Alan Golding's little house to his new, big house. The attendance went down after the Modernist Studies Conference came along and never really came back to what it was. And the old jeans-and-blazer look seems to have been supplanted by a grad-students-in-cheap-suits aesthetic, which might have something to do with the lousy job market. What I remember most, though, was how the conference provided the best seats in the Theater of Academe from which to watch the language poets enter the universities. Anyway, in commemoration of my past visits, and in anticipation of this year's events, here's a bit of Joe Brainard-inspired conference memoir:
I Remember Louisville
I remember little plastic tablet desks and cinderblock walls.
I remember knowing it was the south because the girls out jogging had Aqauanetted their hair into immobile perfection.
I remember Lyn Hejinian sitting down next to me in the school bus they used as a shuttle and saying “Hi, I’m Lyn,” like it was my first day at a new school and she was being the nice kid.
I remember how tight the jazz combo was in the Seelbach lounge, and my friend Grant, who was another kind of tight, woo-ing and hooting his approval in the otherwise silent crowd.
I remember being surprised, every year, that Alan Golding wears an ear-cuff, and writing a haiku about it for my blog.
I remember a lot of red brick buildings on campus, and a lot of cab rides to get Ethiopian food.
I remember a beautiful African-American woman sidling up to me at a bar, fingering the edge of the tweed vest I picked up in Ireland, and saying “you rich, huh?”
I remember not wanting to go see Judith Roof talk about “female comic seconds” and then being glad I went.
I remember Gary Geddes running out to the book display where they were selling his collected poems and asking, with a big grin, “has there been a run on them yet?”
I remember a bunch of the language poets standing in a circle in the lobby with their cell phones out.
I remember not having a cell phone and using the last remaining pay phone to call my dad and tell him the ceramic artist Peter Voulkos had died. They were friends.
I remember going with my grad school friends down to Bardstown Road and, year after year, seeing the same band. We hadn’t planned it. They were called “El Roosters.”
I remember the singer from El Roosters looking, at first, like a young Jim Morrison, then like an older, puffy Jim Morrison. Every year he said they’d be going to Nashville next year to cut a record.
I remember always thinking I should book the F. Scott Fitzgerald suite at the Seelbach, then forgetting until it was too late.
I remember being at some kind of reception in a fancy building when a woman with a name-tag came rushing up to me and pointed at a piece of furniture. “What is this thing called?” she demanded. It was a credenza.
I remember C.D. Wright reading “Deepstep Come Shining” and the top of my head being lifted off, just like Emily Dickinson said. It was beautiful.
I remember bedposts carved with tobacco leaves.
I remember Mark Scroggins sitting at the desk in my hotel room looking through the course pack for my theory seminar. He asked me something. I forget what it was, but I remember I changed the syllabus after that.
I remember telling some bullshit story at a long table full of Jamaican food and grad students. They all laughed when I wanted them to and it felt great.
I remember Charlie Altieri saying he found my paper on Pinsky irritating, but that he didn’t find the other papers on the panel interesting enough to be irritating. That felt great too.
I remember someone at Alan Golding’s end-of-conference party changing the CD from The Beatles to some old-school rap, and how Alan came in, switched it back, nodded curtly, and left. No harm no foul.
I remember leaving early when someone I love had some bad medical news, the airport empty at four a.m.
I remember Burt Hatlen being the biggest, oldest, smilingest man at the conference. I want to always remember him that way.