April Showers Brings....An Assortment of Literary Events

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature,music-the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.
— Henry Miller

Who does not look forward to spring? In dumping the tattered winter coat for a sweater and the salt encrusted boots for no-sock shoes. Every year at this time I get excited for wardrobe transitions and one of my favorite literary events, A Rally of Writers one-day conference on April 18 in Lansing, Michigan. If you’re currently writing, or just thinking about writing, this is the event to attend.

Held at Lansing Community College’s West Campus, Rally begins at 9 a.m. with a keynote address this year by Jack Lessenberry. If you listen to NPR you know his commentaries on political issues in Michigan. He’s written for a slew of publications and was a foreign correspondent for the Detroit News. He will be speaking on “How Writing Has Changed in the Age of the Internet and Online Publication.”
There are four sessions throughout the day with four options per session. For example, Session 1 lists One Path for Poetry, Bad Sex Writing 2.0, Children’s Book Industry 101, or Nonfiction Basics as choices. The workshops/classes are taught by local writers, educators, editors, and bookstore owners and each and every one offered is unique.
If you’re lucky enough to have a finished manuscript (fiction or nonfiction only) you can submit it ahead of time and sit down with an editor for an oral review on the 18th. This is priceless information for taking your work to the next step.
Rally has been a staple literary event for twenty plus years. I’ve been attending for five or six years now and always come away from the day with a bevvy of ideas and inspiration for new work to tackle over the summer. Plus, you’ll meet your tribe here—the lonely business of writing is not so lonely anymore when you meet and share your experiences with others. I met Cheryl, my writing critique partner, at Rally two years ago. We’ve been reading each other’s work ever since.
Check out their website at www.arallyofwriters.com for more information and registration. Get going though, it does fill quickly.
Another event that draws up to 12,000 crazy writers annually from around the world is the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference held every year in a different city. I’ve attended the one’s in Austin and NYC. This year’s event is April 8-11 in Minneapolis at the Minneapolis Convention Center and Hilton Minneapolis Hotel.
It’s Disney World for writers with panels, workshops, readings, contests, book fairs, famous author sightings, author signings, bar hopping, and off site pop up events—like the guitar playing poet making up lyrics to folk songs I witnessed one rainy night in NYC. It’s exhausting, inspiring, and a genuine cluster of loonisy—but well worth the two days it takes to recoup once you’re home because of all the fantastic networking.
Some of my favorite authors are presenting this year: Charles Baxter, Stuart Dybek, Louise Erdrich, and Dani Shapiro.
Click here http://www.workinprogressinprogress.com/2015/03/survival-tips-for-awp15.html for my friend Leslie’s survival guide to AWP15. She’s a regular attendee and panel guest and knows of what she speaks.
I’m most excited for the Wellspring Literary Series featuring “monthly readings by prominent Michigan writers and poets.” April’s lineup includes Phillip Sterling, author of In Which Brief Stories Are Told and four collections of poetry, and Robert Holzhausen, a beautiful poet and beautiful human being.
Here is a sampling of Holzhausen’s evocative work:
Everyone is afraid of snakes
but some people are really afraid of them.
I’d barely been in Nam long enough to get a tan
when I saw the damnedest thing while guarding a firebase.
We had a Howitzer 175 in the middle
that nearly rattled your balls off every time it fired.
Amazing big fucker.
“Indianhead” is what everyone called them.
Obviously, Charlie hated a goddamn firebase.
They were mobile murder machines
capable of popping up and popping off
wherever and whenever the brass saw fit.
Even our guys hated them.
Most preferred recon to guarding them.
Guarding them was waiting for Charlie to lob his big shit
and hoping you weren’t sitting on your thumb beneath it.
A lot of laying in holes
under corrugated sheet steel.
This shelling was the same as the ones before it.
We got down and crawled into the nearest bunker
and laid there and listened to the sky rip above us.
Fucking mountains falling around us.
The screaming of our guys indistinguishable
from the siren’s wail.
A peppering of small arms suffocating
in that godless grab-bag of noise.
And as hell fell from the sky above us
we found a baby cobra coiled in the bunker’s corner.
Too small to swallow a gnat.
Red vine thin. A glorified worm.
Then this guy in my company, I don’t remember his name,
jumped straight out the bunker.
We grabbed at him.
We tried to keep him in there but couldn’t.
He was all elbows, fists and fight as he squirmed past us
and stumbled into the fray.
We watched him blow up.
They could’ve mailed him home in a ruck sack.
And this one:
When we believed the power plant
was a cloud factory,
my sister and I wanted a treasure hunt
and figured our Dad did too.
So we buried an envelope full of cash
from a garage sale our parents sold dreams at:
to cut weight.
To pay for a U-Haul and past-due bills
before moving to grandma’s.
Dad grit teeth and hummed.
He hummed a song that didn’t exist
and squeezed his bulbous belly between hulking hands.
His hairy mitts looked like cracked,
balding monkeys
forced into happy concentric circles of offset pats.
It was the first time I noticed him do it
and have spent the past 20 years observing.
I’ve nearly asked him about it.
If he knows when he does it
or if he even knows he does it at all.
In cramped halls.
In a men’s room waiting to leak.
Standing in a fridge’s glow not hungry.
The humming is like a dozen different birds with harmonicas.
Mocking everything we’ve come to be.
Mocking the father and son
as broke and hopeless as pirates without maps.
Sarah and I buried the envelope in the back yard.
We hoped the search would bring our family together
but Dad cringed when we forgot where we’d dug.
So he hummed,
rubbed his belly
and took a spade into autumn rain.
There’s so many good ones to choose from and here is one more:
It seethed like blood from a cut small and deep.
The color of a rusty carrot.
Watched it roll from beneath the gashed earth.
Coat the surface of a South Pacific island.
Waves crashed, hissed desperate billow clouds
and made rock.
I want to get in there and just roll around she said.
We watched from carpet squares
bathed in projector glow.
I tried to make myself
as much like them as circumstance permitted.
This both worked and didn’t.
I’m Chris Angel in disguise. Watch me hover she said
as I turned on the lights
and her classmates returned to their seats.
She stood on tip-toes at the front of the room
doing everything she could
to float away.
She wore the same grimy blues jeans.
The same dog-eared All-Stars.
The same cerulean sweatshirt
with our school’s insignia stitched on the shoulder.
She sat down,
pulled up her sleeves
and picked at bedbug bites.
She didn’t know she shouldn’t have them.
That she shouldn’t always bleed
if only a little.
This is us Mr. H. We’re Superheroes. We can do anything we want she said
as she handed me a drawing of us
hanging expressionless above the beaten,
burned and mutilated bodies of our former foes.
Stoics floating above a massacre.
We can do anything we want she said
and figured we’d want to kill.
I remembered what she said at breakfast
between bites of runny eggs and English muffin.
She said I never met my dad. He’s in prison. Mom says it’s better this way.
You can hear Phillip Sterling and Robert read more of his work at the event on Monday, April 6 at 7 p.m. at Art Reach of Mid Michigan located at 111 E. Broadway in downtown Mt. Pleasant. Daryl and the Beans are performing, too. I’m going. Who wants to come along