Like many writers, I feel ambivalent about promoting my own work. I’d rather be reading somebody else’s—or writing new writing, becoming another somebody else, myself. And though I’m typically beyond thrilled to hear about my friends’ successes (“I’m beyond thrilled to announce,” their social media posts begin), I’ve been tempted, when overwhelmed by Writer X’s self-promotion, to wish for an app that would require Writer X to say three smart things about somebody else’s work every time he cheerfully touts his own.
The problem, I guess, is that indecent promotion can efface not only one’s writing but the wilder connections and correspondences that a book might spark. One ends up promoting nothing except the self, crying, “What I do is me: for that I came,” and not saying more; the wider world–which includes one’s wider self–fades. (For one example of recent book promotion that avoids these disappointments, that uses social media but is more than adept online dramaturgy, check out the films extending from Adam Fell’s Dear Corporation.)
To celebrate some of the connections and correspondences surrounding my latest book of poetry, Century Swept Brutal, my publisher, Black Ocean, has created an actual award in excellence, the Century Swept Brutal / Black Ocean Award in Excellence. Over the next week or so, I will grant it to twelve awardees. Each will receive a copy of my book and a very official certificate. And I’ll dedicate some lines from the book to them.
We hope that this project will illuminate the experiences, influences, and enthusiasms that tangle in rangy milieu in and around a book. Rather than promoting my book by asserting its existence (and value—with free-shipping!) as a product, these awards will explore its place in a landscape of affection and appreciation. Perhaps, these awards can hint at the ongoing, invisible acknowledgments page that accrues around a book, all the people an author would wish to thank: may that itself become the work.
Today’s batch of awards focuses on institutions in Olympia and Seattle, WA, that were vital to my early thinking about aesthetics, art, and poetry.
Olympia Film Society
Sometimes I meet somebody who’s excited that I grew up in Olympia in the ‘90s. It’s usually because of music: Sleater Kinney was a road; my high school English teacher had a painting by a member of Unwound; Bikini Kill, Beat Happening, Miranda July played all-ages shows that a middle schooler could bop at, sometimes in the backstage of the Capitol Theater.
It’s my time in the front of the theater, though, that I wish to commemorate by awarding a Century Swept Brutal / Black Ocean Award in Excellence to the Olympia Film Society. Not for their superb film festival. Not for their live-scored silent films. Not for letting me dance in the aisles to Stop Making Sense. But for the many Sunday afternoons of double features, Blue Sky soda, balcony seats, slippage through the cusp of day into movies that, more than anything in high school, were my education. The best and the strangest—they showed me everything. What I want from poems is a feeling I had nearly every week in that building.
Lines from my book I dedicate to the awardee: “Then one day / you see a street you know / in a novel.”
Open Books: A Poem Emporium
This one is simple. Poetry for me started at Open Books, one of the best poetry bookstores in the world. Because I lived near it when I first moved to Seattle, I wandered in and bought some poetry (Merwin’s Second Four Books, some Levertov, others), and so I took a poetry course with Richard Kenney at the University of Washington, and so I met Melissa Dickey, Cassie Donish, Jay Thompson, Andy Stallings, John Bliss. Everything since—writing here now, caring about writing in the ways I do, friendships, vocation, any day—extends from that. The enchanted log I crawled through. Doorway of paper. Place I picture when I picture my book in the world. For all they do for poetry. Including hosting upcoming readings by Joy Katz, Rob Schlegel, many others.
Lines from my book I dedicate to the awardee: “As usual, I wanted to see the water and sky as separate forms of I don’t know what / And name the clouds so they happened appropriately on the tongue / And felt to do so was the World”
Richard Hugo House
I first knew the Richard Hugo House, a community writing center in Seattle, because of their zine library, and I took some courses there while in college. One was called “The Two-Hour MFA.” One was called “Experiments in the Writing Lesson.” After a quick introduction to creative writing pedagogy (“co-journey!” “risk!”), we spent the next weeks devising, completing, and evaluating writing activities. Mine required students to talk to somebody outside and then interpret whatever they said as a lesson about writing. I talked to a guy walking quickly, hand in a cartoonishly huge boxing glove. I learned a lot about writing.
I go back when I’m in town. Essential to me, in the background of my writing, like one of those “primal” elements of literary sense that Hugo mentions in one of his letter poems. And so, I’m pleased to present the Richard Hugo House with the Century Swept Brutal / Black Ocean Award in Excellence. Congratulations, House!
Lines from my book I dedicate to the awardee: “Watched a man / shoulder a mattress / shadows fell from.”
In my next posts, I will move away from the Pacific Northwest, to honor awardees that include poets, musicians, galleries, and a particular bridge.