At the Tucson Festival of Books

This time a week ago, I was arriving at the Tucson Festival of Books. The sky was blue, no clouds, temperatures were in the 60s in the morning, promising to rise into the 70s by mid-day. It was the first day of Tucson Festival of Books and all I had to do was hang out and enjoy being with over 100,000 other lovers of writing and literature. It was a wonderful weekend– the two days of the festival– and a nice capstone to the my literary adventure before returning East to my normal routine.

I arrived in Tucson on Wednesday, March 9 and left on Monday, March 14– nearly a week in Baja Arizona, as the locals refer to that part of the state.

My literary activities started with a presentation on Thursday, March 10, in the University of Arizona’s Geography Department as part of their colloquium series. My talk, “The Air a Mix of Diesel and Spices: the Geopoetics of the US 1 Corridor, Howard County, Maryland,” was a mix of geography and poetry. I talked a bit about the economic, social, and development changes that are occurring along the corridor and read a series of poems based around that theme. It was a relatively small audience, but plenty of good comments, questions, and discussion. I’ve posted some of the poems in previous entries, including the link to the video and reading of “Ode to US 1, Howard County, Maryland” on YouTube. If I can figure out how to share the powerpoint slides on this blog, I’ll post the talk. I should also plan to write it up as a paper.

On Saturday, I attended a session on the new book The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, edited by Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos. Eric is a geographer and poet-in-residence at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Chris teaches in the University of Arizona’s creative writing program and is affiliated with the Institute of the Environment. Teaming up with other writers and poets, the editors have produced an extraordinary book with entries for 80 different plants, birds, invertebrates, mammals, and reptiles. Each entry includes a poem or short essay, as well as a typical field guide entry describing the subject, its habitat, and life cycle, and a drawing. The book can, indeed, be used as a field guide. The book was the hit of the festival, selling out by Sunday afternoon. I bought two copies, one for myself, and one for my father.

On Sunday, I was part of a session on Lyricism and the Natural World with Chris and Eric as well as Allison Deming, a noted poet and writer at the University of Arizona, and a contributor to the The Sonoran Desert. I felt like  the odd man out, especially given all the acclaim they were receiving at the festival. Also, I was there primarily for my book, Shards of Blue, which really isn’t in a nature-focused group of poems, and, quite frankly, isn’t in the same league as their book. We each read three or four poems that fit with the session’s theme. I read three from Shards of Blue (“I Was Made for this Land,” “The Mountains Were My Meetinghouse,” and “John’s Lament”) as well as “Thoughts While Sitting Along the Lower Potomac.” The session went well, although some of the moderator’s questions made me realize I need to educate myself a bit more on literary form, concepts, and theory. Still, it was a good panel, I offered a few intelligent sounding comments, and I sold a few books.



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