It doesn’t call attention to itself

This week, I accompanied Mr. Misdiagnosed & Admitted to his favorite writers’ conference, a congenial gathering of eminent, established, emerging, and aspiring formalist poets. The Poetry Conference at West Chester University of Pennsylvania is currently in its fifteenth year and seems appropriately vigorous for its age. At Books, Inq., Frank Wilson, Melissa Balmain, and Carrie Keesey are blogging about selected sessions, for those who can’t be present.

The conference schedule includes evening events that are free and open to the public. Books by conference faculty are available in the campus bookstore. At the registration desk, browsers are lured by a display of fine limited editions printed and bound on the university campus. Tempted by Moira Egan’s The Silk of the Tie (in its irreverent pink cover), David Yezzi’s Sad Is Eros, and Dick Davis’s translation of medieval Persian poet Fakhraddin Gorgani’s Vis and Ramin, my money and I were soon parted.

The opening of the conference on Wednesday was celebrated with a reading by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall. It was a pleasure to be part of an audience attuned to the collective shudder at the poet’s quiet observation: “Your peonies lean their vast heads westward / as if they might topple. Some topple.” (See the full text.)

Michael PeichMichael Peich, conference cofounder and director of the four-day event, surprised me with an invitation to his early morning demonstration of letterpress printing. A group of us trailed across the campus in the muggy calm, and Peich ushered us into the Aralia Press, housed in the new library at West Chester. We were joined by Donald Hall, who seemed delighted to sign for each of us Peich’s elegant, hand-colored broadside of the poem “Nymph and Shepherd.”

Peich, an admitted fanatic with a passion for rare types and the gorgeous imprecision of the typesetter’s art, explained the intuitive process of designing the broadside. Listening, we were as happy as a group of schoolchildren at story time. My photographs of Peich’s demonstration at Aralia Press can be found on Flickr.

Later in the morning, Mr. Misdiagnosed & Admitted conducted a workshop on preparing poetry manuscripts for submission. When asked to discuss the effect of typesetting on a poet’s work, he replied:

If a woman wearing a new dress walks into the room, do you say, “That’s a beautiful dress”?

If so, you miss the point. The proper response is “You look gorgeous.”

You could call it poetry immersion learning.

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