Reviewing CCCC 2000: (Re)Imagining 4cs: Multiple Perspectives, Multiple Conferences (H.24)

In this roundtable session, the conference chair, Wendy Bishop continued to blaze new textures into our academic lives by participating in a meta-discussion of the conference and offering lively rejoinders to many of the critical comments expressed. Some in the audience felt she was not as openly understanding of their issues as others, but all were taken with the sincerity of the poetry and integrity of our conference leader's good work. Following up on her newly edited (with David Starkey) collection of creative writing about teaching called In Praise of Pedagogy, Bishop read her session presentation as poem:

My Conference Poem    Minneapolis 4Cs 2000

My conference poem has elevator eyelids and a concierge's phone ringing
     without remorse all night.1
My conference poem flaunts its badges and free samples in the face of a
     chaffing dish lobby breakfast bar with sad fruit baskets and
     scorched coffee urns.2
My conference poem busts at the heart-seams when the crowd likes its
     paper even if they didn't attend, didn't listen, didn't seem to
     quite understand.3
My conference poem goes down on its knees at the exhibit hall trampled by
     a pod of discount purchasers and last day pack-aways.4
My conference poem is an expectant handshake and wink late night lobby
     dark where the unsayable is finally said and concerns are translated
     into conversations of sudden community.5
My conference poem is the swimming pool seen from the 24th floor going
     down fast on an outside vertigo elevator, the red eye strange city
     sunset, the looming awake by the rain-misted non-opening window
     of a barely inhabited room where the insufficient hair dryer and Mr.
     Coffee sing hey, diddle diddle to the waning moon together.6
My conference poem is a good idea tucked in my pocket like a business
     card, is that break in city traffic when I rush across without
     crosswalk, suddenly outside, and see all this simply as part of my
     life, like the moment faces reflect out of a grand ballroom mirrored
     wall like memory or a piece of familiar luggage settling into the held
     luggage area for one last long day until shaken into the maw of a
     departing taxi.7
My conference poem is a bee hive an ant colony a home that has spread its
     architectural wings to the greatest excess, is a myth is a role a role a
     roll a delight a fresh and stale breath, is a heart breaker a home
     breaker a career maker a sob and a snooze, is a galvanizing detour
     into another phrase of my life.8
My conference poem packs up and never goes home--is always already at home--
     in the exhibit hall when writing teachers give way to tile
     setters, tile to computer programming, programming to dentists,
     parochial to medical, law to athletics, and the tides of the world and
     turns of the hotel corridors tell us that our conferences will
     continue to go in and out and ebb and flow with or without us while
     we return to the reliable ground floors of our everyday lives.9

     1 My most persistent conference memories include elevators. Being stuck in them with strangers, waiting so long I want to run up the staircases, thinking, this hotel will never get us all where we need to be, something a little scary and claustrophobic, and "not like home." Back

     2 To escape crowds I wander to a bench, a foyer, a breakfast cart nearby; I'm out of the way, trying to identify the particular smell, alighting finally on that scorched coffee, brewed too early for too many late risers. Nothing prepared me for the rigor needed--indulging late in talking and taxi rides to dinners and then getting up early to try to prepare to face the world of business-like breakfasts. Some people in the coffee shop looked so at home, but I'd notice others, like me, drifting at the fringe, unable to decide just where to go, who to be, what to say. Back

     3 Who doesn't remember her paper giving experiences? My first: a last slot on Saturday. Three presenters, four audiences: one friend for each speaker and my major professor. Back

     4 First timers have to be initiated into the practical lore--you can get your books at discount on the last day. You can eat "free" at publishers' parties. Back

     5 Even for an introvert, eventually, things pick up. Someone talks to you in the lavatory (especially if you're a woman waiting in longer lines), someone drifts by and reads your name tag at a reception, someone you argue with in a Q and A session keeps the conversation going, a SIG proves a first net-work location and suddenly the forbidding late night hotel lounge looks much more familiar. A foyer. An annex to whom you might become. You clear your voice. Back

     6 One day, it all turns into too many hotel rooms. A bathroom drawer at home crammed full of soap and shampoo samples. That "where am I?" feeling when awakened by late night hall door slamming or the realization that you were given a room near the ice-machine or the elevator or have arrived in a city where fun is defined by false fire alarms. Back

     7 Some conferences never see the light of day. If you start to serve, you start to see that the profession is surprisingly like an enormous English department meeting: rife with issues, personalities, possibilities and problems. Only you elected to talk to these folks, then they you to talk. Back

     8 It is camp, old home week, a club. You now start to feel older. You tell stories (you think). Promulgate myths and advice: never propose alone, never propose as a panel, always propose alone, always use the conference title in your proposal, never to X,Y, Z, always go to X,Y, Z, don't miss the keynote address, do miss it because it's published anyway, always go to X's talk, you won't regret it, you will. Did you know Y and Z are or aren't? Have you heard. I used to...but now I don't. Back

     9 Once you were timorous and afraid, now you may be jaded, or you may be in the middle--seeing what's useful--seeing others just arriving, thinking of those who have recently left. Your bag is cram-packed--promotional buttons, sewing kit and shower cap, catalog, shopping spree, notes, unused handouts, small sheaves of ideas, more notes. You'll return. Or not. You'll enlist in more, or resist. You've been, unwittingly, part of someone else's conference poem. Now you must write your own. Back


At this session organized by Elizabeth Ahl, there was some discussion about the ways we write and how important poetry can be in our teaching. Ahl made the point that as poets we may tend to be aloof, and chided us to attend "An Exultation of Larks," the conference poetry reading. Ahl showed up only briefly and Bishop didn't show up at all. Nonetheless, Bishop's conference poem and her poetic footnotes continue to demonstrate her creative ability to influence composition worlds.

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