Wyoming Arts Council

Lit Conference readings highlight Thursday

I missed hearing Dana Gioia tonight at the opening reception for the Wyoming Arts Summit in Casper. Gioia, the poet who heads the National Endowment for the Arts, was due to speak some time between 6 and 6:30 at the Nicolaysen Art Museum. I dropped in at 5 to help fellow WAC staffers prepare for the onslaught of guests. Nic Director Holly Turner and her staff greeted guests, which by the time I departed at 5:45 included WAC board members Bruce Richardson, David Neary and Dave Kathka; former board member Susie Dowler; State Parks and Cultural Resources Director Milward Simpson; and Cultural Resources Director Sara Needles.

I left early because, as a member in good standing of the Casper College Literary Conference planning committee, I needed to be at our reception and reading at the Izaak Walton Clubhouse a couple miles to the east. Rattling the rafters of the log clubhouse was the Jeff Finlin Band of Colorado, which included Casper’s Amy Geiske on bass. The reading began at 7 in front of an SRO crowd. First up was Casper College sociology prof Chad Hanson who read the title story of his collection, “Swimming with Trout.” In it, the main character invents the new pastime of “swimming with trout,” which is a lot like swimming with dolphins although there’s little chance of being attacked by sharks. The character dons a wetsuit, mask and snorkel to swim the North Platte and admire the fish. Later, he plunges into a local creek to “count coup” on trout. A great story. I could see why it sets the tone for the rest of the volume.

Belarus poet Valzhyna Mort’s reading was on the theme of “six love poems — and one about a dead man.” Her most powerful one was not the one about the dead man — that got laughs. But a love poem called “Utopia.” This one focuses on Molvina, a little girl with blue hair, which is basically the Belarus version of Pinnochio.

Nick Flynn first read several passages from his memoir, “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City,” then read a section from his newest memoir, “The Year of the Monkey.” It centered around events in 2004, which is The Year of the Monkey on what we used to refer as the Oriental Calendar but not sure what it’s called now. One of those events was the release of the photos of prison torture at Baghdad’s Abu Garaib Prison. Nick tied in a youthful memory of a house fire, Plato, and Vice President Dick Cheney into the piece.

Ekiwah Adler-Belendez wrapped up the evening with poems about the recent protests in Burma by the monks, his ordeals with surgery for spinal problems (Ekiwah travels in a wheelchair), and finished with a long and powerful love poem called “Cyberspace Blues.”

Afterwards, I bought too many books and had them signed by the authors. I may be able to take part in some of the events tomorrow, but more than likely I’ll be at the WAC Arts Sumiit all day. That’s when I can hear Mr. Gioia as he opens the day’s proceedings at the Casper Events Center. Gioia delivers the keynote at 9 a.m. For full schedule, go here.

–Michael Shay

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