I’ll be at AWP this year, and one of the panels I proposed—a shout out to Allison Joseph for coming up with the idea—is "Preserving the Memory: Strategies for Keeping the Work of Deceased Poets Alive."
One of the poets such a panel might address is the late Claudia Emerson. One of Claudia’s poems explains that “Secure the shadow ‘ere the substance fade” was a popular daguerreotypist’s advertising slogan for the making of postmortem images of loved ones. A staggering number of poets have left us over the past decade, poets whose presence in our ongoing conversations about poetics and culture remains important. My hope is that we will secure the substance of the poets who mean the world to us by using a combination of old school tools—posthumous publication, use of a poet’s work in course reading lists, AWP memorial panels, anthologizing, and eponymous awards and scholarships—as well as the new tools technology has made possible, such as distribution of recorded readings, reprints and homages on online sites, the maintaining of author web pages, and the preservation of various archival materials online.
This is a panel against forgetting. It is our hope that those who attend the panel will leave with an understanding of the various ways they can not only memorialize their favorite writer’s memory, but also document their importance to our culture and poetic practice for those who follow.
Creative actions by family members, editors, publishers, academics and readers can help to make sure these poets retain a seat at the table. I’m, of course, thinking about poets whose work is unlikely to fade anytime soon, since it’s an advantage to build an infrastructure of preservation sites quickly. The legacies of poets like Claudia, Phil Levine, Richard Wilbur, and others may not need a great deal of help, but others—poets who mean the world to many of us—may well need more diligence on our part so that future generations of poets will know of their influence.
The panel is made up of Sidney Clifton (daughter of Lucille Clifton), Laure-Anne Bosselaar (wife of Kurt Brown), Brian Turner (husband of Ilyse Kusnetz), Greg Donovan (former colleague of Larry Levis), and me (general thoughts on what friends, editors, and academics can do).
We hope you’ll be able to join us in Tampa, but if you can’t, the panel will be filmed and turned into an AWP podcast.
In a time when poetry—indeed, writing itself—is under attack, there is no more important thing we can do than say who our literary heroes are and why.