2008 Convention Stories
First Time Sigma Tau Delta Convention Attendee
Charles Yates Payseur
Theta Zeta Chapter, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
It came, in the end, with a chorus of boos, with half-understood, half-drowned out shouts and jeers. To novice ears, the cabbage was being fetched, the tomatoes prepared. If not for the laughs, for the smiles and the few scattered applauders that forgot they were supposed to boo, it might have been the precursor to a riot, to Guns and Roses deciding that one song was enough. Instead, it was a kind of happy mockery, a satire, a Woodstock of English majors. But before I get ahead of myself--
First convention, of any sort, and a newer member to Sigma Tau Delta than the people I was with. Something humbling about that, perhaps, senior in college, new meat at the big convention. And there, in the largest room of the hotel, sitting with a glass of water clutched in both hands, examining the liquid inside, I tried to think of why my name was going to be called--bad poetry reading. My mind didn't want to accept that. Because I am an easy sell, because I was told it would be fun. Still not quite good enough. Because I am a glutton for punishment. There it was. My name was on the list of bad poets because despite being new, despite being rather shy at times, there was something too alluring about going up to a stage with the expectation of failure. Freeing, in many ways.
And I was not alone. I was late on the list. They came up, and at first it was up in the air, like the room didn't know what to expect. I didn't, at least. I prided myself on knowing bad poetry; made a college career of it. But I didn't know what to think when the first brave soul walked up the three steps and onto the stage. We were supposed to boo. I clapped, at first, because of a bad memory or nerves. And they read. And the next person read. And the next. And I looked down at the notebook on my knee and wondered what I had been thinking. The boos were in good fun, insults yelled across the rooms. There were laughs, too. It should have made me bolder. The poems were all drama, dance of what a poet is to high school creative writing classes, to movies, to folklore. We got it. We laughed. We booed.
The list went on, and I read over that little poem in my mind. On some level, I liked it. Because it was horrible, because it made me laugh. I would not win. I knew. But then, is it more fitting to win a bad poetry reading, or to lose one? My name was called. I put down the water on the floor, picked up my notebook, and walked to stage. I assured the moderator that the pronunciation was close enough. I got to the mike, bit my lip, and began.
Listening and Learning
Theta Omicron Chapter, Union University
Susan Lori-Parks said during the convention, "the more you listen to others, the more you'll be able to listen to yourself. Listen to the voices." And I agree. I sat during this full but insightful weekend and listened. I tried to listen to everyone's opinion and many people's poems, prose, and critical papers. I listened even when I didn't agree. I listened when I wanted to scoff or laugh. And sometimes I listened on the edge of my seat and in pure bliss.
I started my first Sigma Tau Delta Convention as just plain curious--wondering what I would encounter. I had been warned by fellow Union students that not all the writing would be good. They told me some of the people there would think they were "God's gift to humanity." I soon learned by my own experience. I found that everyone has an opinion, but it isn't always right. I listened to a girl's collection of poetry that was entirely about bugs. It went on and on and on like the annoying buzzing of a housefly or a mosquito in your ear. I started to wonder whether in my own poetry I dwell too much on the same subject, I guess it taught me something after all.
Then I listened to a session of critical papers on African literature. However, one speaker thought that Kenya was synonymous with South Africa. We soon corrected her gently. I guess I learned that I should know about my subject before I present it to a room full of avid listeners.
When a debate arose later about the difference between prose and poetry and how you could be good in one and not the other, it really got my hair on end. I couldn't believe that some of these panelists and audience members actually thought you could be good in one and not need the other. Fiction and poetry are like being left handed and right handed--you may be more dominant in one or the other, but you still use both.
Throughout the convention, I learned from others. I learned from their mistakes but also learned from their successes. My personal highlight was Susan Lori-Parks. She caught my attention right from the get-go--walking in with her long black dreads and motorcycle boots and standing solidly on stage with hands on hips. When she smiled, we smiled. When she laughed, the crowd laughed all together. The people at the convention were all very different, but suddenly we became one. That's when I knew that no matter what, I would listen on to what my compatriots said. Parks told us to listen and I was going to listen because I want what she's got--fervor, life, and success.
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