Monday, June 9, 2008

Praise for the PWC

I attended the 60th Annual Philadelphia Writers Conference this weekend – I’ve gone for four years straight now, and it seems to get better every year. The theme of the three-day conference, which is celebrating its diamond anniversary, is “Diamonds Are a Quill’s Best Friend” (I know, it’s a wincingly bad pun). Despite that, I had a great time – didn’t see quite as many of my closer poet buddies as usual, but a number of friends and acquaintances, including two who ran sessions there.

As usual, there was a wide variety of workshops and seminars, including juvenile fiction, literary and contemporary fiction, flash fiction, memoir, nonfiction, journaling, creativity and writer’s block, and of course poetry. And there are agents and editors available by appointment. Poets Barbara Daniels (with whom I’m friendly) and Kate Northrop led the two poetry workshops, both of which I took, and though they had contrasting styles, they were both excellent. I also took a flash fiction seminar, and a journaling seminar led by another poet friend, Therese Halscheid – they were excellent as well. But the highlight for me was the creativity workshop run by Bonnie Neubauer, who wrote The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing (Writer’s Digest Books). She gave us three one-hour sessions of some of the most productive and fun writing exercises I’ve ever done. While I’m plugging books, let me recommend Barbara Daniels’ Rose Fever and Therese Halscheid’s Uncommon Geography, both excellent books of poetry (both are available on

The keynote speaker opening the first day’s events was Michael Smerconish, a local radio talk-show host. I thought I’d bristle at his conservative politics throughout the presentation, but I was pleasantly surprised that he’s not a blowhard bully like some of those other guys. He was diplomatic, knowing that a lot of folks in the audience may not share his views, and pointed out that he doesn’t always subscribe to conservative dogma: for instance, he supports stem cell research and says we should get out of Iraq. But he talked more about his writing career than his politics anyway. It seems, though, that sometimes his on-air manner gets the best of him – about halfway through his speech he paused and wondered, “Why am I yelling at all of you?”

The guest speaker for the Saturday banquet was Mark Bowden, longtime Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and author of Black Hawk Down, who gave us interesting insight into his career and how he came to write his bestseller, which of course became a very successful film. Then came the annual awards ceremony, which the presenter, Mad Poets president (also PWC board member and new president) Eileen D’Angelo, described as the “Academy Awards for Philadelphia writers”. That may be a little bit of an overstatement, but it does have a similar feel (though we don’t dress in gowns and tuxes) – the camaraderie of fellow poets, the recognition of your peers, and the element of surprise. I brought home second prize and honorable mention from the poetry contests – not quite as good as 2006 and 2007, when I won first prize, but it’s still a thrill. Will I go back next year? Very likely. Props to all the folks who work hard each year to make the PWC such a fine event.

This is a long entry for me. I’ll post a separate blog in a few days on a music topic. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote two years ago at the conference, after coming back from lunch and seeing the annual Gay Pride Parade:

Gay Pride Parade

I am returning from lunch in the city,
when the parade crosses my path.
Led by a row of butch Harleys,
they march down Market Street,
rainbow flags snapping in a stiff June breeze.

Drag majorettes lead a rousing drum corps,
setting the rhythm and the pace.
Following them, a group of alternative families –
two mothers pushing their stroller,
a six-year-old boy riding the shoulders
of one of his dads; then the float
with the bearded beauty queens
waving to a cheering crowd.

I think, good for them,
but the old fart in me finds it hard
to leap from “tolerate” to “celebrate”.
Still, I half-expect to see you marching by,
proud of your new identity.
And if I saw you, I would wave.
So I wave anyway, as if I have.

(First published in Up and Under: The QND Review, 2007.)

1 comment:

liquidambar said...

Hi Bruce! Nice to see your recap--and congrats again!

Fellow conference-goer and pizza luncher,

Jenn Hubbard