As I was in NOLA, stuffing my face, over the last weekend, we skipped from Day 6 to Day 12 here in Revisions Paradise.
The good thing is that my trip was actually really productive, workwise, and it was also really inspiring.
I think between here and the League I’ve droned on long enough about how much I loved NOLA, and how the city gave me tons of ideas and images, as well as tons of happy karma that I am spreading through my work.
More importantly, however, was that I remembered how much I love words. As I said, I was attending the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival with a friendÂ who is a poet. I paid for a day ticket to see my friend’s two panels, and they were great. One was a panel in remembrance of a poet who died last year, Reginald Shepherd. I’m really, really behind when it comes to contemporary poetry, so I wasn’t aware of Reginald’s work. But there were a lot of readings done of various poems during the panel, and they were beautiful. I mean heartrendingly lovely: full of brilliant imagery, eroticism, and life. Even his poetry about his own imminent death was full of life, a beautifully crafted example of the horrifying paradox Philip Roth calls our human stain: the fact we must live with the knowledge we shall die.
The other panel I attended was a reading done by a group of men, including my friend, Chris, who’d contributed essays to a fabulous anthology called My Diva. Each essay was about a particular female icon that had been that man’s diva when he was younger. Chris wrote a lovely piece on Princess Leia, and there was another essay on Auntie Mame that made me tear up. Anyway, all of the essays read were great, and all but one of them wrote on figures from popular culture. Which reminded me of my own childhood and how very important my fantasy heros and heroines were to me. They weren’t figures of high culture, or high art. Hell, they weren’t real people doing real things. But I was so convinced, at the time, that Mercedes Lackey’s Vanyel, or de Lint’s Ally, from Greenmantle, had something to teach me. They obviously spoke to me, as I read their books till they were in tatters, but there was more to it than that.
What I’m trying to get at, in my own roundabout fashion, is that I know the stuff I write isn’t the stuff I study. I’m not writing Literature; I’m not Philip Roth or A.S. Byatt or Iris Murdoch. But I think that beauty can lurk in unexpected places and I also think that those who ignore the importance of popular culture do so in self-inflicted blindness. Our brightly colored paperbacks might not hold sway at academic conferences, but they mean so much to so many people that they do have a tremendous power. Most overtly, it is the power to entertain, the power to help people disengage with their mundane lives and let their imagination run rampant. In doing so, however, the author has a unique opportunity to guide their readers from image to image and from idea to idea. And I think that fantasy, especially urban fantasy, which integrates the Other into our own landscape, making the familiar seem frightening and the otherwise frightening appear familiar, has so much to teach about tolerance, acceptance, and that genuine sense of adventure and curiosity that, to me, defines a good life.
So I learned a lot last weekend, and was reminded of even more. Thanks to everyone involved at Saints and Sinners, and to all of the wonderful poets and writers that I met there. You guys were amazing!