In his Q&A session on Thursday morning, November 17, poet and novelist Alan Michael Parker, or AMP or Amp, and sometimes Parker, claimed to be a compulsive liar, which is why fiction and poetry suit him. If he is to be believed, after a promising early start, with a handful of high profile publications such as The New Yorker, AMP’s career took an always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride turn: his first book was a finalist for twenty-five major prizes over ten years, but was never the winner. This was the “cold comfort” portion of his careerseveral of the runner-up letters used that exact phrase, such that is partner, the visual artist Felicia von Bork (http://www.feliciavanbork.com/), nicknamed him C.C.
Today though, AMP is the author of eight books of poetry and three novels, with more in the works. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, the Kenyon Review, and Paris Review, among many, many others. He was included in the Best American Poetry anthologies in both 2011 and 2015 and is the recipient of three Pushcart prizes as well as the 2012 North Carolina Book Award and the 2013 and 2014 Randall Jarrell Poetry Awards. He is the Douglas C. Houchens Professor of English at Davidson College, and he teaches in the University of Tampa’s low-residency MFA program.
His 2016 collection, The Ladder, from Tupelo Press (https://www.tupelopress.org/product/the-ladder/), shines with his characteristic humor and wit, serious content “spun around hairpin comedic moves.” The poems are immediate and in the moment. He demonstrates that even if you are not the kind of person who walks around singing, the work of poetry and lifeand even dyingis to be open and aware; it is to be approached with humility, measures of both hope and doubt, and, above all, tenderness and a kind of love.
From “Springtime in Tampa”:
I wish you were here:
hotel sex is the best.
Instead, alone in my room,
I get naked once the luggage arrives,
naked to unpack, to order fish tacos,
to call my octogenarian dad,
to email my destable old friend
who refuses to be happy.
I get naked to see the city from on high:
I put on my invisible suit made of love,
and in your honor I do
naked jumping jacks on the balcony.
AMP does not call himself a formal poet, but a formalist, which can be heard in his obsessiveness. “I wrote a lot of list poems until I was Buzzfed out of that particular genre,” he said during his reading on Thursday night in the Robinson Reading Room, referring to the form frequented in his 2012 collection Long Division (https://www.tupelopress.org/product/long-division/). His partner calls him a tuning fork, which he finds an apt description: “The more I do my job, the more I become that [a tuning fork]vibrating in relationship to the world.” And he does vibrate, with an eagerness and intensity to learn about the people and the place around him, to share ideas and reading listshearing what other people are reading and getting recommendations is one of his favorite parts about giving readingsand to continue the conversation about poetry, literature, our institutions, etc. and the role these occupy in society in this particular cultural moment. As a writer, he feels it is is his job to be awake, to notice, to see and figure out how to process being in the world. Teaching, then, fits naturally into this approach to life, and he seems a natural teacher. Teaching helps him to articulate things he didn’t think he knew and allows him to test ideas in the air, to see what works, changing the relationship to the material. And indeed, his answers to questions during the reading demonstrated his working out of things on the spot: each answer was accompanied with several “or” statements, alternate answers, all of them building and playing off of each other, a keen mind at work.