AWP, or the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (that’s actually AWWP, but we’ll let that slide), is billed as an annual celebration of authors, teachers, writing programs, literary centers and small press publishers. Every year these bibliophile masses descend on a North American city (Chicago, this year) to promote, mingle, fraternize, frolic, freak out, fight, deal, dole and drink. The book fair is the centerpiece, the polestar of the conference; a nerve-jouncing nerve center of tables and stalls and booths tucked away in the belly of the Chicago Hilton hotel on South Michigan Ave.
America, says Charlie Citrine in Saul Bellow’s novel Humboldt’s Gift (1975), is proud of its dead poets. Especially the mad ones: the bridge-leapers, the drink-guzzlers, the pill-snackers. Robert Lowell thought everyone was tired of his turmoil, but he obviously wasn’t thinking ahead to the possibilities he and his fellow scribblers presented to the movie business. You can only imagine the film gurus and movie execs surveying the poetscape of the twentieth century with nods of excited approval, foaming about their mouths. Drink, adultery, jealousy, madness, suicide: who knew poets led such cinematic lives!
Varamo is only the sixth novel by the Argentinian writer César Aira to be made available in English, but the premise already sounds like an Aira-parody: one night in Panama in 1923, a government employee without a literary bone in his body composes a future masterpiece of Central American poetry and, as often happens, never writes another word again.