after the first night of awp

Thinking we would hear some good music, a small group of us went to Buddy Guy’s Legends behind the Hilton. The music was pretty good… 

And then Buddy Guy got up on stage.

As a beginning to a conference that focuses on words and sound, it was nothing short of perfect, because the sounds that he made – even with his mouth closed – were motivational to say the least.

Words and sound is why we’re here as poets, right? (and for all you fiction and nonfic people, I urge you to pay attention to the sound of your words. It does make a difference.) And to say something that gets to the audience in some way, and that’s another thing Buddy Guy knows how to do. He exercised a command of stage and microphone (and the band) that I have seen few other times in music or writing. And if you are egotistical enough to be writing, and hoping others will read it, then you must keep that in mind. That you are requesting the house microphone directly into someone’s head.

That is both an intimate and powerful position to be in, whether you have one reader or 15 million. Exercising that powerful dynamic requires an equal exercise of responsibility. How you are saying what you are saying can matter as much as what you’re saying. Buddy Guy had the audience rofl’ing, but he also conveyed a human condition, and he talked about sex (a lot), but there was also the underlying tension of a man looking back at childhood.

Improvisation also centered in his presentation, a definite experience of being told a story (or a tall tale) generated as it rolled along. We were in suspense as he drew out the punchline. Sometimes, I think, even he wasn’t quite sure where he was going, but I also think that he knew exactly where he was going. Keeping the audience in the moment is another exercise of that power dynamic. Which we also have if we are writing and demanding a reader to exist.

Was Buddy Guy’s keynote as long, eloquent, or intellectual as I’m sure Margaret Atwood’s will be? No. He only sang for fifteen minutes, and mostly about gettin’ it on. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t learn a hella lot from it.