AWP Conference 2012 Redux

I am finally in full recovery mode from another intensely busy and bustling and overstimulating and invigorating/exhausting AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference, this year in Chicago with about 10,000 registered attendees. Overall, it was a good conference — I’m back home with some new books, some new ideas, some fond memories, and a general sense of energy about my writing and reading. I wanted to take some time to briefly summarize my experience with lots of linking so that anybody who cares to read might connect to people/texts/ideas I recommend. Because, well, that’s what this internet thing is for. That and the lolcats. And the porn. Oh, and the Dobson flies.

My first AWP event was slightly pre-conference on Wednesday night — the AWP Women’s Caucus Reading at Women and Children First, a glorious and important book store. I went with my great friend, poet Ann Hudson (author of The Armillary Sphere, which I was pleased to see IN STOCK at WCF). I really enjoyed the reading — it lasted for an hour and a half, and they didn’t try to cram dozens of readers in. All the readers did a great job — Martha Collins, Cynthia Hogue, Kathryn Kysar, Lois Roma-Deeley, Patricia Smith, and Keli Stewart. To the reading pile, I’ve added Kysar’s book, Pretend the World, and Smith’s Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah. Her poem “13 Ways of Looking at 13” was truly amazing.

Other memorable panels/readings:

“A Face to Meet the Faces: Five Poets on Persona, Empathy, and Race,” featuring outstanding readings and commentary by Jake Adam York, Eduardo Corral, Cornelius Eady and (again) Patricia Smith. They were reading and discussing their poems from a new anthology, in which I am honored to be included myself!

“Page Meets Stage,” a high-energy reading which included Mark Doty, Molly Peacock, Marilyn Nelson, and Roger Bonair-Agard, hosted by Taylor Mali. This is my third time hearing Marilyn Nelson read — and she always blows me away.

“Literature and the Internet in 2012,” a great roundtable featuring Roxane Gay (who had mostly lost her voice — but she hung in there — and I’m glad, because I think she so SO smart and funny), from PANK; Stephen Elliott of the Rumpus; Blake Butler of HTML Giant, and James Yeh, of Faster Times and Gigantic. It was a lively and thoughtful and far-ranging conversation, ably moderated by Kyle Minor, who I first briefly met in 2005 when we (the AWP pedagogy team) selected his exemplary paper for inclusion in the pedagogy papers and, if I remember correctly, invited him to be the mini-keynote speaker for the pedagogy forum. Anyhow, these panelists are clearly all folks who love reading and writing and literature and…hmm….I think the third word I’m looking for might actually be “fellowship.” I want to invite them all over for dinner.

“Kids Today: Teaching and Administrating a Young Writers’ Conference,” featured (among others) Margo Figgins (founder/director) and Rahul Mehta (alumnus), talking so eloquently and passionately the UVA Young Writers Workshop, my personal adolescence/poetry mothership.  This summer will be its 30th of changing the lives of young writers.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the “LGBTQ Caucus” early to get to the young writers panel, but there was great energy and spirit in the room (the packed, too-small room), and I look forward to being involved in whatever they’ve got cooking now that they had elections and got all official.

Oh, now that we’re in the queer portion of the post, I must mention how much fun I had at the Bloom/Divining Divas off-site reading/reception at Rehab Cocktail Lounge. Really fun reading, and fun hanging out with Noah and Jeff and that lovely Pitt grad student whose name is momentarily escaping me but whose charm endures in my memory…

And of course, I must gush for a bit about what I think was Best of the Conference for me — “Gender Interrupted: Poetry of the Alternatively Gendered,” a reading/talk (mostly reading) by poets Stacey Waite, Joy Ladin, Ely Shipley, and Samuel Ace. The panel description describes their writing (perfectly) as “work that re-imagines and redefines the terrain of gender itself.” For me, the reading was equal parts emotionally affecting and intellectually sizzling. I want to read more from all of these authors. They are also invited over to dinner.

My own personal event agenda went smoothly enough — a chapbook-signing at the Slapering Hol Press / HVWC bookfair table on Friday, and a group reading to celebrate 25 years of Pecan Grove Press poetry on Friday evening at a small gallery space. Then, Saturday afternoon, my panel, “Ear Candy: Teaching the Pleasures of Poetic Meter,” had attendance around 70 (yes, I counted) and went very well! I learned a lot, and it seemed like the audience was engaged. I thought all the panelists — Honorée Fannone Jeffers, Annie Finch, Tara Betts, and Jeff Oaks — were well-prepared and had important & interesting things to say.

Miscellaneous highlights: our hotel room at the Hilton had two bathrooms! It wasn’t a suite or anything, but we felt like queens of luxury. I loved dining at Russian Tea Time — their venison sausage was scrumptious, as was their house-infused mint vodka. Of course, the company of certain folks (you know who you are) helped. Yolk breakfasts were yummy. Danny was memorable. Bookfair breaks with the divine poet & editor of OVS, Ivy Page. Weird elevator poetry videos. Due to a regrettable scheduling snafu (mine) I didn’t end up making it to the Prairie Schooner reception, which I’d been looking forward to. I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, and those I did get to see, for the most part, I didn’t get to see long enough. Such is AWP, I guess. Next year: Boston! Given that I can drive/bus to Boston (a mere two hours away), I am already expecting a larger than normal book fair haul. I’ll start saving up now…

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