Whirlwind of Writing: AWP Recap, Part 1

So. I’ve been away a bit, and that was due to AWP and the resultant plague that not only laid me low but also a few friends as well. I had minor thoughts of blogging AWP, but my internet access was spotty and carrying my netbook around meant less room for potential AWP treasures. I did exercise restraint, though–I came home with one book of poetry and two issues of the remarkable Tuesday: An Art Project. More on that in a future post! (But don’t worry–my bookquisitions were limited by the size and weight of my carry-on luggage; I did take copious notes for books to order.)

Little bits of AWP will filter through as time passes. This blog is certainly not on the cutting edge of anything.

I want to talk about AWP and some of the senses today.

The Associated Writing Programs annual conference is a surfeit of excess, and I mean that in every one of the best ways. It might not be so for other writers and readers who come from one metropolitan area to another, but for those of us who have always lived in smaller cities and yea, even in true towns and on dirt roads in Pennsylvania, it’s something of an overwhelming thrill.

The process begins with travel. For me, it involved two flights that luckily arrived in glorious due time (I felt a bit guilty because there were many, many folks who couldn’t get out of places like Chicago last Wednesday). The airport is a strange melange of stimulation and dullness, hurrying and waiting. I waited to board my flight and watched a man with hair dyed in an amazingly perfect replication of leopard spots. I guessed at whose carry-ons were filled with books already. I spied on knitting projects peeking from purse-edges. I tried not to smell the greasy weight of McDonalds food, which I haven’t eaten in years but which always smells somehow good when I’m in an airport and know for certain that it’s a terrible idea for so many reasons. I averted my face from clouds of perfume and cologne. Airports are, for me, such a furtive place, but that’s likely because I’m nosy and because everyone’s going into a story in my head. To the gentleman sitting beside me on the Denver to DC flight, I hope you had good fortune at the job interview you were preparing for. I didn’t say anything to you about it because I didn’t want to admit watching you add notes on your laptop.

As I exited that flight, I resolved to be more social at AWP. It is a gathering. Those are meant to be social, or so I have heard.

The Metro–my first real experience with public transportation in the United States–is a sonic bombardment. The slushy noise of the tracks mixes with the unintelligible gravel of stop-announcements, the gentle chatter of frequent rail companions, the less-gentle summations of the most recent Wizards’ game. One platform made a shrill scree from some cause I couldn’t identify, and it might have actually been the most awful non-language sound I’ve ever heard.

The Walt Whitman quote that rings the escalators into and out of the Dupont Circle Metro station was a fantastic welcome. I’m not sure why, but it felt so congenial to leave such a strange bit of underground, ringed by Whitman.

There was food and a reunion, several reunions, with friends. More on that in another post.

I want to go back to sound: specifically, I want to go to one particular panel. This was Thursday morning, a panel titled after the Emma Goldman quote, “If I can’t dance, you can keep your revolution.” This panel featured five poets, five fantastic poets, four of whom were brand new to me.

Leading the panel was Sean Thomas Dougherty, whose work, since I saw him at Writing By Degrees at Binghamton University, way back in 2005 or something like that, has been a constant source of happiness for me–and for my students. Sean’s work is revolutionary and rhythmic, and in the segment below (not from AWP, but from a BOA Editions event), Sean reads his poem “X” (begins around 3:35): 

Also participating on the panel were Crystal Williams, Silvana Straw, Roger Bonair-Agard, and Dora McQuaid. All of these writers were new to me. Straw’s poems in the voice of her mother–in the voice of her mother’s voicemail messages, in fact–crackled with humor and political bite, and I don’t know when I laughed so hard and felt such energy for serious change at the same time. Roger Bonair-Agard’s “The Black Penguin Speaks” might have been the most badass poem about a penguin that ever happened. And yes, it is totally possible to have a badass poem about a penguin. Williams brought Detroit to life with startling beauty, steady clarity and music, and Williams’s work made me think on a dear friend of mine who lived in the Detroit area for a long time, how that woman used her pedagogy to find, to make beauty in difficult classrooms where students’ discoveries of their own voices brought their own revelations. McQuaid’s poems covered the ground many writers cover–love, loss, family–but with passionate freshness.

This panel illustrated what is, for me, the best part of AWP: discovery. I went to the panel to see Dougherty read because I know I love his work, and I wanted the chance to at least give a personal wave, to say hello. What I took from the panel was an appreciation for four more writers, a renewed sense of hope, and ears full of song.

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