AWP. AWP. What to say about AWP? It leaves us all spinning. If you haven’t left a piece of you sanity in the assigned city, you haven’t really been to AWP. This year I left crazy umbrellas wherever I could. In retrospect, I wished I had brought more umbrellas, more poetry. It is always an issue of more with AWP. 30 umbrellas are swallowed quickly by 10,000 writers. Being swallowed is a good way to describe AWP.
This year I convinced a few of my writing students (the very talented Trish Donahueto and Andrea Thamm) to attend. They fought with themselves over time and money spent—it’s just a conference, they objected when I described the whirl of energy, lack of sleep, and the effect that three miles of books has on a word lover. Eventually they resigned to go (maybe just to shush me up for a moment). I was delighted when we eventually crossed paths. They could no longer blink. You tried to tell us, they said. Yes, I can try but there is no way to describe what it is about this event that allows for—I am going to say it—transformation.
The transformation is never expected; in fact the best way to attend AWP is with zero expectations. It is never the same; what you hate one year you may love the next. Some people walk away with the full recognition that life is larger than words. Some fade deeper into the folds of imagination. All is good, even if it feels like hell.
In our own AWP troupe there was a trip to the E.R. due to exhaustion. I heard feet where broken on the giant escaladers and I witnessed several first time attendees break into spontaneous tears. Had I not been saved by Jason Cook and Maggie Hess (with their magical cup of coffee and hot crêpes) I may have entirely lost my mind in Seattle. I wish I was joking. No. This is no joke. This is AWP. But it’s not. Not really. I mean, it’s just a conference. Right?
Okay, it’s a conference. But I don’t know of any other conference where a person’s ethics, desires, and ideas (/ bodies) are pushed to a breaking point. If you’re lucky, this four day conference strips you to your most primal self. It gives you permission to be what you want—a writer. Even more profound, it reveals who you are—the reason you write. Such epiphanies are not easy to weather.
I find it extremely important to keep your friends close when traveling in the storms of desire. I love my Red Hen Press / LAR Family. I love the Pie Bar and karaoke nights; I love feeling like a posse of book slingers. I am extremely proud of Kate Gale, whose new book The Goldilocks Zone launched at this year’s AWP.
I was also proud of my URC family. My UCR sister Alexis Vergalla organized a reading on a glass bottom boat that included a city race. (What?) Yes. So good. In an ideal world, we would all return home with three solid days to dream away the after-blur of being with 10,000+ people. It isn’t the size of the event, nor the scope, it is the whirling descent of having to face off with what and who we are.
There is more to be said, shared, posted about all of this. Yes. I am hopeful that those of you who received umbrellas will send me photos of where the words traveled. I would love to mail umbrellas to those who wanted the extra shelter but couldn’t find it.
There is more out there…so much more. I am deeply grateful for this–this something more. Love, gratitude, and most importantly poetry to all.