Like so many writers, I am making my way to Seattle for the 2014 AWP Conference, where I'll be taking part in Thursday night reading for The Incredible Sestina Anthology and sitting in on a Friday noon panel "Verses Versus Verses," on poetry contests. I'd love to see you at either event, or on the book fair floor, or at one of these seafood restaurants, or over one of the cocktails described on Leslie Pietrzyk's blog. If your dance card is already filled and we don't see each other, just have a good time per the advice of Kelli Russell Agodon, hydrate and navigate per the wise words of Roxane Gay, and treat your hotel staff right.
It's been fun seeing everyone report what they're doing, on Facebook and elsewhere, but there hasn't been enough attention to those plans where we're simply excited to be in the audience. This year's official event schedule has some pleasing variances--discussion of writing for YA and children's audiences, the graphic novel or comic as literary work, and a spotlight on Pacific Northwest literature, including indigenous voices and Hawaiian writers. Check 'em out. Panels on the influence of Kurt Cobain and Bob Dylan? Yes. In venturing to off sites, be sure to support Elliott Bay Book Company and the Richard Hugo House; since the latter is closed on Sunday, my free day to explore, I'm going to try and make it by for the VIDA reading on Friday night.
So. I arrived late to the proceedings; as the only poet on staff, I was the only one qualified to spot Mr. Pinsky, who had wandered the crowd, unrecognized and sans name tag or welcoming glass of wine; when I finally got to him, I had nothing better to attach his name tag than a loose paper clip from my purse; the envelope I gave him had the wrong check, made out to one of the other award recipients; I gave him a book to sign--his translation of The Inferno--forgetting I had gotten the copy from a poetry teacher past when he cleaned out his university office. That led to the awkward question "Why is [X]'s name inscribed in my book?"
This is not an AWP fairy tale. There was no networking, only profuse apologies. I revisited these a few years later, when I met him again in the context of a different award. (He had just been on The Colbert Report…the man is popular TV magnet.)
That next morning, right back to work at 8 AM. That night, I ventured to Pioneer Square to distract myself. He played bass.
My last morning in town, I went to Pike Place Market and spent $50 on a huge bouquet, the most I had ever spent for flowers: all of my remaining cash I'd saved for the trip. For my dad. I flew the six hours back to DC with them balanced on my lap.
Not going to Seattle this week? Not a big deal. AWP is a wonderful resource, but an annual professional conference is not the end-all. (The proof is that Tayari Jones is skipping it, and has been for a few years running.) I do recommend is soul-baring trips in your life, 4-5 days when you're pushed to some type of limit, times when the knife scrapes to the bone of ego and you ask--Wait, what? And when the world does not wait: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? That is AWP, for some. But a square is a rhomboid; a rhomboid is not a square. Whatever excursion defines you, tests you, and liberates you, is a lot more important than the abstract of AWP ever could be.