Networking, market research, readings, free swag, panel discussions, scotch breaks, maybe cats…
My mind strayed as I filled up the balloons for the Barnstorm table—likely it was the lack of oxygen, but I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. Gaping at the size of the hall with a ceiling further-removed than those in the cathedrals I’d seen in Europe. I had entered a different kind of sanctuary. Ah, a metaphor—I was definitely experiencing a lack of oxygen.
Cut to the book fair full-swing: There were things to touch, read, drink, talk to, eat, buy, listen to, apply to your skin, and even drink. The exhibit hall was hiving with workers; there were swarms of humans. I stopped counting manbuns.
Sitting at the Barnstorm table, watching individuals glide among the aisles, never bumping into others, I was getting a sense of the event. AWP is perhaps the largest single gathering of writers, readers, and publishers—I already knew this—but I had a sudden realization while passing out pig tattoos at the Barnstorm table: this get-together may be the largest sample of 100% literate humans gathered here in the USA for a good old time.
Take that, Six Flags.
I got into the rhythm of absorbing the energy from all the wanderers in the book fair. I had the pleasure of speaking to some of them. The interactions ranged from curious writers to children wanting our blue pig swag. There was also some good old small talk.
Some people were slightly more confused than I had anticipated them being:
Guest#420: So Barnstorm publishes fiction, yes?
Me: Yes we do. All types, too. Well, flash fiction and short stories— no epics.
G420: How long do the short stories tend to be.
M: Um, I’m poetry editor so I don’t really comprehend word-counts, but I know that we recently published a 7000-word story.
G420: Wow, 7000 pages?!
M: No, 7000 pages would be an epic.
G420: So what would you classify as an epic?
M: The Iliad II: Electric Boogaloo
G420: (stifles laughter, stares into my eyes, sees a glimpse of my past) You’re quick; keep talking!
M: … want a pig tat?
The Graywolf Press reading was sublime (David Rivard carried the team in my humble opinion,) and the celebration of Michael Collier’s life was a great chance to hear voices like Tom Sleigh’s reminisce about how another poet’s work effects the others in the community just as much as their presence.
And I did network, by the way. I had some quality exchanges with alumni and contributors, even stomped some basement parties with a certain UNH MFA poet alum.
AWP was a blur—A good one—the kind you got as a kid arching your head backward over your neck during a ride on the merry-go-round, thankful for recess, the 4th grade, the changing foliage, and the new exchange student from Kenya, who always insisted on pushing. I was most appreciative of how much everyone around me was enjoying the ride.
Stephen Brand is one of Barnstorm's 2016-2017 Poetry Co-Editors.