AWP: I didn’t do everything

12 April 2019 on Blog, Poetry, Storystorm   Tags: ,

this is just one sea
on one beach on one
planet in one
solar system in one
galaxy. After that
the scale increases, so
this is not the last word,
and nothing else is talking back.
It’s a lonely situation.
—Alan Duga

These lines end the last poem in the book Poems Five—they are a favorite of a poetry professor of mine who has several times ended conferences with the words “It’s a lonely situation” punctuated by a knowing laugh.

The situation he is referring to is the practice of writing, and yes, it can be lonely. Making allowances for all varieties of “individual process,” it’s something we do alone.

What I’m getting at, in this post about the writing conference AWP, is that there’s something deeply strange about 15,000 writers gathered together in a three-day bonanza of panels, readings, and book fair table-hopping where everyone wants you to sign up or submit or buy or just talk about writing/publishing/teaching.

It makes total sense that when I asked mentors and friends how to “do AWP” many of them drew breath—maybe like a rodeo-rider would, before the gate opens—before they exhaled and said, “Don’t try to do everything.”

So, I didn’t. I slashed my schedule down to one or two panels a day, and one or two readings. With big open slots in my day, I got out into the city—I signed up for Portland’s bike-share and rode the chunky orange things far from the convention center, and walked around.

Surprise! Portland gets spring before New Hampshire! The trees were blossoming pink and white, and everywhere was green. I took myself to coffee and wrote in the lazy late morning crowd; went to Goodwill and found a purple linen shirt; ate the best cheap lunches I could find. What a dream!

Minimizing time spent at the convention center meant that I stayed sane and had a pretty great time when I was there. I took pages of notes during some inspiring panels on translation; I heard amazing poets read their work in onsite ballrooms and offsite in tiny galleries; and best of all, I reconnected with friends and teachers and poets I knew (“networking”).

I must have missed some amazing stuff, but hey, that’s okay. It’s good to be apart from the crowds and the noise. As the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska said when accepting her Nobel prize,
“The moment always came when poets had to close the doors behind them, strip off their mantles, fripperies, and other poetic paraphernalia, and confront—silently, patiently awaiting their own selves—the still-white sheet of paper. For finally this is what really counts.”

Anna Ohara is the Barnstorm Poetry Editor

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