I hate flying. Actually, it’s not the flying so much as the routine that I’ve stuck with ever since I first started travelling: I pack the day I fly. This meant that I was up around 2:45 a.m. to catch a 5:00 a.m. bus to Logan to attend the annual AWP Conference in Los Angeles. Like many other writers, I have particular routines (neurosises) that I not only stick with when I write, but also in most of my day-to-day mundane habits. Traveling throws my life off-kilter. It’s been a while since I flew into LAX, and as we flew over the Nevada desert into California, I was mesmerized by all the uninhabited open space of the snow-capped mountains, and when approaching LAX, how the landscape changes. The mountains drop off. You can see the Pacific. As you pass by downtown L.A., there’s the strangeness of seeing an area built up of glass and steel within the landscape.
AWP creates an interesting dynamic. People who spend a lot time in solitude gather once a year to meet with other writers and either discuss what they’ve been working on, read or promote their latest work, or catching up with people they haven’t seen in a while. I attended AWP with our Editor in Chief of Barnstorm, Cynthia, fellow Poetry Editor, Kristen, and our Nonfiction Editor, Holland. Before AWP, we decided to head out to Santa Monica on Wednesday, enjoying a nice breakfast then walking the beach—famous pier with its merry-go-round set against the blue background of the water. Cynthia, who attended last year, talked about how overwhelming it can be, and that sometimes it’s good just get outside and take a breather, grab a cup of coffee, or take a walk just to get away from everything.
"Most importantly," she said, "wear comfortable shoes. Oh. And get all the tote bags."
Later that afternoon, we arrived early to set up the Barnstorm table at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Since this was the first time that I attended the conference, I was amazed at how large the space was, a space that would come to hold over 800 presses, journals, and literary organizations from around the world, with over 12,000 writers in attendance.Soon these empty tables and aisles would be full of people from all over the country who share in one passion: writing. Here I was in the midst of it all.
While manning the Barnstorm table, author Kelly Link sat at the booth next to ours, and I was able to talk to her about her writing process. Some poets and writers who were published in Barnstorm stopped by to say hello, and college students interested in MFA programs wanted to get some information about the program at UNH; others asked about our journal and how to submit. I was able to meet up with David Tomas Martinez, a poet whose book Hustle, I used in my Intro to Poetry Writing class. I did attend a few writing panels, readings, bought some books; but there’s more to it than just the conference itinerary.
I feel that as a writer, it’s important to have this tangible connection, a momentary sense of validation within our solitude, even if it winds up throwing off our daily routines. Having dinner the last night in L.A. with the other members of Barnstorm, we laughed and joked and I sat back and smiled, feeling a part of something much bigger than myself.
Jerome Daly is a second-year MFA candidate in poetry at the University of New Hampshire and Poetry Editor of Barnstorm Journal.