I rarely go to AWP, mostly because my life doesn't allow it, and also partly because I've always liked a bit of space from writers and large writer-oriented events. But something was different this year in that I felt that I wanted to go and reconnect with writers, something I hadn't fully realized until I was there, right in the middle of a monstrosity of a book fair. I loved seeing people and meeting new people, of course, but what I really valued were the intimate conversations about writing that I had with so many friends. Because AWP was so much fun this year, every night I wrote down who I talked to and who I met. My list grew to over 75 writers by the time I left the conference! Some highlights were:
-Lunch with an old friend, Louise Mathias, and realizing that we have grown-up together as poets
-Our Blackbird/Diode offsite reading and meeting Bob Hicok!
-Laughing at the bookfair with Randy Mann and Miguel Murphy
-Meeting Patty Paine from Diode who gave us these gift bags filled with camel keychains and camel magnets
-Talking with the Blackbird people like ever gracious Mary Flinn and Jeff Lodge
-Dinner with an always amazing mind, G.C. Waldrep
-Chatting with Ed Skoog and Joshua Rivkin in the lounge while we skipped all the panels and had our own "panel"
-Meeting Sarah Vap who reeks of goodness and beautiful hair
-Trolling the bookfair with an old friend, Rick Bursky, who had me laughing for hours
-Lunch with old friend, Jennifer Chang who I often get mixed up with (lately more than ever since her amazing poems are everywhere)
I can think of 10 more highlights, but I'm beginning to feel like I am simply dropping names so I'll stop now. The short conversations with people at the bookfair were great, but the one-on-one coffees, lunches, dinners, etc. that I had were the most enlightening. Friends helped me to bring forth out of my sub-consciousness my relationship with poetry and writing, some things I have thought loosely about in the past, but not fully.
The biggest thing that I realized is that I don't aspire to much in poetry, really, especially compared to others that I spoke with. But what I aspire to do is to write the best poems that I can (I think every poet does anyway), and to be moderately well-received critically, kind of like an unknown Indie actor or a low-budget Indie film. I also want to live a life with the poems of others. I want to live with art and poetry in my mind as much as I can. And every day, I want to push myself to be better than I was yesterday, either as a writer or as a thinker.
The other thing I learned while polling friends throughout the conference is that many poets actually feel "joy" when they write poetry. I hadn't ever thought about this before until two poets told me that they felt this way (and then many more when asked later), which made me think about how I feel, which is the opposite--completely "tortured". But then again so does Matthew Zapruder, which doesn't make me feel so horrible.
All in all, it was a great AWP for me on so many levels and I feel so fortunate to have been able to participate this year. Maybe I will head to Chicago next year?