Monday, March 11, 2013

AWP: Some observations and rules, after the fact



You know when you put your music on random for a party and "I'm Like a Bird" comes on like six times? AWP is like that; there's always someone you see over and over everywhere. This year, Mike Young was that person. Not that Mike Young is the "I'm Like a Bird" of writers.

I hug almost everybody. When in doubt, hug. That's my philosophy.

When you walk into a big room with a lot of pretty things for sale (like Barneys, or the AWP bookfair), it's good to set up some arbitrary rules to prevent yourself from buying like everything. This year my arbitrary rules were: 1) I'm not buying anything until Saturday, and 2) I'm only buying books by friends, be they real-life friends or Twitter friends. Here's what I bought:

Rise in the Fall by Ana Bozicevic
Vow by Rebecca Hazelton
Mother Was a Tragic Girl by Sandra Simonds
Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood
Wolf and Pilot by Farrah Field
This Is What It Is Like to Be Loved By Me by Jared White
The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather
I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying by Matthew Salesses

OK, John actually bought those last two. He got to them first. Other friends with newish books, I either didn't pass your table or I already have it.

I don't like marathon readings. They usually turn into hostage situations. What I hate is when you're standing next to someone you only get to see once a year and want desperately to talk to, and if you so much as whisper a comment to your friend, even something positive like "Isn't he awesome?" everyone around you goes gestapo with the whirling heads and sibilant hissings. This happened last year in Chicago, when I was standing next to Matt Rasmussen and Mark Leidner was reading, and I didn't want to interrupt or disturb Mark Leidner, I just wanted to talk about what a good performer he is, and I couldn't, because poetry readings cultivate stifling, silent atmospheres. I wanted to write a manifesto called POETRY NEEDS SPACE, about how you can't appreciate any art when it's crowded up against too much other art and the atmosphere is poisonous to discourse. I understand that you need something close to silence if you're going to listen to someone read, but that's why normal readings end after 2-4 readers, or at least have an intermission, so people can get up and shake it out. Poetry is too intense and requires too much concentration to just sit still and absorb for three hours straight like it was a Kevin Costner movie. If you're going to cram 20 readers into one event, you need to figure out some other way to create space, like having lots of breaks or multiple stages. Because what the F is the point of going to a poetry reading if you can't talk about the poetry? I can feel alone at home. Anyway, I never wrote that manifesto.

To end on a positive note: I only went to one reading (mine; sorry) and it was great. Lots of the aforementioned space, plus variation in style and genre, and a really good audience. So thanks, people that organized it and were there.

How was your AWP, if you went? I mean, we don't have to talk about. I know it's over and boring.

21 comments:

  1. My first AWP and I fucking loved it. I wanted to get out to Cambridge for your reading but by then my feet couldn't take much so I stayed close in.

    I bought way more than I should have. I hugged lots of people but not as many as I should have. A guy I'd met just the week before at a random flash reading in Manchester I ran into about twenty times, but to see Sophie Rosenblum I had to stalk her with the help of inside informants. I was mostly shy about barreling up to somebody I only knew by reputation but they were always friendly when I did and every once in a while they'd already read my work and loved me.

    My mind has been opened about how poetry should be read. I never felt it before but indie lit and poetry now feels to me the way punk rock did in 1983. It didn't matter that everyone in the audience was in their own band or dating the band, it didn't matter that nobody was ever going to make money or get famous doing this. What mattered was that we were doing it, right here in this moment that we'll never get back if we don't do it now.

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    1. It didn't matter that everyone in the audience was in their own band or dating the band

      Yes! It's so silly when people complain that only poets read poetry, because a) it's not true, I have non-poet friends who read poetry and b) it's more like, when non-poets read poetry and really fall in love with it, they want to do it, and why not? The barriers to entry are low. Most people who really love music try to "be musicians" at some level or another, or get involved in some fashion with the production of music. That doesn't make them BAD listeners. Nor does being a poet or wanting to be a poet make you a bad reader ...

      Sorry I didn't get to hug you! I recommend ALWAYS barreling up.

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    2. Love both of your points here, both Ray and Elisa. :) And when in doubt, hug. Yeah, me too.

      I had a good time, and I agree about the space and intermissions during the long readings. I think we pretty well with our reading (two sets, about 3 poems per person, space before and after with an intermission in the middle). Anyway it was fun and definitely didn't feel stifling or formal.

      I, however, bought nothing except from our table partner (Coconut) because I never made it around the bookfair at all. So I am having to use the internetz to get me some poetry. I did make a few good swaps though. As usual, I feel like I never had long enough to talk to any one person *for real,* even though it also feels like all I did was talk!

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    3. That setup sounds perfect.

      For once I *did* feel like I really got to talk to people, but I think it's because I didn't go to many readings! And I kept going offsite with people to eat.

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  2. I love 'what the F' and plan on using it in a sentence today, likely more than one.

    Poetry is not my thing because it reminds me that I am far too concrete and shallow to appreciate it, which is humiliating, so I stay away from it altogether. Neither can I sit through the ballet (my husband and I always end up leaving at intermission to walk across the street and drink wine at our favorite bar - where we vow never to attend another ballet).

    However, I do read books on occasion and agree with your hugging recommendations. Great post!

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    1. Thanks J! I hate when cultural events don't have bars.

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  3. Sorry to have missed this entire thing, it is what comes of being buried under a pile of rubble and not being on twitter much...

    Had not realized the Tricia Lockwood book is out; it must be acquired immediately

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    1. That's right, you've been largely absent from Twitter, which is unacceptable. It's out and crazy looking! She drew a strange picture on the inside for me and everything.

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  4. Amen to everything, everything, everything you said about marathon readings.

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    1. seconded, and seconded on hugs. thanks for buying my book. don't hate it too much. (:

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    2. KR: Word.

      MS: Of course I won't hate it you jerk!

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  5. Apart from what I commented about AWP in the comment box of your previous post --

    The best books I found there this year, so far, are:

    Before There Is Nowhere To Stand edited by Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler with Edward Morin (anthology of poems written about/in response to the history and political conditions of Israel/Palestine, published 2012 by Lost Horse Press

    The Orgy, a novel by Muriel Rukeyser (based on a visit she made in the mid-20th century to the last surviving pagan goat festival in Ireland), published (reissued) in recent years by Paris Press; and Marginalia Poems from the Old Irish translated by Louis McKee, a beautifully printed letterpress book published 2008 by Adastra Press of Easthampton, MA.

    Regarding the last book, according to the translator Louis McKee, when Irish manuscript copyists in the middle ages were copying long Latin manuscripts, from time to time they would write short (usually four-line) poems in the margins, old traditional poems or maybe their own original ones, as a way of briefly breaking the monotony of the work. The book is a sampler of about 20 such poems, with the original Old Irish and modern English translations.

    At some point in the next day or two I'll write more about AWP in my blog.

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    1. Ooh, The Orgy sounds interesting. I like her poetry, and "the last surviving pagan goal festival"?! Sign me up!

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    2. And, as I threatened, I've posted in my blog about AWP, here, if you (or anyone passing by) care to take a look.

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  6. First time at AWP for me, and I think I loved it. As a student I felt I could be wide-eyed and starstruck with no apologies. I went to as many panels as I could handle and made my fair share of planning mistakes (i.e., trying to do two things and really not doing either one; missing an offsite reading I totally wanted to go to because I forgot to stop, take a deep breath, and take stock at 5pm on Saturday when my brain was mush and my feet were blistered). I also had some breathtaking moments, such as running into Richard Blanco in the hall and getting to tell him how much his poem meant to my student and I as we prepared it for the Poetry Out Loud contest a few years ago. He remembered her email, and it was a THRILL to talk to him! Also got to see and meet a lot of amazing people I admire, like Brenda Shaughnessey, Paisley Rekdal, Dorianne Laux, Stephen Dunn, Matthew Zapruder, Isaac Fitzgerald. . . I think it's a great event, and I'm looking forward to next year already. In the meantime, there's so much to be done! Life is exciting. Thanks for being here :-)

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    1. That's so great! My first AWP was in Austin years ago and I TOTALLY LOVED IT. I had been kinda burnt out on writing and poetry after grad school, and it reawakened my love of the whole thing, made me realize the importance of keeping up with a community, and got me reading blogs, which has been no small part of my "career" or life as a writer.

      Thanks for commenting!

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    2. Actually my first kinda-AWP was in Austin, mostly because I had a poet NOLA-expat friend from high school staying on my couch, it was the first AWP after Katrina and I had just published my first story, and we had lots Katrina-related to talk about. But I had no real idea what AWP was, what publishing was, how this writing thing worked. We just hung out in the Driskill bar and she pointed out famous people to me who I'd never heard of.

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    3. FAMOUS PEOPLE I'VE NEVER HEARD OF is a good name for your future memoir(s).

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  7. "To end on a positive note: I only went to one reading (mine; sorry) and it was great. Lots of the aforementioned space, plus variation in style and genre, and a really good audience. So thanks, people that organized it and were there."

    Everything you said about readings is exactly why I run Literary Firsts the way I do.

    I steadfastly love being in that room every time and I respect, heartily, what you're doing up there, but I also love talking to the readers during the readings (saying things like, "good pause," and actually laughing when things are funny, etc.) Oh, we've already had this conversation, but still.

    Point being: Thanks to you, [one of the] people who read. You're what keeps it amazing.

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    1. When I went back and watched the video, that was my favorite moment, because it broke my Serious Reading Face, which is a bore! xo

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    2. I think your Serious Reading Face just means that you take your work seriously (which I support 100%), but you're also having fun (which I support 110%). I like both!

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