My First AWP: Minneapolis 2015

How do I begin to talk about my experience in Minneapolis? First I should mention my excellent traveling companions THE NICKS (Ramsey and Demske), who put up with my mood swings and did the best they could with Google Maps–goofy rap ciphers notwithstanding. Next I should say we had a fantastic host family who trusted a couple of writers with a key to their house and fed us delicious fish tacos.

As for the conference itself, it was kind of life-changing. I heard so many things that reaffirmed my desire to live the writing life, learned a lot from the different panels, got super inspired to do some writing, familiarized myself with presses and journals I should be reading, and met a ton of crazy smart writers who were friendly and gracious and gave me some great advice. I had some drinky drinks and heard some awe-inspiring readers at the off-site events too 🙂

The most useful thing I took from the conference was my interaction with the different presses and journals in the book fair. Getting to see the books next to each other, recognize which authors went with which publications, and see the friendly faces behind the tables helped me start to understand the niche in the poetry market that I want my work to live in. I brought home a stack of books and mags to dig into and I’m sure all of this is going to have a profound effect on the work I put out in the near future.

I did my neurotic thing and researched all of the Dos and Don’ts and Pro Tips I could find in order to make the most of my trip. One that surprisingly resulted in a great experience was to hang out in the hotel bar (or conference center bar, in this case). I ended up meeting someone that went to Columbia College Chicago, where I am thinking about attending this fall. He told me some cool things about the professors (David Trinidad was a part of Phoebe 2002: An Essay in Verse, a “three-way, groundbreaking, e-mail deconstruction of All About Eve [which] is a treasure-trove of poetic forms, cinephile gossip and literary visitations”) and told me he liked Columbia because it doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the traditional aesthetic that most MFA programs do, which made total sense to me. I had just been thinking about why I don’t know too many university presses & wondering if I shouldn’t try harder to get familiar with them, but since I like to read and write more experimental work, I probably shouldn’t worry about it too much. (CSU is the exception–I liked a lot of books on their table.)

The panels I went to were generally powerhouses of talent and writing industry insight. I learned about the sentence and the line, less traditional writing jobs and how to get them, the poetics of the extreme, and how to deal with failure and even avoid it a little, among many other things. I had a chat with Arielle Greenberg, who gave me some reading recommendations and introduced me to the “anti-lyric” (see picture below). I furiously scribbled notes on starting a small press from scratch in hopes of helping my writer’s group take our relationship to the next level. I ditched a few of the panels I had planned on to go to more readings once I started recognizing more of the names on the schedule, and to comb the book fair on the last day when I couldn’t think anymore and all the books were on sale. I got to talent scout a little for BONK! and say hi to readers who had already come to Racine. Jamaal May and Mahogany Brown were just two of my favorites readers, and I got my copy of Bad Feminist signed by Roxane Gay.

Me with Arielle Greenberg, poetry mogul
Me with Arielle Greenberg, poetry mogul

Another one of my favorite moments was when I was at the H_NGM_N Books and Forklift, Ohio table with my friend and mentor (frientor) Nick Demske. He always talks about his most magical AWP moment, when he picked a panel almost at random and heard his own work being examined and talked about. He introduced me to Matt Hart, who had presented at the panel and written the essay, which was then published in Jam Tarts by Frederick Speers, who walked up a moment later and excitedly greeted Demske with a quirky expletive phrase from said poem.

(From Left) Nick Demske, whose poem is the subject of an essay by Matt Hart [innocent bystander & poet Kirun Kapur] and published by Frederick Speers in Jam Tarts.
(From Left) Nick Demske, whose poem is the subject of an essay by Matt Hart [innocent bystander & poet Kirun Kapur] and published by Frederick Speers in Jam Tarts.
See what I mean by visual representation of the publishing process?

Besides all of this, I have in my canvas AWP tote an invisible ink pen, a poem on a stick, a handful of pens, stickers, postcards, bookmarks, and temporary tattoos, as well as business cards and flyers from journals I can submit to. Just that stuff alone is going to bring me day-to-day motivation as it infiltrates my day planner to remind me to write and submit, write and submit.

Basking in the glory of literature
Basking in the glory of literature
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