AWP 2010, Denver CO
Too much time has passed, and my memory is weak, like waking from a dream and trying to capture it before it slips away.
Arrive a day early, leaving the odd 90 degree weather of Jersey for the 30’s and snow. Drink water, lots of water, the altitude kills me turns me into a fleshy raisin (worst headaches are from dehydration). Set up operations at Girlfriend’s apartment –home base, easy commute to Denver by light rail.
The crowds will shock you, some 8500 plus this year, entire floor dedicated to the Book Fair. 500 + journals, small presses, universities. Be prepared to sell organs to purchase all the books and journals here. Have an extra suitcase, but wait till the last day. Thursday and Friday should be for scouting (it takes this long to just absorb all the vendors), Saturday is the day of deals. The books as cheap as five bucks, journals for a dollar, tons of free swag.
Panels are getting better from years past. You name it there will be panel on it: topics cover almost every iota and combination of poetry possible as well as how to teach it. I found several panels exploring facets of experimental poetry and the future of poetry. For myself I felt my brain thawing out of the deep freeze it was in with regards to thinking critically about avant-garde poetry. You should find your brain exploding with ideas and theories by the end of conference. If not you are doing something wrong. By Sunday I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning with such wonderful poetic mojo.
Be realistic about what to attend, three panels a day is a good amount. Too many more and you will be spending all your time listening instead of talking to other/new poets. Too few and you will feel that you aren’t getting the most out of the event. One rule of AWP: they always seem to schedule three panels you really want to attend at the same time. Second rule of AWP: at least two panels will be a huge disappointment and not live up to the hype of the description. Third rule: talk to people after the panels and when you are not in panels talk to more people. This is time to network and make connections with those who share interests and possible benefits to your career. Talk to those who are on panels, ask questions afterwards, but keep it short and sweet. Hand out biz cards and collect others. Talk to all journals; give card and collect submission guidelines. If necessary buy a journal. This leads to new friends and contacts as well as invites to events. Foster these relationships; this will lead to friendships at next year’s AWP. Conference increases chances to meet up with people you haven’t seen in years. Ran into my friend Jacob who I met in England in 2004, haven’t seen since. Side note: Be sincere don’t kiss ass or network for the sake of it. Talk to those who interest you and who you respect for. People hate bullshit and can smell it.
Nightlife is huge at AWP. Almost every press and university there will have an event one night of the conference, usually free food/drinks and a reading. This is where you socialize and meet up with the poets you have met during the day. They will have more free time and be willing to talk. Look for places with free booze and food, this will save money on the trip. The AWP also has nightly reading series, usually a big name author or two. I saw Anne Waldman and Gary Synder both icons in the poetry biz, but also both long winded –two hours turned into three. Not complaining, but was an experience. Waldman loves 20 min plus poems (damn manatees) as well as long Howlish political rants/Buddhist chant like poems. Synder was mixing poems and stories till the whole reading became an intermingling performance of history and verse where it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. Respect Waldman and loved Synder. Must go back and read his collected works. AWP has a nightly dance. Dance is drunken undergrads and drunken older poets all bad dancing, awkward, but fun. Free booze for an hour, worth going for that then getting out of the incredibly socially aberrant scene (How many old men hitting on young girls can happen in one night?)
Be prepared for no sleep for three days. Be prepared for sore feet from walking. Have fun and network. Come back and keep in contact with those you met. If done right it ends up almost like a religious event or a intense drug high. You will feel changed, altered as your perception of the world has been fractured and resembled in new ways. Sleep will escape you and you will need to question everything you have done in your artistic life. You have gone through the rabbit hole of poetry.