This was my fifth time attending AWP and the first time I can honestly say I loved it. Here, in no particular order are some of my favorite moments:
1. Poets on TV. My first night in Denver I arrived at the hotel around 9 pm - a tad too late and too tired to meet up with friends. Instead I retreated to my wonderful room and leafed through my roommate, Lana's AWP schedule. I clicked on the TV only to find a Hyett poetry only channel. I watched Mark Doty, Linda Pastan, and Naomi Shihab Nye perform favorites at the Dodge Festival; I watched Emily Dickinson's poetry in newly made animation, and Marie Howe read from her New York City apartment. What an amazing world it would be if we could click on the TV and find poets there to entertain us. Thank you who ever decided to run an hour long loop of poets for the conference. This started everything off on the right note: poetry matters.
2. Shameless Self Promotion. No, this is not what I engaged in -- at least I really hope not! It is the name of a fantastic panel conducted by Margaret Hasse, Todd Boss and two other Minneapolis area writers. Their session deserves a whole post of its own -- but for now let me just say two things I learned that have stayed inside my head. "If you gauge the success of your effort by book sales you are bound to be disappointed" (the panel included fiction and non-fiction writers, too). And the corollary to that statement, "Do what feeds you." I also loved that Todd Boss went to his favorite independent coffee shop and spoke to the owner "You have great coffee. Can I be the Poet Laureate of the coffee shop?" The takeaway idea: find your constituency.
3. Leaving a lipstick kiss on Oliver's cheek. Catching up with some friends and making new ones is the point here. I ran into Stacey Brown, Brian Turner, and Oliver de la Paz in the book fair on Friday morning. In the course of five minutes we bumped into each other by chance. This may be my absolutely favorite part of AWP - happy accidents. I got to see Stacey's face as she hugged Brian tight - having not seen him in some time. I got to meet many people that I only knew from their blogs and from Facebook. I got to feel more connected to the world and proud of the tribe of poets that I claim as my own. They are generous, they are talented, and their spirit is alive and well.
4. White Pine Press book signing. Honestly, I'd been dreading this part. Would anyone come by? Last week, Dennis gently told me to tell my friends about the signing and he hinted (very kindly) that I should not expect long lines. There are literally half a dozen things going on at AWP at one time that I want to be at -- and I know that holds true for others. Seattle friends see me all the time, I knew they wouldn't be by and I understood. And yet, people did come! Mary Brown, my old student from Antioch, Tim Mayo a poet from Vermont that I'd never met, and Susan Elbe and Sandy Longhorn from the blogosphere all came by and bought books, too! By the end of the conference, Dennis had sold out of The Alchemist's Kitchen! Okay -- he was wise enough to not ship a container full -- but still!
So what did I learn? Why was this time so much better than past years? My great roommate the poet Lana Ayers and I could debrief each night about our day (have a roommate!), set a schedule of the sessions you want to go to before the conference begins, and leave yourself open to happy accidents. Most of all, I relaxed and was more comfortable in my skin this time. This is my tribe and I am glad to be here at this moment in time - poetry is alive and well -- at least in Denver!