Friday, January 28, 2011

My Love-Hate Relationship with AWP

AWP 2011 is next week, and I'm not going. I've been reading a lot of snippets here and there about what people are looking forward to and what they're dreading, and they remind me about what I love and hate about AWP.

The first time I went to AWP was in 1995 in Pittsburgh. It was a tiny little conference then, intimate. As I recall, the book fair was in a room smaller than my high school's gymnasium. I went with a bunch of people from my MFA program, and we roamed the place in various smaller group combinations. The whole weekend felt like we had crammed weeks' of experience into just a couple of days. It was amazing, exciting, thrilling, but the main reason for that was the classmates I was with.

The next time I attended was Chicago 2004, held at the Palmer House Hilton. The event had grown enormously, but I was still able to run into people I knew just by chance. The book fair spanned several rooms and had grown much larger. I remember I had just gotten a poem accepted for publication the week before, so it was great to be able to be able to talk about what I was working on. I had just graduated the year before and I was no longer in academia, so it made it easier to feel a part of things.

The last time I attended was Chicago 2009. It was Hilton Chicago, which is much larger than the Palmer House Hilton, one much larger than before. The entire conference seemed to be a maze of packed hallways, completely overwhelming if one just stopped to watch the crowds rushing by. It struck me how young the crowds were, and I realized that probably a huge number were in MFA or PhD programs as I had been my first AWP. I met up with friends, but only because I knew what booths or panels they were going to be at. Even though I spent most of my time there at the book fair, I didn't manage to visit all of the booths. There were just too many.

I had thought I might try to attend Denver 2010, but when it came down to it, I didn't have enough reason to go, and the crowds the year before had been just so overwhelming. I think might go to Chicago 2012, and I have a year to make it worth my time. I love talking to people about their projects, seeing all of the magazines and publishers putting out great stuff. I love the sense of community that is generated there. I'm so isolated from a creative group in my daily life, and it's great not just to see individual projects but to hear about how things have changed, what's new and exciting. When I was a PhD student in the early 2000's, I remember being told that publishing online was throwing your work away, that that kind of publishing credit was without value and no one would respect it. At AWP 2009, I kept hearing that wasn't the case.

AWP has always been a chance for me to recharge my networking batteries and learn as much as I can about the poetry market. In some ways, I wish I were going to do that next week, but I can't feel too disappointed, either. Right now, I'm selfishly obsessed with reading as much as I can and working on my own writing. AWP is great for meeting people and learning stuff, but not so good for soaking up creativity. I need quiet and introspection for that.

Are you headed to AWP? What are you hoping to accomplish there?

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