AWP Recap

I’m one of the 10,000 plus who descended upon Seattle and the Washington State Convention Center for AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. And here I am back at home, thank God, but in bed with a terrible cold.

The best part of going to Seattle was seeing my friends and getting to explore a new city with them. It’s ironic that the majority of folks I spoke to at the conference are writer friends who live in Atlanta, people I could see almost any time, except for two who now live in Colorado and Tennessee, respectively.

Coming home with a cold has clouded my view of the whole event. What stands out about the conference are the rows of very similar tables and booths at the book fair, the very similar journals that publish very similar poems, the masses of writers churning up the four levels of escalators, lines for the the public bathrooms, and all those hands touching the railings. I must have touched the wrong railing.

But wait. I AM letting the cold spoil my memories. There was the very pleasant experience of meeting the editor of Pilgrimage, a beautiful magazine from Colorado State. And then there was the sip of Wild Turkey at the excellent Birmingham Poetry Review table. District Lit represented, without the backup budget of a university to foot the bill, as did Sundog Lit.

I had a nice chat with the managing editor of the New England Review, a fellow Middlebury alumna (I’m from the Language Schools, not quite as Midd as the four-year undergrads).

And I got to meet for the second time the wonderful and talented Anya Silver, who signed my copy of her latest collection, I Watched You Disappear. More on this moving and powerful book in another post.

Of the hundreds of panels and readings I only attended two, but they were both superb. One was a panel of poets whose work is included in the anthology of devotional poetry, Before the Door of God, which is now on my to-read list. Mary Szybist read a poem about her mother that had everyone weeping. I was looking forward to hearing her since I had recently read her book Incarnadine, winner of the 2013 National Book Award in poetry. She read like an angel, as if she were transmitting the voice of Mary herself.

The other panel I attended was a moving tribute to poet, essayist, and literary entrepreneur Kurt Brown. His wife, poet Laure-Anne Bosselaar, read one of Kurt Brown’s final poems, a short lyric about his last kiss that he never gave her, that is still inside of him. We were all wiping our eyes.

I was in Seattle only two and a half days, not even enough time to adjust to the time change between the Pacific Northwest and Atlanta. So I am grateful for the chance to have run around the city with my friends, to have seen Pike Place Market, and to get to know a few new journals. I don’t know if I will attend the conference next year, though. I might prefer a writers’ festival of no more than a few hundred. Maybe a retreat is more what I need.

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