Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Best of AWP

Drafted at nearly 37,000 feet, Georgia Popoff and Jennifer Pashley bring you the highlights our our three swift days at AWP.

Best poetry reading: Poetry Society of America featuring Gary Young, et al. Why: First to celebrate the organization, then the breadth of poetry represented: B.H. Fairchild, Cyrus Cassals, Joy Harjo, Jean Valentine, etc., so many distinct voices, ending with our friend Gary.

Best mixed-genre reading: Graywolf authors. Why: Proves again why Graywolf is at the top of the indie publishers. These authors are incredibly gifted, sharp, and articulate.

Event we regretted missing: afternoon reading and conversation with Rita Dove.

Two conversation / panels we most appreciated: Revisions of Truth with Marie Ponsot, Phillip Lopate, and Sapphire (another DWC guest from several years ago; discussion on identity and aesthetic by writers of color (with another DWC friend Lyre Van Clief-Stephanon, Sherwin Bitsui, Adrian Matejka, and Matthew Shenoda); Rose Metal guide to writing Flash Fiction.

Best Writers in the Schools Alliance panel: Friday’s discussion on working with students with disabilities. Why: There was so much compassion expressed by the panelists, so much heart; then the poignancy of the work created by students (both adult and youth).

Most packed panel (second year in a row): Flash Fiction. Why: I'm not sure, but this is twice I've been at a flash panel that has roughly 50 more people than there should be in the room. Either people really love flash, or they really want to learn how to do it. Or both.

Best intro: Matthew Shenoda “If I was a dance I'd be a samba because I get down like a mango with feet.”

Best Book Fair Swag: shot glasses, lip balm, nice paperboard cover notebooks. Also, pens got a big upgrade this year. Cookies, lots of chocolate (in fact, Blue Flower pushed corporate colored m&ms on us every time we passed). T-shirts: There were lots of t-shirts at the book fair this year, but the best were the very limited edition Mississippi Review t-shirts individually designed by Frederick Barthelme.

Favorite quotes:

Gary Snyder: “Go get em kids; we need more good writers.”

George Saunders: “It's like all the articulate people are in one place. We're going to start our own nation.”

Best discovery: Poetry: Sherwin Bitsui. His second book is a book-length poem. Catie Rosemurgy, whose poetry is weird, and fictiony and wonderful. Fiction: Owen Egerton, Allyson Hagy

Best Book Discovery: Fishouse Anthology with CD

Best calamari: Crown Plaza Hotel, because it was really crispy with a great pesto aioli.

Best Souvenir Experience: Where the Buffalo Roam Why: loads of off-beat stuff, including several Lebowski t-shirts.

Best Wacky Local Image: giant blue bear looking into convention center. Rivaled only by the red-eyed devil horse outside the airport.

Most Overheard by Non-Locals: “I'm out of breath!” or “Do you have any chapstick?”

Most Spotted AWP Fashion Statements: brightly colored high-heeled shoes, lace tights, nerdy glasses, baby bellies. Also, the return of the literary mustache.

Missed Sightseeing Opportunity Most Regretted: the Dale Chihuly chandelier at the Opera House.

Best Stuff We Learned:

From the flash fiction panel: “Sometimes the smallest things can be the heaviest things” – Lex Williford, on the heft and compression in a good flash piece.

From the identity/aesthetic by poets of color panel: Several things; first, a clear vision of the difference between first and second books (“First book introduces the poet to the the community of poets. The second book introduces the voice of the poet”). Second, the entire conversation brought up so many issues and suppositions to ponder. Thirdly, Matthew Shenoda’s comments on the US being “obsessed with identity.” Still thinking over all of the comments and rereading notes from the discussion.

Random observations: Our hair dries really quickly in Denver (humidity 12% on Friday). [Sidenote: Georgia's hair dries quickly in Denver. Jennifer's hair dries in about 4 minutes regardless of where she is, because she has hair like a baby.] There is a roller derby team in the Denver area. Colorado folks are quite kind and seem happy. Maybe it is the sun? Maybe the altitude? (Maybe they leave it all on the track.)

Our airport may be small but it certainly is manageable, especially during check-in. Special thanks: Benette Whitmore for being so bright and for asking her son Eli to drive the three of us to our hotels when he picked her up at the airport. And leaving, we really thought we left Phil behind in Denver. His making the plane to JFK might have been the miracle of the whole trip.

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