The Ides and AWPs of March

February, you were a good month. I cooked in this home-away-from-home kitchen for the first time, a braised chicken-and-veggie thing that turned into a stew. I heard a lil' New Orleans jazz on Fat Tuesday. I played cornhole with Nick Flynn after a screening of Being Flynn. I tried all the beers at the Olde Hickory Tap Room. I saw Ted Pope (right) give a high-voltage reading that involved paper-throwing and, at one point, push-ups. I read for Lenoir-Rhyne University in front of a crowd that included my students and in one case, my student's parents, though, sadly, I did no push-ups. 

Also a lot of things that I can't share yet. A teaching fellowship. An award. A big byline, forthcoming. I'm the little kid who presses her lips together, mmm mm mmmm, shaking her head and standing tippy-toe: that's how much I want to share things with you. But until I have contracts in hand, no. I know how annoying that little kid is, hence my silence here. So we give you a little pause of remembrance, February...

...and we get back to the business of this blog. 

AWP is nigh. On Tuesday I'll drive to DC; on Wednesday, to Boston. Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep me from being there to moderate Thursday's 1:30 PM panel, "Lady Lazarus and Beyond: The Craft of Sylvia Plath," which will feature the voices of Tara Betts, C. Dale Young, Shara Lessley, Meghan O’Rourke. I pitched this panel out of a strong belief someone needed to pitch this panel, in the 50th anniversary of Plath's death. The caliber of writers who agreed to take part is a reflection of the potency of her work and influence. Please join us; we'll be at the Hynes Convention Center, Room 203, Level 2.

There are pretty great guides to the AWP experience floating around the web. Ploughshares offers a multiple-author overview (Matt Bell: "don’t approach a literary magazine’s table at the book fair as a submitter—approach it as a fan"). Rebecca Hazelton constructs a stream-of-consciousness narrative of bookfairing. ("There are 600 exhibitors. There are two levels to the book fair. The odds of having to actually make eye contact are almost nil. You can totally do this.") Cameron Witbeck itemizes absurdist steps to "Win AWP" for Passages North. Er, I hope it is absurdist; if you see me gnawing my third Blow-Pop in an hour, and/or climbing a tree to survey the crowd, you'll know he has proven sadly prescient.

This is not my first time at the AWP rodeo. I've been the person taking notes in the front row; I've been the person who gets sick on the first day; I've been the nervous youngin' fawning in the elevator; I've been to The Fancy VIP Penthouse reception; I've been a panelist and an offsite reader; I've tabled for four hours straight; I've been part of that last group in the conference hotel bar, the ones who retreat to a random floor's bank of couches by the elevators. I've made critical connections at AWP. I've been hit on. I've had poems solicited. I've been blown off in pursuit of someone more important. It's not comprehensive or universal, but this is what I know:


-Do not make getting coffee the first hassle of every morning. The line will always take a little longer than you anticipated. Your hotel room probably has a coffeemaker; request extra packets, and use it (emblazoned to-go mugs should be a more popular form of swag at bookfair tables; I demand a Write Like a Motherfucker thermos).

-Bring your own tote bag. The AWP totes are sturdy and increasingly better designed for books, so I use them all the time. I don't want to use them in a crowd of 8,000 identical totes, because that's how bags get switched and left behind.

-If there's a writer you want to meet, go to their booksigning. The after-panel conversations get pushed out the door by the next event; people have places to get to. That half-hour booksigning is a comparative oasis of captive time, in which the author will be grateful for company and you might have a real conversation. 

-By Friday late afternoon, your body will have noticed a complete lack of vegetables in your diet. Console it, please. I recommend downing a carrot juice, even if it is while on your walk to the hotel bar for a beer. Bloody marys are also an acceptable compromise.

-Change clothes once a day. Maybe you dress separately for the conditioned conference center versus chilly offsite events; maybe it's because your cute shoes can only be worn three hours at a time. Stop in the hotel room, excavate a pound of handouts and journals from your bag, wash your face, change, and journey on refreshed. 

-In choosing offsite events, look to see if the venue is hosting multiple readings that night. Be aware that intoxicated folks will linger from earlier receptions, congregating at the back and chattering loudly; they're done listening for the day. This may make your offsite event, no matter how worthy the journal, too un-fun to be worth the trek. 

-Stock up on a bottle of red wine or whiskey, something share-able that doesn't require refrigeration, and on your first day ask housekeeping for some extra paper cups. There will be that one night when you want to keep talking with a few folks, but the bars are closed and/or you're all feeling poor. Being supplied is a gamechanger.

-I know the bookfair is overwhelming. But if you stop in for one reason, let it be to swing by the tables for journals that have published you in this past year, to say thanks. Don't hold out for the editor-in-chief; this is not about networking. Thank anyone who is there, profusely. Tell them what publication means to you. It will make their day. 

-If you spot a Very Famous Writer in the wild, it's okay to want to say hello. But some moments are better than others. Surrounded by a gaggle of younger folks, probably students: Yes. Heading into or out of the bathroom: No. (I've BEEN that fan.)

-Treat yourself to one nice meal by yourself, if not at the conference then soon after. Get out your manuscript--short story, poetry collection, essay--and read it with eyes informed by all you've seen at AWP. If you're not in an editing mood, brainstorm a list of writing goals for the next two years. You really will see new possibilities and have fresh insights, which is why this maelstrom is worth it. Honor the fact that while the hobnobbing, hijinks, and gossip are fun, at the end of day it really is about the writing.

When I return to North Carolina, I'm going to resist post-AWP collapse. (The secret: an IV of orange juice.) On Tuesday, March 12, I'll be reading at Poetry Hickory and offering a craft seminar beforehand on "Sestinas: The Gyroscope of Form." 

Starting March 24, I am teaching an online workshop courtesy of the good folks at Barrelhouse, whose latest issue features a cover drawn by the inimitable talent Dean Haspiel; you can read my interview with Dean here. Eight weeks, eight poems, with options for side-discussion about craft and publishing issues. You can take part as much or as little as you want--week to week, from wherever you are--working with your schedule. It's a pretty sweet deal. Details are here, and feel free to reach out to me with any questions.

I've missed you guys. If you see me in Boston, say hello.