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AWP 2024 Conference: My Version



where instructions are many

Blind alleys multiply

maintain the center within-

From Daodejing as translated by Brook Ziporyn

 

The Kansas City Convention Center, a three-story labyrinth of cool, airy meeting spaces, grand ball rooms and an Exhibit Hall, seats in the beat of downtown.  Through a high window in an open corridor, the artful curvature of the Kauffman Center of Performing Arts looms south on Broadway Boulevard. Its presence serves as a gateway to the Crossroads Arts District—a mirage of low buildings and graffitied alleyways, dark jazz lounges, art galleries, coffee shops, designer shops, high-end restaurants, and breweries. To the north, the Library District seats, more stately than artsy, owing its grandeur to turn-of-the-century European architecture. The brick gothic edifices of New York Life Insurance building with a statue of an eagle nestles between local businesses and cafes. The face of the KC Public Library itself is a replica of a bookshelf of the literary classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lao Tzu, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Further north still, the River Market District teems with the rich ethnic diversity that springs to life on the weekends with a variety of fresh food from nearby farmers and goods from craftsmen, and artists. Sometimes, on a warm summer morning, it’s like the Renaissance period never ended.


The AWP 2024 Conference ran from Wednesday-Saturday, February 7th-10th, but I did not arrive to register until Thursday morning, on the first day of panels. I was alone most of the time, taking advantage of the long, uninterrupted time to be a visitor in my own town. The AWP welcome sign was a mural of a prominent plaza fountain spraying water, and the old characteristic dome of the plaza buildings. I paused, thinking I might take a picture. I also stopped to next to a bronze statue of an unknown man, who I imagined to be someone important I should know—but didn’t. I also didn’t take any pictures, too lost in in the new experience of it all.


Once, I went to Exhibit (Bartel Hall) for a car show. But the car museum was replaced with exhibit booths from hundreds of literary presses, bookstores, writer retreats venues, university writing programs and other literary-related vendors. The journals I read online were available at my fingertips, the editors who rejected my work (and accepted), unveiled behind draped folding tables. It felt like meeting the Wizard in Oz, the man behind the curtain. It was relieving to see that they were all just people like me. I decided to spend an hour every day, going to each table, one by one, until I had a sense of the diversity of my options, and break up my time between craft talk panels.


I went to each table, chatting with the editors and readers. I purchased copies of books and journals from both established and emerging authors and presses, skipping over places where I already had subscriptions. The magazines in my tote were Brazenhead Review, South Dakota Review, The Iowa Review, Puerta Del Sol, FENCE, The Colorado Review, Boulevard.  I purchased This is How the Bone Sings, by W. Todd Kaneko (Black Lawerence Press), Afterfeast by Lisa Hilton (Tupelo Press) and Sukun, by Kazim Ali (Wesleyan Press). Also at the Wesleyan table, I chatted with Kazim Ali while he signed my book. I introduced myself and told him how I came to his work through the Colorado Review, and we discussed the music of Middle English. I felt in conversation with a poet interview from The Paris Review, who often read the Bible before writing poems, just to get into the musicality that language holds.


A week prior, as I looked over the conference panel and reading schedule, I had to set a goal, or I would be lost. There were panels in fiction, non-fiction, poetry. There were panels about writing grief, about writing the dead, about social justice, about the American Midwest, about memory, about debuting as a novelist or a poet, about horror, about sci-fi, about picture books, about whether or not you should use the word cunt in a poem (psst: you can use any word you want in a poem as long as you can get away with it). I decided I wanted to do all these things, but I couldn’t do them at all once. So I decided on the path that made sense for me in that moment, and that was to attend the panels that would be relevant to a writer who is completing a full poetry collection.  


Below are the panels I attended:

Sound and Color: Poets and Visual Artist in Exquisite Exchange.

Artificial Intelligence & Real Creativity: AI in the CW Classroom

Writing and the Day Job: Writers on writing outside of academia

Draft, Draft Goose, The Thinking Behind Revision

How the Sausage Gets Made: Debut Poets on Making a First Book

The Art of Revising Poetry

Getting The Word Out: Poets on Publishing their Debut Collections


After the conference, I implemented ideas that were generated from these conversations, and it was liberating.  As for specific discussion and examples? Well let’s just say craft and more writing life blogs might be in my future.


In fact, the next morning after the conference, a word came to my mind as I was walking into my kitchen. An old, fancy word on the opposite spectrum of my life circumstance—Renaissance.

“I feel like I’m having a poetic Renaissance,” I said aloud, surprised at hearing my own voice put it out into the world. My daughter, who stood making a sandwich, laughed at the randomness of my declaration. But maybe it’s not random, maybe it’s just a re-centering of what has always been, just temporarily detoured by another course, but making its proper way again.

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