Last night a friend emailed her experience of AWP, a note which read like a manic manifesto of the upcoming writer. This might say less about my friend than it does about the nature of AWP as it erupts into the gargantuan literary and para-literary event it has become.

In coming weeks I’ll be posting some of my notes from the confab, about workshops, about small press survival in the evolving digital economy, about the book biz as a template for how we treat each other, and how we move out from the core part of us that holds our highest values, into the world of commerce and politics and gossip and all foibles human. I’ll also be loading some of the wonderful stuff we sold in Boston that isn’t yet up in our store, including Cornelius Eady’s CD/chap Book of Hooks, some new artist’s books by our beloved editor, Bonne de Blas, and Leah Umansky’s postcards.

Meantime here are some blog fragments I didn’t have time to post from Boston:

AWP whirlwind left us breathless in Boston (not to mention the bracing weather). Cornelius Eady’s two release events for Book of Hooks were a rousing success, copies flew out of the bookfair booth.

Cornelius signed copies at the booth, along with other beloved wompus writers John Parras, Susana Case, Zack Rogow, Randall Horton, Tony Morris, Chris Shipman & DeWitt Brinson, and Alex Cigale (who did an impromptu reading of his homophone translation poems right in the booth–the inside joke of course being that Alex is a dedicated longtime poetry translator).

The book fair is massive–the conference is gargantuan–four hour wait to register for the conference first morning–Randall Horton texted us after more than three hours on the registration line ¬†(a big thank you to the friend who finally expedited his entry!) Our booth was smack across the aisle from Northwestern, which has just brought out Randall’s other new book–so we traded! (And then I bought some extras–Pitch Dark Anarchy is a luinous collection, I’ll need copies for friends.)

Thursday morning’s bookfair stage event was attended by over 50 people. The AWP brass were very anxious beforehand, something about music bothering the nearby book vendors. Cornelius and Robin Messing blew us away with their vocals, along with the amazing musicianship of accompanists Charlie Rauh on guitar and Concetta Abbate on violin.

Our off-site event the night before, at Cambridge Cohousing: well attended, a perfect setting, wonderful poets opening (Zack Rogow, Susana Case, Brad Crenshaw) warmly receptive audience. Cornelius and Robin each read some poems and then Rough Magic–it ain’t a band till it’s got a name–commenced to roll out some of the songs from Book of Hooks (with a treat or two from Cornelius’s other very recent, already sold-out CD, Asking for the Moon¬†from Red Glass Press). Wine, cheese, crackers, and conversation finished the evening. A hearty thanks to our wonderful Cohousing hosts, especially Wendy Sanford and her partner, Polly, who could not have been more welcoming and attentive. All we lacked at that reading was a big fireplace with a rousing blaze and it’s good we did not have it, because none of us would ever have peeled ourselves out of there!

A few of the many other wonderful writers we hung with at AWP: Nin Andrews, Karen Schubert, Susan Terris, Sarah Micklen, Nikki Robinson, David Hassler, Robert Miltner, Dolores Hayden, Emily Shearer, Vincent Celluci, Chris Shipman, DeWitt Brinson.

The AWP conference has grown alarmingly large. I’m an introvert who finds more than three people a crowd, but it’s not just me. Lots of talk this year amongst writers, presenters, bookfair vendors, about the need to split off regional conferences. At these ever more gargantuan annual gatherings, our prices keep rising and no single registrant can possibly partake of enough of the massive and parallel programs (about which someone noted, greater quantity is not necessarily reflected in spotty quality), not to mention more than 600 bookfair vendors!

Vincent’s AWP bag disappeared from the booth–nothing irreplacable in it except for his hat, but he loves that hat, and as well, he had some signed copies of books. So if you accidentally picked up a bag with Vincent Myers’ stuff in it (all the AWP bags are identical), send us a note, and make him a happy man!

My luck ran the other way–I won a drawing from neighbor booth, Norton, for a copy of Adrienne Rich’s final huge volume of poetry. Thursday night it was Randall Horton’s Pitch Dark Anarchy that had me fastened to the page at 3 a.m., and you will know we’re insane when I tell you that Wednesday, in between loading the book fair booth and scooting out to Cambridge for our off-site event, V & I could not resist a stop at local indie Trident Books, where we did not leave empty handed. His purchase involved vegetables; mine ran to moody Swedish climes.

Ah, books…

We made contact in Boston with writers who may be able to get Randall’s chapbook, Roxbury, into prison writing programs, part of our dream for this book, which we think will make a difference to others mired on a dark path. We also heard about some fantastic community work being done by Wick Poetry Center in Kent, Ohio (including a program with incarcerated youth), a prison meditation class (go, Annie!), and a number of other writers committed to bringing literary art to the people who most need it. In this vein I have to also give a shout out to the Cave Canem reading–I was unable to attend but Vincent and several other people raved about it. If you want to know what’s alive and burning in poetry, catch up with this essential, life-giving foundation.

On the subject of actual AWP programming, a bunch of our authors were on panels this year, among them John Parras, whose experimental fiction panel drew an overflow crowd which trailed him back to the booth to buy his book. In the course of the afternoon a woman stepped on John’s shoe in such a way that the sole actually pulled off partway, but she found us later and bought one of his books, and brought him some Super Glue. File under: things you didn’t plan for at AWP (or: the strangest way to stalk a writer;^)

Here’s a surprising (disturbing?) note passed along by a friend of the wompus: AWP is housed and supported by George Mason U, in Virginia. And guess who GMU’s biggest contributor has been, for some years? (Hint: think politics, specifically right wing, and very deep pockets, and siblings). We checked these facts, albeit quickly–the funding flows to an Economics center at GMU, not specifically to AWP, and there is also a connection on the Board of Directors. So, what (if anything) are we to make of the Associated Writers & Writing Programs secondhand relationship with the Koch brothers? Food for thought as we rergoup, and begin to mull next year’s conference in Seattle…

Notably, our most astonishing mental explosions came out of a dinner with writers who are our neighbors here in northeast Ohio. We joked that we have to go all the way to AWP to see one another–and that is going to change as we embark upon some exciting joint projects. Stay tuned for updates–and for the addition to our bookstore of the amazing last-minute completions we brought to Boston without even having time to load here!

with love,
sammy