For better or worse: AWP 2011

February 9, 2011

I don’t know if you want “the long version,” but here’s my stab at AWP 2011

Let’s see–My flight was canceled and the new flight was delayed, and I got in at midnight to a house that had no water and the cat had peed everywhere (which she never does). A pipe burst and water was gushing into the creek. The person who was supposed to watch our cat forgot and the said-cat, Phoebe was alone the whole time–which was a major bummer. Even though we left enough food and water, it sucked. Poor thing.


AWP was overwhelming and so much different a beast when one has a book. I am grateful for this wonderful opportunity!!!

Here’s a update of how things went.

1) I held a book signing at the wonderful Lori May’s table (she edits Poets Quarterly and has a book out called The Guide to Low Residency MFA Programs. She sold OUT of books at AWP. Everyone who went past the booth wanted one. She interviewed directors and students of like 100 low residency MFA programs and got “the shit” on all of them. It is well worth a read. A lot of copies were sold to teachers and administrators.

OK, the nitty-grotty–
–Friday (sold about 7 or 8 copies of my book)
–Saturday (sold 1 chapbook, 2 books, gave two review copies to writers who reviewed Woman on a Shaky Bridge and traded a couple books with other poets)

2) When I stopped by MPW, the Director of the program, Brighde Mullins, asked if I wanted to do a signing at the USC booth (which I did). I missed seeing Sapphire by a few minutes! LOL There, I sold a couple of chapbooks, donated a book to the USC raffle. Sold 2 books and handed out the free bookmarks that Charles made.

All together, I “worked” a total of seven hours at the bookfair, at two different tables. Never did that before.

3) The “Poets Wrestling w/Research” panel was PACKED. At least in my opinoon. It was in a medium-sized room AND there were people at each door WITH two rows of folks sitting on the floor at the back of the room. Maybe 150 people in attendance? People took notes, asked VERY good questions and in general the audience was attentive and engaged. It was truly amazing. Later I went to a panel in a room that could have held 500 people and only about 15 were in the audience. There were many panels like that, so I feel very grateful for the turnout of the poets and research panel. Note: I just noticed that I didn’t mention Andrea Scarpino (our fearless panel leader!) She was the driving force behind this panel as well as the person who submitted the proposal and selected the panelists. She was also absent. And greatly missed. Bad weather kept her stranded in Michigan. The earliest flight out was Friday evening, so she had to stay home. I was honored to share the stage with these fabulous poets: Douglas Kearney, Erica Dawson, and Carrie Shipers. Here’s the summary of the event: “Although we are told to write what we know, many poets consider research an integral part of their writing and revision process. Whether that research is historical, literary, or familial, poets who use research in their writing draw on a wealth of techniques in the writing process. Five poets who wrestle with research in their work will discuss how doing so informs, strengthens, and challenges their writing, as well as some of the unique problems inherent in writing research-laden poetry.”

4) The weather. I have no idea why these conferences are held during the worst travel times and in the worst places for winter travel! AWP used to be held in March/April. I remember back-in-the-day, conferences in Florida and Palm Springs and Oregon. Where there was sunshine. Then, there was a shift to Jan/Feb. The past few years flying into the conferences has been a challenge: Denver, Chicago, New York in the MIDDLE of winter snow and ice storms. It’s crazy. And, of course, next year it is in Chicago again!!!

5) I introduced myself to Salmon (the press in Ireland that is publishing Only More So). My book with Salmon is due out in spring 2012! The editor was amazing. She introduced me to the other Salmon poets and we chatted about the press. So many wonderful books and poets I feel grateful for being a part of this community.

6) Met up with a friend from USC MPW (grad school) who now runs a writers center called The Muse in Virginia. The center has 49 poetry and writing classes this term, so it is well-established. I am hoping that I may be able to do a reading or workshop there. Maybe have a booksigning at a bookstore too?

7) Attended the Wom-Po (women’s poetry breakfast) on Saturday and met about 30 women who are in the online women’s poetry listserve. It was nice matching faces with names and everyone got a chance to stand up and show their books, etc. Their vegan scramble was excellent: spicy and light and just great.

8) Met the folks at Texas tech press (the university where I did a research fellowship last fall), stopped by New Letters and dropped off bookmarks and NEA and Vermont College booths at the bookfair, also met up with the director of the library where I did my research (Diane Warner, a wonderful poet in her own right). The director of Texas Tech press gave me two free books and his card (in case I manage to put together my Kay Boyle articles into a book). VERY nice, eh?

9) Went to a bunch of panels and poetry readings altho not as many as I would have liked. I just plain ran out of time.

10) Women’s Voices for Change features two of my poems for Valentine’s Day AND they also posted my panel at AWP which was really great. Post a comment (if you can!). I write about my grandmother and Tom Jones and two poems:

Sexing it Slow: Poetry Friday

11) The conference was mostly great. I wanted to cry because it was so great. Although I had been on panels before, this was the first time I felt as if I was a creator rather than an attendee. It is different being there with events and books to sign. I did not have to walk around looking at nametags and acting like a grad student. That part was wonderful! I didn’t even do my usual bookfair walk-about.

However, I learned a few things and I missed a few elements of past conferences. Being booked up meant that it was a different conference: I had events to go to, etc. which was good but it also meant that I didn’t have time to hang out and meet people and run into old friends and get drunk at the bar, etc. I had three 8:30AM commitments so staying out late was difficult, and I had to be on top of my game. I missed the serendipity of seeing Jim Ragan and Frank Gaspar and happening upon an offsite reading when I was wondering around. Although I got a few 1AM phone calls from my friends to go out and party, I had to say no because I knew I had to get up early. Perhaps after 100 years i truly AM growing up?

12) Also learned the bookfair is hard. Thousands of people walk by and you have to snag them and draw them in and selling a poetry book (Injuring Eternity) is not as easy as selling something that can be defined like a Guide to Low Residency Programs. In short, I had, like, ten seconds per person to sell my books and it was very difficult. Most of my sales came from people who found me and already wanted to buy my book. There were very few looky-loos.

13) Although I DID see Jhumpa Lahiri the wonderful, wonderful Indian writer who did the keynote, I was so busy that I missed MAJOR readings like Carolyn Forche, Eavan Boland, Rae Armantrout, Sandra Cisneros, Mark Doty, Rita Dove, Stephen Dunn, Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Dorianne Laux, Pattiann Rogers, and Charles Wright. There was a lovely tribute to Lucille Clifton that I missed.

14) This year, I missed all but one off-site event. It was too daunting. Later I found out some readings had been across the street–which would have been do-able but it was hard 2 tell without research just how far offsite events were! And even researching addresses took time. The Wom-Po breakfast that I did go to–was about 20 minutes away by taxi. When you are only in a place for a limited amount of time, it is difficult to spend an hour commuting. The panels were ten minutes apart and it was maddening trying to get even one in. I ended up sitting on the floor a lot.

15) I wasted an hour and a half in what was possibly the WORST panel ever. There were supposed to be six people. The panel was supposed to start at 1:30. It was in a room that fit 500 people but only ten or 15 were in the audience. At 1:45 a lady next to me got up and went over to a small group of people who were talking at the back of the room having a laugh and she said “ARE YOU THE PANELISTS? Because it’s already 15 minutes late and I have other places I can be” Turns out they were! Ended up one guy sat in the audience, one moderated and one read. So there was basically only ONE panelist. The main one (the one I came to hear) was snowed in and could not make it. There was no mention of the other lost panelists. The reader started out by saying “this is about my self mutilation and my abortions” then she proceeded to read about what she had claimed. I am sure there was value in the reading and it was just my ignorance that made me leave as soon as she finished a chapter, but I just did not have the patience. I was too tired.

Hate to end on a low note but there you have it!

take care,


3 Responses to “For better or worse: AWP 2011”

  1. Pat Fargnoli Says:

    Millicent, thank you for this account. I was unable to go to AWP and have been feeling left out. It so helps to have some sense of what it was like.

    This year’s sounds especially wonderful.

  2. An excellent review, thanks. I don’t know if I will ever make it there, that is why it is nice to see it through other people’s eyes. Take care, Anny

  3. shabdakahn Says:

    Thanks Millicent. Wonderful to journey with you. I stayed home and always think about AWP while it is happening. Warmly, Tamam

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