A Debrief of AWP 2015 Minneapolis

For me, AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) is usually a mix of excellence and exhaustion, so I give you a list of all the excellent I encountered at this year’s conference.

1. Welcome booth sponsored by Rain Taxi at the Minneapolis airport

2. Fun sights seen on my way from airport to hotel: giant mural of sheet music on a brick building, penguins from the film Madagascar peering out of an office window, statue of Mary Richards & a little boy in a batman costume.

3. Friendly helpful staff at the Millennium Hotel where I made my home for four nights.

4. A king sized bed. Hello.

5. Electronic AWP registration via email confirmation #

6. The AWP app.

7. The skywalk. YES.

8. A sturdy tote.

9. Dinner with Sam Snoek Brown

10. An absolutely amazing reading by the the Dark Noise Collective Thursday morning & purchasing The Break Beat Poets Anthology immediately upon leaving said reading.

11. Participating as contributor to “The Full Time Professorship: From Application to Hire to Continuing Life as Writer” panel.

12. The Two-Year College Caucus and networking with community college colleagues.

13. The book fair.

14. Attending the “The Bigness of the Small Poem” panel.

15. Seeing my former mentor & poetry professor from Allegheny, Christopher Bakken.

16. Buying books and having them signed by amazing poets.

17. Meeting folks face to face to that I know through Twitter & Facebook.

18. Attending the “Publishing Sucks, Even When You’re Good At It” panel. I laughed. A lot.

19. Meeting Marie, Kaylie and a bunch of previous contributors at the 30/30 Meet & Greet.

20. Walking the greenway through Loring Park on a beautiful, spring Saturday in Minneapolis.

21. Spending a few hours at the Walker Art Center & Sculpture Garden.  Free admission!

22. Writing a 30/30 poem inspired by a sculpture in the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. I also drafted said poem sitting outdoors, in the sunshine at a picnic table when it was snowing the day before.

23. Attending the “Finding Voice” panel with Roxane Gay, Pablo Medina & Michael Thomas.

24. Attending the Kevin YoungCarolyn Forché reading. This was my final event at this year’s AWP and it was incredible.

25. Discovering a plethora of moose merchandise at the Minnesota gift shop at the airport.

I am now home, sitting on my couch while my dog sleeps on the love seat, my finches chatter from the kitchen and my husband types on his computer. I had a glorious time in Minneapolis but I’m glad to be home and I can’t wait to start working through the stack of books I brought home from the book fair. Below is a list of titles and books I picked up (complete with links):


A Sweeter Water, by Sara Henning

Confluence, by Sandra Marchetti

The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, by  Maggie Smith

The Octopus Game, by Nicky Beer

Train to Agra, by Vandana Khanna

Citizen, by Claudia Rankine

The Middle, Angela Hume 

Bat, Renee Beauregard Lute with paintings by Susan Solomon 

Chthonic, by John James

Blood Dazzler, by Patricia Smith

The Last Two Seconds, by Mary Jo Bang

The Breakbeat Poets, Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana & Nate Marshall (Eds.) 

The Art of Syntax, Ellen Bryant Voigt

Streaming, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

Book of Hours, by Kevin Young 

AWP Aftermath

Last Wednesday I boarded the Megabus in Indy with a couple dozen other writers from Ohio, Illinois and Indiana and trekked off to Chicago for AWP. What is AWP? Association for Writers and Writing Programs is what the acronym stands for and every year they hold an annual conference where writers of all kinds descend on a city for a few days. This year was the biggest AWP yet with 10,000 plus participants crowding into downtown Chicago for a few days of literary bootcamp.

I don’t use the term bootcamp lightly. AWP is a marathon of panels, readings and networking. I’ve gone the past three years (Chicago, D.C. and back to Chicago) and I always enjoy myself but I also feel at the end like I could sleep for two days straight. It is a lot to take in in short period of time.

This year I had the good fortune of being a panel with three other writers who I meant at the Two Year College Caucus meeting last year. The title of our panel was “Reconsidering/Recreating the Workshop in the Online Environment.” My particular part of the presentation focused on blogs and how they can encourage collaboration and communication in an online class, which can in turn improve group dynamics which can make for better workshops later on down the road. I think our panel went well and that we had a pretty good turn out considering they scheduled us for 10:30 AM the first day of the conference. They also put us in the Grand Ballroom at the Palmer House, so I felt very small (literally) when I got up to speak at the podium but I am grateful for the experience.

I went to two great readings while I was in Chicago. One was celebrating Carnegie Mellon Press’s 40th Birthday and Nicky Beer was among the group of poets reading. Her book, “The Diminishing House” is one of my favorites and I had the privilege of working with her while I was getting my MFA at Murray. I also went to a reading about apocalyptic literature and listened to Nicky’s husband, and my former mentor, Brian Barker, read from his book “Black Ocean.” These two readings were by far some the best events I attended during the week.

Honestly, my favorite part about AWP is getting to see friends that I don’t normally get to see. It’s fun to walk through the crowd and see a familiar face. I find that just as inspiring as any panel that I could attend.

As a final note, the bookfair was crazy as per usual. I know next year, in Boston, they are going to have it in a convention center so it won’t be so confusing to navigate but I don’t think it’s the layout that makes the bookfair daunting. I feel like the fair is just sensory overload. There are hundreds of journals and small presses doing really wonderful things with their publications and they all want to tell you about it. That can be a tad overwhelming after you’ve walked around for an hour and not even seen a quarter of what the fair has to offer. That being said, I meant some neat people this year and picked up some interesting journals to read.

I came home from AWP exhausted and carrying a stack of books, which means it was a good conference. Till next year…

AWP Highlights

I give you my highlights from AWP, although because AWP also coincided with The Great Ice Storm of 2011, my highlights actually started before I arrived at the airport.

  1. The great ice storm of 2011. Enough said.
  2. Falling off of my deck while attempting to feed the birds (this happened the morning I left).
  3. When RJ and I attempted to leave for the airport, we went out the back to the garage. When we got to our little wooden gate, we were able to get the latch open but there was about an inch and half of ice holding the door shut. See next item on list.
  4. We had to go around the front, so while RJ walked around to get the car, I had to scoot on my butt down our front steps because there was so much ice on the steps that I couldn’t walk in them.
  5. My flight from Indy to D.C. boarded on time. Win!
  6. The jetway was frozen to the ground, so we had to walk across the tarmac to board. This was tricky because everything metal (hand rails & stairs mostly) had about an inch of ice covering it.
  7. Descending into D.C. and seeing the capital, the Washington Monument & The Jefferson Memorial.
  8. My shuttle driver (who had the most beautiful African accent) asking me if it was OK if he got lost going to my hotel. I think he was kidding…
  9. Meeting a fellow writer/conference attendee on the shuttle and having a nice chat that resulted in receiving a business card and having a new blog to follow.
  10. Discovering that the hotel I’m staying at has a great gym and a killer veggie sandwich.
  11. Attending a really interesting first panel sponsored by Writers in the Schools.
  12. Meeting a group of writers from Texas and commiserating about Governor Perry.
  13. Hearing Katrina Vandenberg read at the Fullbright panel. If you have not read her collection, Atlas, do it. It’s an excellent book.
  14. Making my first pass at the book fair and seeing old friends, making new ones and picking up free copies of New Madrid & American Literary Review (publications from Murray and UNT).
  15. Hearing Gary Jackson, Natasha Trethewey, Rita Dove & Yusef Komunyakka read. Wow.
  16. Hearing Marie Howe read. What the Living Do is one of my top 10 favorite poetry collections of all time.
  17. Attending a fascinating panel about writers of color and their role in environmental writing. I usually write down all of the names of books I want to buy after AWP and then add them to my Amazon wish list at the end of each day because if I bought all the books I wanted to while here, I’d be broke. That being said, after this panel, I’m going to buy The Colors of Nature tomorrow.
  18. Listening to Jhumpa Lahiri’s keynote address.
  19. The bookfair. It is amazing.
  20. Going to a table at the bookfair of a journal that I’ve sent poems to in the past and chatting with editor only to find that not only did she remember me, she remembered my poems. Maybe I can do this poet thing for real…
  21. Running into old mentors and friends.
  22. Attending the two year college caucus.
  23. Attending a panel about how to approach disturbing undergraduate writing.
  24. Sharing a cab ride with Khaled Mattawa.
  25. Going for dinner with Natalie & Zach and later meeting up with Michael and other friends.
  26. Driving by the Lincoln Memorial at 6 am. It was all lit up and mystical looking. I think Abe would have liked to see it like this.
  27. Arriving back in Indy in the midst of a snowstorm. I believe the pilot’s exact words were “I just landed in a white out.”
  28. Returning home in one piece after a harrowing ride on the interstate.
  29. Finis.

Ice Storm 2011

It started Monday night and at first I thought it was just another example of how the weather forecasters here in the midwest have a tendency to overreact. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The ice started Monday night, went through Tuesday and continued through Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.

Our backyard is a skating rink. A deadly skating rink.

This morning, when I went out to fill the bird feeder, I fell right to my knees. There was no traction and as much as I stomped on the ice, I couldn’t break through the layers of ice and snow and more ice.

One Tuesday, I went out and took some pictures of our backyard. I thought the ice was beautiful. I mean, I didn’t have to go out in it, so why not enjoy it? Of course, that was Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, I started to worry. By Tuesday night, I was angry. Why? Read below.

Normally, I could care less about inclement weather. They closed school Tuesday and Wednesday and I would have just snuggled into my couch and worked on grading, submissions or catch up on some reading. However, this weekend happens to be AWP. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for awhile for a few different reasons:

1. I like AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs). It’s fun, interesting and it’s always in a cool place (Chicago, Denver, Austin, etc).

2. I like getting to see friends at AWP that I don’t normally get to see. I’ve made some plans and I would like to see those plans realized.

3. I managed to convince my community college that they should cover my trip this year, so it is especially important that I make it to my destination.

4. I was really looking forward to a change of scene if only for a few days. Winter gets boring.

I’m sitting in the airport right now. As of now, my flight is still arriving on time. Apparently, the plane is here. The issue is the runways and jetways are covered in ice.

Hopefully, I’ll still get out today…

Friday (Writing, Reading, and New Shoes) Musings

I spent most of today reading and writing. I finished Dana Levin’s Wedding (comments to come later), read half of the Translation issue of Poetry, and started leafing through Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius. I also wrote a poem and started on two others. It was a good day.

I picked up Ordinary Genius at AWP, where Addonizio seemed to be all over the place. In retrospect I think I may have seen her in the elevator. I’ve read a smattering of her poems online and in different journals. Her poems have grit and I like how she uses pop culture references. I was also given a cd of hers when I bought the book, and it’s pretty interesting. Anyway. I’m always looking for writing exercises, because unlike some poets, I don’t always sit down with a clear idea of what I want to write about. Also, I’m a teacher, so writing exercises are invaluable to my students. In the first part of the book, Addonizio gives solid, and familiar advice to first time writers. She mentions keeping a “book” (journal) and making time to write and how comittment is vital. She’s absolutely right, so it makes sense that I felt like I was being reprimanded while reading her words. I need to get back to what I was doing a few months ago, which was setting aside half an hour each day to write something. It didn’t matter if the poem failed or was complete crap. I just needed to keep the gears grinding. So beginning this week, I’m getting right back to it.

This is one of the translated poems (Dutch in this case) from the April issue of Poetry that I really liked:

Last Night

Saved two children last night.
They lay under thin black ice
one gone blue, the other grey.
I laid them out on grass
that snapped under my step
wrung their bodies warm and dry
gave them the gust of my breath.

Then I looked out at the morning
that lay lukewarm on the water
put on a tank top
arranged some grasses in a vase
fished two children out of sleep.
Hester Knibbe

Monday (Post AWP/Why Didn’t I Get President’s Day Off?) Musings

I survived my first AWP. It was a whirlwind but I had a great time. I’ve decided that the book fair is by far the highlight of the entire event. I came home with tons of free journals and ideas of places to submit to. I talked to a lot of different editors, students, and teachers. In line with my fellow AWP bloggers, I give you the highlights of my conference:

*Arriving at the Hilton Chicago and realizing that hotel parking was $53 a night. After cursing the expensive price and circling the surrounding streets (Garmin is a lifesaver) I found parking for $20 a night.

*Wandering the book fair Thursday afternoon with my friend and fellow poet Larry O’Dean while he made hilarious comments about small presses, big presses, and all things literary.

* Walking into our hotel room. You’ll see pictures of the beds. Enough said.

* Attending the AWP offsite event “Reading Between the Lines” at The Beat Kitchen. Out of twenty some readers (prose and poetry) yours truly was dead last.

*The Beat Kitchen. I had one of the best steak sandwiches I’ve ever had. Delicious.

*Waking up at 7:45 Friday morning to sit at Murray State’s table. We were a major sponsor and we had a prime spot. I liked promoting New Madrid to people. It was fun.

* Trying to convince some guy that even though his last two novels had been “well received by The New York Times” that New Madrid would be a good place to submit his short stories.

* Wandering the book fair on Friday afternoon and receiving a free bag from The Poetry Foundation with this Marianne Moore quote on the back ” I too dislike it.”

* Attending a panel (one of the few panels I attended) called Writing Our Passions: Forbidden Topics. To be honest, I wasn’t real impressed.

* Running into Corey Marks and Will Tyler at the bookfair and then eating Chicago deep dish pizza.

* Listening to Mary Jo Bang and Frank Bidart read.

* Buying Dana Levin’s new book.

* Eating sushi with Natalie and Michael.

* Reading a vampire story by Kim Addonizio in Indiana Review. I’m still trying to figure out if she was trying to be ironic or not…

* Paying $14 for a vodka tonic at the hotel bar.

* Riding in a limo because it was cheaper than a cab to Lou Malnatis for more pizza.

* Voting for the best ice sculpture in the park across the street from our hotel.

* Did I mention the bookfair?

A collage from AWP…
These first two pictures are from The Beat Kitchen where we had our reading. The nook is where we read and then there is a shot of the crowd.

These next three shots are from our table at the bookfair. We handed out all of our journals for free. The issue with Abe Lincoln is the one I worked on.

These photos are from the hotel, Chicago Hilton.

Finally, some of my favorite snow scultptures from the contest across the street.


This is a sketch that Dmitry did of our reading at The Beat Kitchen. Check out his website.

I’m the one with the glasses.