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):

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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 

Every Kiss A War

When you’re a poet sending out work into the universe, it can seem like the literary world is very, very large. But then something happens that reminds you that indeed it is a small world. A small world full of generous, talented writers.

A few weeks ago I was online researching some places to send my poems and I came across Mojave River Press & Review. I was impressed with their site and decided to send some poems. Around the same time I discovered Mojave online, my friend and author, Sam Snoek-Brown put a post up on Facebook about a collection of short stories called Every Kiss A War by Leesa Cross-Smith. Who published Every Kiss A War? Mojave River Press. About two days later, I’m back online and I notice some people I follow on Twitter talking about Whiskey Paper. Whiskey Paper is an online publication that publishes flash fiction. Who runs Whiskey Paper? Leesa Cross-Smith.

At this point, this whole thing is starting to sound like six degrees of Kevin Bacon. So what’s the point?

I took all of this as a sign and ordered Every Kiss A War and man, am I glad I did.

photo-1Every Kiss A War is a collection of twenty-seven stories that focus primarily on relationships and how they are constantly evolving. The characters are flawed and beautiful and I was in love with each and every one of them, even the ones I didn’t like very much. These are real men and women who live in the real world made up of cowboy boots, red lipstick, and wine in mason jars. The details are so thick and vivid, that each story makes me feel like I’m standing inside a bright, colorful painting and I could reach out and touch the brushstrokes. Reading these stories is a visceral experience.

Some of my favorite pieces of fiction contain characters that are layered and with each action, the author peels back another layer, so that my impression of the character changes in a paragraph or even a few sentences. This transformation keeps me on my toes as a reader, especially when it happens in a short story because it happens so quickly. My favorite example of this in Every Kiss A War, occurs in the story “Hem.”

At first, the speaker, Mitchell, struck me as just a sad, pathetic guy who was hung up on his ex-girlfriend. The fact that he sat outside her apartment, waiting for her light to go out, pushed the creep factor up considerably. But when his ex, Bethany, shows up at the bar where he’s playing a gig and proceeds to tell him “You’re right. Like he is a fucking really great dress. And you weren’t for me. You were like…a hem of a really great dress.” Well, I’m not ashamed to say that in that moment, I paused and whispered “bitch” under my breath.

Mitchell, I’m all yours.

It also occurs to me that later, when Mitchell and Merit, his friend from work, are in his house, arranging his books by color, and he confides “…Bethany told me I was the hem of a dress and not the whole dress last night. And that shit can crush a person, y’know?” that like, Mitchell, I am near tears. And by the end, when Merit takes his hand, and Mitchell tells her “she’s more beautiful than the mountains…” I’m a mess.

Every Kiss A War is full of lines that I admire not only as a lover of fiction, but also as a poet. A few examples:

From “What the Fireworks Are For,” “How sometimes your body couldn’t tell the difference between not loving someone enough and loving someone too much.”

From “Like Light,” “And tonight you feel small. You feel okay but you feel like nothing. Like you could float away. Like glitter or ash. Like light.”

And from the title story, “…Sometimes we take bloody knives, carve our initials into thick, tall trees that haven’t been planted yet. His heart is a heavy, loaded gun he hands over to me, lets me spin on my finger. Wait don’t shoot. The overgrown garden of what we don’t say, fecund in our hothouse mouths. Every kiss a war.”

I have a habit of writing down lines or sections of stories I like. The best way I can describe how beautiful this collection is is to say that after the third story, I stopped copying down lines because a). my hand hurt and b). it was slowing me down in my reading.

You can and should purchase Every Kiss A War here.