Saturday, February 14, 2009

AWP, or Zombie Fest

At the bookfair today, one of the dudes at the tables called AWP "Zombie Fest," and I was like, "Whaaaa???"

"Man, no one here has had more than seven hours sleep total, we're all wandering around with a glazed look in our eyes, moaning."

OMG, THAT'S TRUE! I was laughing hard. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

YESTERDAY, we set up the Sagebrush end of our booktable and let people know what we were all about by offering issues for free. It was insane madness, with journals, books, membership drives, literary criticism anthologies. People wearing patterned stockings, horn-rimmed glasses and funky knit hats were wandering around, offering book trades and sharing Valentine's Day chocolates and candies.

When Vincent and I got up to wander around and buy books, we ended up seeing a lot of people who we didn't expect to see. First, was Anne-Marie Fowler who has published an anthology of Asian American women writers. It's nice to see a project start as a cfp and then come to fruition. We bought a copy for the UTSA students to enjoy. I met Anne-Marie in New York when she was reading at The Bowery Poetry Club, and she had me as one of the participants of a women writer's workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Ever since then, our paths have continued to cross, so I was happily surprised to see her there.

Then we ran into Maria Mazziotti-Gillan. She is famous for LOTS of great anthologies, one of which I taught at UTSA. I mentioned that some students have a hard time with it and this sweet, dynamic woman was thrilled. "It's supposed to be unsettling!" Hence the title. :)

Later, we ran into Alex Espinoza, author of Still Water Saints and Vincent's Macondo buddy. He had a book table and is staying in the same hotel as us, so we've run into him several times and he is always a happy person to talk to, full of jokes and good spirit.

Other folks we were thrilled to see include Khalil Murrell, of the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Foundation. He's the dude that gets us a gig every April that allows us to go East, read poetry, get paid, and see our friends! And Khalil is an amazingly interesting and talented poet and friend, but more on that in a sec.

After running around at the bookfair, we saw David Vance, who I work with at UTSA, chatted a bit and planned on heading to another panel, but fatigue set in. We'd been up since 8 a.m. and we needed lunch. David directed us to Cafe Intelligentsia, which he argued has the best coffee in the country. After Vincent had a cup, he agreed. Mmmmm.

The panel took backseat to a nap before dinner with friends. Our friend Gerrard, who we hadn't seen since we lived out East, met us in the lounge of our hotel at around 6:30 p.m. and we were soooo happy to see our bandmate. We were catching up on our lives for nearly two hours and we could have gone on and on, but we had other friends to meet!

By 8:30, we were at Ben Pao's for excellent Chinese food. We met with Michelle, Sagebrush Head Officer, and two of my oldest, closest friends, Nancy and her husband Roy. As soon as we all got together, mad joking was the tone for the rest of the evening. Nancy, aw man, she's my homegirl. Because I've had an expense account for the majority of the trip and I haven't had to touch my own cash much, I was finally able to treat all my friends with my own money for the first time in my life, something that they've been doing for me for longer than I can remember. This meant a lot to me. I feel like they deserve so much more, but starving artists can't offer much beyond a work of art. I hope they continue to like my poems.

Our excellent waiter pointed out that I had added a tip when the restaurant already does that. Wow. That doesn't usually happen. We broke him off something for that and he took a photo of all of us which was promptly placed on Facebook. Oh, how cliche'. Since the evening was still young, I suggested, predictably, the 96th floor (the 95th is the restaurant; 96th is the bar) of the John Hancock building, which normally has an awesome view. It had started to snow, but we didn't care. We went anyway.

This time Nancy and Roy treated. They always do that! We laughed loudly some more except when the entire room became eerily silent at my joking about Vincent's friends in Nashville not exactly focusing on my face when I met them. Boy was I red! And Vinny was, too. Total uncomfortable silence moment which caused Gerrard to giggle on cue. What are old friends for if not to witness us fall on our faces?

We left at last call and got a lift to our hotel by Nancy and Roy. Big hugs and a rock in my stomach upon realizing that I have to leave Chicago and all my insides behind again. Nancy and Roy, classy folks that they are, gave Gerrard a ride home to Hyde Park, and Vinny and I slept uncomfortably, missing all of them already.

*

TODAY, we got up LATE.

But, we planned on spending the whole day at the conference. We headed to the bookfair first because we knew some folks would be closing shop. Lots of book deals and lots of great journals for Sagebrush volunteers to learn from. We were able to buy some good books for ourselves, too. Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers, the Helix, Lyric, Rio Grande Review, so many titles I can't list them all. We ran into David again and we mentioned the fatigue and late nights and just nodded. Still, the mood was celebratory. Chocolate and wine was being passed around and one table offered free love poems that you could pick out of a box. My poem was about totally imperfect, poorly matched people being so incredibly happy together. It made me smile.

After our book work, we packed up the goodies and had some lunch in the conference hotel so that we could make the Chicago slam panel on time. Vincent and I talked about the support we had in New York and how whenever someone is struggling on stage, the audience always applauds and "gives love" in order to encourage the writer to keep going and feel comfortable. Even though New York is considered "rude," its poetry and writer scene, though very competitive, is extremely supportive and willing to lend a hand and share and listen. This is where I learned to take my first steps as a real writer. I got choked up at remembering the always there supportive applause, and I realized how much I missed this.

So when we got to the slam panel on time and saw that Marc Smith and the other panelists were not there, it was perfect timing that C.J. Laity, of Chicago Poetry.com, decided to host an impromptu, illegal AWP panel open mic. Everyone who had gathered stayed to watch people go up on a open mic that was totally unplanned. I read a poem, Vincent read a poem, Khalil showed up and read a poem (an AMAZING piece on everything that his father taught him - SO moved), a wonderful Romanian woman read a poem, there was a sarcastic Barnes and Noble poem, a Michelle Obama is my bestie (bestest friend) poem, and poems by so many different poets, it couldn't have been better.

I said it at the mic and I will write it here again: This is exactly what I came here for. No stuffiness, no pompous attitude, just poets sharing their work on the mic. I couldn't have been in a better room of the conference. I think Marc Smith would have loved to have seen the anti-slam, as well. And C.J. Laity remembered me, too! I had met him through Al DeGenova, of After Hours (the journal that published my first poem, "Cubanita"), and he had posted some of my work on his website. Good memory!

Now, I'm headed to meet high school friends at an anti-Valentine's Day party, but really, I'm all about the love right now. I've been emotionally conflicted for much of this trip but some things changed this for me. One was that Marco let me know that the Sagebrush event that I set up but could not attend in San Antonio went very well - opera was sung, apparently! The second was hearing the poets.

There's something cool about knowing that poetry and art is simultaneously going on in various parts of my worlds, near and far. This is so good, I'm finally at a loss for words.

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