“Why I Go To AWP”: Three vignettes
Apr 15, 2015
By Melissa Hohl, Colorado Review Associate Editor
“It’s like Vegas in here. There are no clocks and it could be any time of day or night outside and we would have no idea” –John Gallaher on the AWP book fair
I spent most of the daytime during AWP at the book fair, either walking around it or “tabling” it. Although this is my second AWP (I went to Seattle in 2014), I did not know “tabling” was a verb until this year when Tracy, a friend from my alma mater, texted me about “tabling” at the book fair. She “tabled” for a small press out of Washington. I “tabled” for Colorado Review, of course. We decided we would meet up after we “tabled” on Thursday. (Perhaps we even spoke at the CR table, reader. Perhaps you even noticed that I left my crop tops at home so as to look and feel the most professional, reader.)
One reason I attend AWP: the necessity of community; the necessity of reuniting once a year with friends and fellow writers from my alma mater, San Francisco State University.
On Thursday morning, I was almost too tired from the previous night to join the ranks of the living at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Since I did not have to “table” until three p.m., and since I already felt half-awake and overwhelmed by the bright lights inside the book fair, I knew I needed a tangible goal I could achieve in order to possess a sense of being present in the world. Thus, I meandered to the Small Press Distribution booth and said hello to my old supervisors and friends. After catching up with the SPD crew for a bit, I needed another tangible goal I could achieve. I told this to John Sakkis, poet, translator, and warehouse manager of SPD, and he mentioned that his new book of poems, The Islands, had just come out of Nightboat Books. I headed over to the Nightboat table to make my first purchase at AWP. (Note: Does it sound like John said something about his book because he wanted me to buy it? If so, that is wrong. The idea of buying The Islands was my own. I felt as though my good friend’s book was the perfect first purchase; it set the right tone for the weekend. And I also wanted him to sign it, which he did. His handwriting is a reminder of the Bay Area.)
One reason I attend AWP: the necessity of community; the necessity of catching up with the wonderful people who took me under their wings and first introduced me to the world of small presses.
Curiously enough, the Nightboat table was positioned directly across from the CR table. This meant that for a total of 8 hours spanning Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, my gaze involuntarily fixed upon Kazim and Dustin (whose names I now know). Kazim actually has poems coming out in the summer issue of Colorado Review, and he and I ended up buying books from each other’s tables (I look forward to receiving my Etel Adnan Reader in the mail.)
At Bruegger’s Bagels on Saturday morning, I recognized one of the guys from the Nightboat table. In line behind me, he was grabbing a bagel before the home stretch of AWP. Having no social filter whatsoever, I immediately blurted out, “Hey, I totally recognize you—” and before I could finish he said, “Same! You’re at the Colorado—.” And this is how Dustin and I met. And this is how I make connections and friends at AWP; I just go for it. Now that I think about it, just go for it might be an appropriate motto for AWP. (Please don’t sue me, Nike—I know our mottoes are similar.)
One reason I attend AWP: the necessity of community; the necessity of making new friends who share interests similar to my own; the necessity of connecting with other poets, writers, publishers, and word-lovers.
I know I’ve only discussed the book fair, so it’s important to note that I also find community at the multitude of panels, offsite readings, onsite readings, and simply in walking around the host city alongside a bunch of other humans who carry the same tote bag as I do.
Perhaps the reasons I go to AWP are unique to me, an almost-twenty-four-year-old fledging poet who is for the first time experiencing real seasons in Colorado, but something tells me the reasons are not unique to only me. Something tells me that to keep reading, writing, and doing the work that is necessary to keep us alive, we need to be both for and in support of the reading, writing, and publishing community, no matter how large, overwhelming, occasionally narcissistic, and crazy said community might be. The necessity of community for any art form’s sustenance trumps the possibility that you might witness someone peeing on the bathroom wall at the convention center. (Someone I know actually saw this occur.) On second thought . . .
Until next year,