Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

A Budget and a Plan: Braving the AWP Bookfair

Apr 17, 2019

By Colorado Review Associate Editor Kristin Macintyre

Three weeks ago, I was in Portland, Oregon with nearly 15,000 other writers strolling the aisles of the AWP bookfair. I was indistinguishable among the crowd, each of us wearing canvas totes and blue lanyards, each of us tugging at a friend’s elbow while gawking at a discounted journal or a brilliant cover or sam sax. I’ll say what everyone already knows: the AWP bookfair is crazy. Last year, I bought everything. I packed my tote bag full of books. Then, I packed my backpack full of books. Then my carry-on. When I ran out of room in my carry-on, I ordered books to be shipped back to my apartment. It was basically embarrassing. This year, I decided to set some boundaries. I went in with a budget and a plan. Three books, I told myself. Seeing as I still have reading to do from last year’s AWP, three seemed like a small but reasonable limit.

I wandered the fair for three days before I made my purchases. I stopped by all the classic booths and all the new booths, too. I turned books over in my hands, flipped through pages, admired them so, and put each back on its neat shelf. I wanted them all. In the end, I’m not really sure how I chose, but I did. When I walked out of the convention center and into the sunshine on that last day, the flowers were blooming, and I had three slender poetry books tucked under my arm.

By sheer luck, my flight home to Colorado the next day was cancelled. Between the extra night in Portland at the airport hotel and the six-ish hour travel day that followed, I finished all three books. They’ve been seeding in my mind ever since I held them at the bookfair, my fingers candling through their pages. I’m stunned by each, their small asking and interrogations still unfurling in my mind like the season’s first green. This spring, should you find yourself with a small budget and an extra day, pick up these poetry books (if you haven’t yet). They are extraordinary.

1. Afterings by Deborah Tall (Hobart & William Smith College Press / Seneca Review Books). Deborah Tall’s final collection (published posthumously) is tender and earnest. Each poem pearls and unpearls beneath the open sky. Mary Ruefle says these poems have “not what is to be expected—hints of cessation—but an overwhelming sense of blossoming.”

2. feeld by Jos Charles (Milkweed Editions). Selected by Fady Joudah as a winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, feeld is Charles’s second book of poems. Here, Charles tills the field of gender, identity, and language, seeds it with wonder. Joudah says of the collection, “feeld . . . is arguably unheralded in its lyric inventiveness.” This one is a must-read.

3. Footnotes in the Order of Disappearance by Fady Joudah (Milkweed Editions). Fady Joudah is a Palestinian American physician, poet, and translator. This collection, Joudah’s fourth, is rich with form. The poems spill with image, compressed narrative, the body, imagination, and memory. Mary Szybist says of this intricate book, “Few books of American poetry seem to me as essential as this one.”

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