Thursday, April 8, 2010

Luxuriating in a break from AWP

Now and then I feel a twinge, thinking of Paul and a good four-fifths of the people we know gathered in Denver, all trooping down hotel hallways to panels, gathering in hotel bars, piling into overcrowded cars to go to off-site readings, comparing notes on the psychic weirdness of being in a strange city with a good percentage of the writers in America. This is the first AWP conference I've missed in a while. Truly my system just rebelled at the thought of doing it again so soon after last year; Chicago felt like a kind of psychological boot camp, as if we were all slogging together through some difficult period of being in a community so large, vibrating and edgeless that it seemed to swallow all individual life. Everyone's always trying to analyze what's so strange about the experience of the conference: a vast number of fundamentally introverted people in one place, a social situation that makes everyone want to feel known and recognized, and then makes the known and recognized want to run and hide. These are true but not entirely an adequate explanation of the existential peculiarity of it.

One thing that makes it feel like a wild ride for me is that it's like attending many reunions at once. In one hour, I have encountered friends from high school, from grad school, from practically every writing program I ever taught in, and from a great many of the schools I've visited over the years. All streaming toward me in random order, full of good-natured greetings, excited to reconnect. Which excites me, too, until I begin to feel like a large wave that has gathered strength all day and then broken on the shore in one big shatter of foam and bubbles. I feel just like the speaker in Whitman's incredibly desolate poem, As I Ebbd with the Ocean of Life -- which ends with poet looking down to see himself on the shore as nothing more than a scatter of seafoam and straw.

Though of course I have to admit that I miss the elation and exhaustion of it. A little. But not enough to come to Denver. Love to all of you there!

11 comments:

Kathleen said...

I'm not there either. I like your explanation of the "existential peculiarity" of it.

Mim said...

"How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog . . . "

Dreary, too, to try to be somebody.

I've sworn off the AWP convention.

Mark Doty said...

I love that poem, Mim, and it's interesting how firmly set in opposition to current notions of identity it seems! And though I see what Dickinson means about that frog boomingly publishing itself all across the bog, I also think of the one who has recently taken up residence in our pond: nothing exhibitionistic about him or her. Rather shy and retiring, instead.

jenne said...

Hi Mark. We've never met. But I love your words. I am a poet at http://loquaciouslyyours.com and I too have avoided AWP this year. Too much gushing and rushing around and I am but an hour from Denver. All best to you-- Jenne'

jessica handler said...

Yes.

Thom Dawkins said...

At the final reading, Bob Hass mentioned something about how the conference is fundamentally opposed to who we are as people and writers...

...and also how strange it is to look across a lobby to see some of these folks, whom you only really know by their work, struggling to the bar to grab a margarita.

Lorena said...

Memory Lane- now there's a pen name- but then again that's the tension one needs when one's a writer, no?

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Gail said...

Still, you were there in the best sense--quoted by luminaries on several panels. And wonderful to see Paul, who acquitted himself fabulously!

Mari said...

"Truly my system just rebelled at the thought of doing it again so soon after last year; Chicago felt like a kind of psychological boot camp, as if we were all slogging together through some difficult period of being in a community so large, vibrating and edgeless that it seemed to swallow all individual life."

My feelings exactly. Thanks for this...

melissashook said...

I love the comment about all the basically insular folks (not a direct quote) gathering in this amorphous, borderless group....trying to be seen or not seen. But then I am phobic about crowds, strangers and non-strangers, so the fact that you didn't go is right up my alley.
thank you.