The first thing one carries is the official AWP tote bag, to be used for carrying things; it comes with a very hefty official guide to the conference that is some 341 pages long on thick glossy paper. One uses this to locate panels and readings, to meditate upon the names listed in the index (people to find, people to avoid, people who vaguely ring a bell, people you didn't know were even still around, and so on) - and to induce a kind of shoulder ailment unique to conferences of this kind about which more in due course. The bag also includes a featherweight reduction of the guide to a folded map; beware: many vendors at the book fair are filed under "T" for the word "The." Was there a pen in the bag? No matter: you will never want for a writing implement at the AWP!
On this first full day, herewith the contents of my own bag. Your contents will, like mileage, vary:
A rubber ducky key chain from... please forgive me for not recollecting the source for this useful and charming object!
Craig Arnold's new book, which I carried around all day because I'm seeing lots of Craig Arnold... and haven't the nerve to ask him to sign it.
A lovely gift bag from Kim Addonizio that includes a small Hershey bar, a cool CD called "Swearing, Smoking, Drinking, & Kissing," which accurately describes most of what is accomplished at AWPs.
A postcard presented to me by Jamey Hecht describing his new book of poems about the (in)famous Zapruder film.
A very lovely poem by Christine Rhein from her book, Wild Flight, and a postcard with a nice note about a blog post I'd done recently on the subject of marginalia! I'm not sure why, but the paper on which the poem is typed has a really appealing scent to it which helped make my day.
A pen from Oxford Journals (see above, relating to writing implements!) - they have the best pens. They also have cool little notepads that look like tiny issues of Literary Imagination, except for the blank pages within; full disclosure: I edited this journal for several months.
A pencil sharpener from the International Writers Workshop, which looks like a bottlecap.
A new toothbrush, and a sampler of floss. OK, I went to the dentist yesterday, and didn't get this at the conference!
Several books of poetry I bought at the book fair - it's like being in a dreamworld bookstore to see all kinds of new poetry books in one place like this. Bookworm impulse buying!
A packet of olives from Greece presented to me by Alicia Stallings after our panel together which ranks as one of the coolest gifts I have ever received.
An official (I'm beginning to realize that everything is official, not just verse culture) Hilton Hotel pad with indecipherable notes relating to people whose cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses I have jotted down... data about events I fantasize being able to attend... and someone's room number - I can't for anything remember whose, I'm sorry to admit.
Assorted pencils I collected without knowing quite why. A lot of blue plastic pens. Oversized Life Savers, which reminded me briefly and lyrically of Hart Crane's father.
Three business cards of people who asked me for one in return, but who I had to disappoint because I never remember that I have some in my desk at work.
Etc. You get the idea.
I wonder if anyone might like to list in the comments to this post what they've been carrying around all day. It would be nice for someone to carry on this thread, because my shoulder hurts from lugging all this stuff around. But I'm not complaining or being smug. I feel extremely lucky to see these things, to have them, to have spoken with the folks who brought them to Chicago to give them out as a way of showing how much they believe in what they're doing. It's a little like Halloween: I'm going to empty out my bag and go out soon to get some more of this writerly candy. What it all means, I can't quite say - but months from now I'll stumble upon some of this fascinating effluvia and it will remind me of all the folks I've spent the day meeting.