I have a 29-year-relationship with AWP. In three decades I've probably attended ten or twelve meetings in various regions of the country. Several meetings I've forgotten but I know for sure there was one in Savannah, two in Atlanta, one in Phoenix, three in Chicago, one in Albany, one in Washington, and now, this one in Boston. When I told my wife what I wanted to write about this morning she said, "Great, the cranky senior citizen poet's long-term perspective of the largest gathering of writers in the history of the planet."
She's right about the size of this conference gathering. There are 11,000 folks here. There are writers, editors, teachers of writing, and publishers, plus various hangers-on. So the sun is rising on Boston AWP 2013, Day One, Thursday, and my two-day blogging adventure begins in the Musak lobby of the Marriott Copley Place surrounded by airline pilots and flight attendants in blue suits waiting for their cabs. Little golden wings shine from each chest and the battered rolling luggage crowds the aisles between couches. Writers and airline crews. Would Walt Whitman believe this collision of missions in the founding city of the Great Republic? Are the missions of pilots and writers similar-- transporting cargo through space and time?
The cargo contained in our heads, the baggage we wheel around, is our ambition-- our desire for fame and love and recognition. We crave contact, connection. I would wager my iPad that we all want to be loved and sometimes we even end up hated. (How many poets will be out there tonight avoiding other poets? How many prose writers hate the guts of this or that writer because of a job, a review, a prize? Sometime this conference acts as a vortex for literary malcontents; other times it's the Yellow Brick Road with the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and Little Dorothy skipping toward a hundred versions of a literary Oz.) It's this surprise, this variety, the potential for connection and drama that we pay $199 a night to stay high over Boston and walk through a mall to see Seamus Heaney read poetry.
With some writers, young and old, the collision of bodies is what it's about, and with others, it's the collision of minds and visions: book to book, poem to poem, conversation to conversation.
I woke up with Robert Hass's line "Snow is falling on the Age of Reason" repeating in my head. The line is from one of Hass's early poems and the memory of it triggered what may be my most enduring AWP memory, my Ur moment as an AWP writer. It was Savannah AWP 1984, my first conference and I sat up until three in the morning in a closed breakfast nook with Robert Hass and the novelist/poet Elizabeth Cox yakkaty yaking, as Alan Ginsberg would say, about all things literary.
For hours and hours we sat there, three literary friends at least for one evening, talking as the reveling conference goers drifted back and forth in from of the windows of the hotel (small and intimate by these latter day conference standards) and out into Savannah's sultry streets to look for for friends or booze or listen for fog horns in the harbor. That's what it's all about-- those moments, those collisions.
What did we talk about? I have no idea. All I remember is the feel of things-- how our conversation moved back and forth in the half-dark space of the closed coffee shop. And now 29 years later outside snow is falling on AWP, and the Age of Creative Writing.
But David is alive and soon walked into the day, through the mall and into the convention center for anther AWP. And in an hour I will follow into the Vortex.