I’m recovering from a head cold I picked up at AWP, eating from a bowl of grilled watermelon salsa my husband made to help kill the cold, ruminating about the good and the bad about these kinds of conferences. I have to admit that this year’s AWP was probably my favorite since my first one – when I was still starry eyed and naive, interviewing for jobs, in a Chicago hotel four blocks from the conference, carrying a way-too-heavy bag through panels and the book fair, gawking at the crowds of (gasp) 4,000. (That was a record back then. That’s right, my first AWP was a decade ago!)
I wanted to say something about the hard workers in the poetry world who don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve. They do a lot – they review books, or set up web sites, or edit. People like Brian Spears, the Rumpus’ poetry editor, and Denise Hill, who runs New Pages. Editors of micropresses like Shanna Compton and Kristy Bowen. AWP board members and volunteers. They are a lot of typically really nice people who tend to stay out of the limelight – and hey, they put their own (inimitable) work on hold to shine the light on others. And they all deserve cupcakes.
An unusual aspect of this AWP was that it was in my hometown of Seattle, so. I saw a lot of my friends out doing their thing, being successful writers and editors and such. I mean, you realize, hey, my friends are pretty impressive, really! And you can sleep in your own bed and you know where the good restaurants are already. You don’t have to ship anything home. I recommend it. And I got to see the hard-working Northwest presses – like Two Sylvias, Concrete Wolf, Minor Arcana Press – get a little bit of glow from being in the limelight. Which they deserve. The Northwest is a pretty happening place for literary stuff, in case you didn’t know. MFA versus NYC? I don’t think so. Think LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland – all happen to be great hospitable homes for writers. (I happen to think San Diego is pretty great for writers too – it’s where I met Jericho Brown, got to hang out with Steve Kowit, Ilya Kaminsky and Sandra Alcosser, and got drunk-serenaded by Billy Collins. I mean, it’s no slouch.) Anyway, hooray for AWP being here and in LA in two years! Finally, the West Coast is getting some writerly love.
And then something about running into writers you admire. Now, a decade since my first AWP, I may not be quite as starry-eyed, but I’m still thrilled to run into people whose work I love. I used to be too nervous to introduce myself, now I just do it. I used to worry about impressing editors and publishers. I guess I worry a little less about that now than I used to, but it is nice to see the kids (is that bad to say? They all seem so young now! But so intimidating when I went to my first AWP!) who are running the lit mags, working the tables. All these people who love the same weird stuff you do. This year, I totally missed anything negative – gossip, rudeness, one-ups-man-ship – and saw only a bunch of people with whom I share a passion. At the Thursday night reading I literally teared up, I was so happy to be with a bunch of people who loved “geeky” poetry and who excelled at it. Because that’s what AWP really should be about – getting out of your safe-writer-introvert-shell and meeting other introvert-shell-hiders with whom you have an awfully lot in common. And maybe get a drink together and talk shop, or talk about which childhood cartoons you miss, or whatever. Talk about the dreams you have in common, go out and fill the sky with hope and good wishes. When else are you going to do this?
Friday and Saturday Reports from AWP, the haul, and other adventures
The last day of AWP was fun, though it went by in a blur. I did a quick book signing at Minor Arcana. I didn’t get to see half the people I had planned to have coffee with, although I did run into a lot of great folks. I never found the tables for several of my favorite journals and publishers (the book fair was split into two football-field sized halls, and I swear I tried), but everyone at the tables the last day was friendly and chatty the last day as I went around buying and picking up books and lit mags. I wore sequins to keep myself awake! I ran into friends local and far-flung. And a very cute black Pomeranian whose owner let us cuddle him (the dog not the owner.)
The evening Drawn to Marvel launch event at Raygun Lounge was terrific, I kept hearing people saying “This was the best event at AWP” and “why doesn’t AWP have this kind of thing with their official panels and readings?” Yes, why indeed??? It was a great night to meet people I had been corresponding with for years and lots of new folks – including Tara Betts, whose poetry I knew so well I could have sworn I had met her before! I know they’ll have the complete video of the reading up at some point, but Glenn did a phone recording of my reading of “Female Comic Book Superheroes” if you’re interested – http://youtu.be/Wu5j7BjnorU. There are sequins and a Dalek involved. I would say, after briefly scanning the anthology, it would be a wonderful book to teach to college kids.
Friday after my book-signing at Two Sylvias I took some friends to Open Books and Café Zoka to get real Seattle coffee, and it was great to hang out outside AWP (I recommend an offsite trip with a local every AWP!)
Above is also a little pic of some of my haul from AWP, including friends’ new books and lit mags. I parted with probably a grand total of $85 for all this, which I think is pretty great indeed. I’m looking forward to reading everything when I have sanity and sleep again.
A quick report from the first 24 hours of AWP with a few pics: I have to say, so far this AWP I am feeling nothing but admiration and happiness to keep running into, reading with, and hanging out with so many fantastic writers. The best part of this kind of conference is running into old friends, and what’s odd nowadays is that some of these “old friends” are folks I’ve never physically met – sure, we’ve been Skyping or commenting on each other’s blogs for years, but it’s great to really give someone a hug or thank them in person for blurbing your book (or teaching it,) listening to them read poetry for the first time, grabbing dinner together, or even just saying hi on our ways to and from things. I’m exhausted already but at the same time can’t wait to get back to seeing more lovely folks! Today I’ll be signing books at the Two Sylvias book table, right next to Tupelo at the book fair, from 1 PM – 2 PM. Come by! Tomorrow I’ll be signing 1 PM-2:30 PM at the Minor Arcana Press, and reading at the Ray Gun Lounge as part of the Drawn to Marvel book launch with a bunch of terrific poets, starting at 7 PM.
Last night’s Superheroes of Poetry reading was one of those magic offsite readings that went perfectly – everyone kept to their time, read fantastic poetry, and read it really well. I was so happy to be among poets I really liked, the crowd was really sweet, and Glenn said it was the first time I got emotional at a poetry reading in a long time. Because we held the reading at Jack Straw, they also had a professional sound engineer give each reader a CD of their reading – cool, right?
We also have the reading up on YouTube, so check it out when you get a chance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeT3iv4DjVM&feature=youtu.be&t=1m48s
Before that, I took a brief tour of the South Hall of the book fair (didn’t realize Wednesday there were actually two gigantic halls of book fair instead of just one) and ran into a bunch of friends, including San Diego poet Jeff Walt. Wednesday I thought I was just going to register, but I ended up meeting and talking with lots of friends who were setting up their booths. Publishers really do work hard at these conferences, and much of it is a labor of love rather than spectacular pay, so be sure to stop by and tell folks how much you love their efforts. I didn’t remember to 1. take enough pictures or 2. hand out enough business cards (possibly because being sort of one-good-armed for the conference makes this a teensy bit hard.)
Hi! I’m Jeannine Hall Gailey, and this is the game “Where I’ll be at AWP:”
–Thursday – wondering around the book fair early in the afternoon, and in the evening you’ll find me hosting The Superheroes of Poetry spectacular speculative poets event at the Jack Straw Gallery (4261 Roosevelt Way NE) from 8 PM – 9:30 PM. (Readers include Jason Mott, Jason McCall, Bryan Dietrich, Evan Peterson, Lesley Wheeler, Sally Rosen Kindred, Lana Ayers, and more!)
–Friday – Signing books at the Two Sylvias Press table, 1-2 PM. South Hall, 611, neighboring the Tupelo Books talbe. You may also spot me at my friends’ White Pine book launch – Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich – at 6:30 at the SAM’s Taste restaurant.
–Saturday: Signing books at the Minor Arcana Press Table 1 PM to at least 2:30 PM. South Hall, BB18 by the snack bar. Saturday night, appropriately enough, reading with the book launch of Drawn to Marvel at Ray Gun Lounge, reading and party starting at 7 PM. (A bunch of great speculative poets here too!)
If you want to buy one of my books, your best bet is to try the Two Sylvias table, or find me in the crowd – I’ll be the one guarding a broken elbow with a large blond man by my side carrying my very heavy tote of books!
By the way, if you’re a celiac or wheat-allergic AWP-attender looking for gluten-free options around Seattle, here are a couple of great options in the downtown Seattle area:
–Tango for tapas – Tango Restaurant and Lounge – 1100 Pike Street Seattle, WA 98101 – (206) 583-0382 (a good selection of gluten-free small plates, but no dedicated fryer) and it’s two blocks from the convention center, an easy walk!
–Upscale cider pub Capitol Cider in Capitol Hill – a dedicated gluten-free kitchen! – Capitol Cider - 818 East Pike Street, Seattle, Washington 98122 – 206-397-3564. Some driving involved, but a very hip part of town with lots going on.
–Cafe Flora (also great for vegetarians) – Cafe Flora – 2901 E Madison St, Seattle WA – (206) 325-9100
Yes, I know everything right now is all AWP all the time, but the kind Kelli Russell Agodon included me in her blog tour and here are the results!
1) What am I working on?
I am currently working on two manuscripts – the one, almost finished, called “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter,” is one I’ve been working on for some five years or so, about growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with Oak Ridge National Labs next door. The other is called “The Field Guide to the End of the World,” which explores our current culture’s obsession with apocalypses (in pop culture, scientific research, etc.) and my own experiences with neural damage.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think my work is more likely to go explore scientific discoveries, pop culture, and mythology than my own autobiography, and for this reason, I’ve often been described as a “speculative” poet. I’ve always been more interested in other worlds than my own. My favorite fiction authors – Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, and Kelly Link, for starters – are also similarly writing about alternate realities, comic books, television, and science fiction.
I’d also say that I am probably slightly more likely to be funny – I’m not afraid of humor in poetry, even if it’s pretty dark humor, and that I’d probably be described as a feminist poet, given the subject matter of my first three books.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I passionately believe that 1. poetry can communicate things (ideas, moments, emotions, liminal spaces) in ways that other kinds of writing can’t and 2. writing is meant to change the world. I’m not content to write the kind of poetry that makes people feel more comfortable; I would be much happier writing something that made even one person decide to make a positive change in the world, or, at least, to reconsider the way that our pop culture depicts powerful women or the safety of nuclear energy. Call me optimistic, or idealistic, but that’s why I keep writing.
4) How does your writing process work?
I would say that I do most of my writing late at night, and mostly on a computer (my handwriting is illegible, even to me.) I usually write one or two poems at a time based on an idea, or something I come across in a movie, a magazine article, or in research of a particular subject. The best things for my writing are things like visiting art museums, going to concerts, reading about subjects I’m not familiar with, and even prosaic things like watching television. I read a lot of poetry (and do reviews of poetry books on a regular basis) but I’m more likely to be inspired to write new poems after reading fiction or non-fiction.
Thanks to Kelli Agodon for inviting me to this blog tour! Here’s her post!
And her bio: Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of Hourglass Museum and The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice, which she co-authored with Martha Silano. Her other books include Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, Small Knots, Geography, and Fire On Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry which she edited with Annette Spaulding-Convy. She is the co-founder of Two Sylvias Press and when not writing, Kelli can be found in the Northwest mountain biking, paddleboarding, or walking her golden retriever, Buddy Holly. She blogs at: www.ofkells.blogspot.com or you can connect with her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/agodon or on her homepage: www.agodon.com
Lesley Wheeler’s poetry collections include The Receptionist and Other Tales (Aqueduct Press, 2012), a Tiptree Award Honor Book. Heterotopia, 2010 winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; and Heathen (C&R, 2009). Recent poems and essays appear or are forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Poetry, Crab Orchard Review, and other magazines. She teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and blogs about poetry’s possible worlds at http://lesleywheeler.org/.
Kelly Davio is the current editor of Tahoma Literary Review and the former Managing Editor for The Los Angeles Review and current Associate Poetry Editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal. She is also a book reviewer for Women’s Review of Books. Her debut collection is Burn This House, and her next collection, Jacob Wrestling, will be out from Pink Fish Press in 2015.
So, as I slowly recover the use of my lungs (from pneumonia) and arm (from a broken/cartilage damaged elbow) I feel the pressure to get ready for AWP and catch up on a bunch of work I had to put off for a while in the last two weeks.
But one piece of nice news was a review of Unexplained Fevers in issue 15 of the LA Review – http://newbinarypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Unexplained_Fevers_LAR15.pdf – which my publisher kindly scanned and posted for me!
So, I’d like to offer some tips for AWP (along with this great set of tips Kelli has already posted which I heartily agree with)
1. Hydrate. Eat on a regular basis, even if it’s just a Kind bar and a latte. Be better to your body than usual. Use lip balm. Brush your teeth and shower. Sleep.
I know these all seem kind of basic, but even a regularly good self-care-type can go kind of crazy at AWP, and neglect all of these things, which makes you seem 1. cranky and 2. less appealing. Also, practical dressing: it can be too hot in the book fair and too cold in the panel rooms or outside, so dress in layers you can get on and off easily. You’ll be on your feet a lot, and Seattle-ites are very relaxed about their footwear, so wear comfortable shoes.
2. I’m not just saying this because I have a broken elbow this year that I’m worried about getting rammed into twenty times at the book fair – but don’t shove or run into people at the book fair! One of my friends has a story about a bigger, “important” male poet who ran into her small self full-speed rudely at the book fair and didn’t stop to say “excuse me” or apologize. Later, when she had her “important editor” badge on, he tried to be nice to her at a party, but she had already had her first impression. Try to be kind, make space for people in casts and wheelchairs in the aisles, watch for where your bookbag is swinging, and generally try for good manners, because you never know whose foot you might be stepping on.
3. Kelli already covered this a little, but seriously, don’t try to go to everything. Get out of the site once or twice – the best things I remember about past AWPs were things like going to offsite parties, or to little out-of-the-way restaurants a local writer took me to for some down-time and catching up, or sight-seeing on a long stretch of time by myself. You don’t need to be at every reading, panel, and party – you’ll only be exhausted and you’ll remember less. Pick a few things a day, and if one of them doesn’t work out, see that as an opportunity to find someone you like, get some coffee, see the city.
4. Generally, try to have fun and not stress out. This AWP is probably not going to make or break your career. Stop stressing, take a deep breath. During your booth book signing times, it can be awkward – either too busy or too quiet. Relax, make conversation with people nearby but don’t try to cram your book down unsuspecting passers-by’s tote bags, and also avoid being engrossed in your smart phone, or you might miss an opportunity. Also, stop feeling like you need to meet and talk to everyone. The spontaneous stuff that happens naturally is a lot more fun, like getting stuck in the elevator with Margaret Atwood, or whatever.
So a week or so after I broke my arm, I came down with bronchitis that turned into a pretty nasty case of pneumonia, I haven’t even been able to talk on the phone or walk across a room much because of the coughing. Then allergic reactions to the antiobiotics…in short, it’s been an un-fun stretch of February so far. I apologize for being absent here and out of reach by e=mail/phone. I hope you all had fab Valentine’s Days. Much better than mine (although two worthwhile movie shoutouts for sick days: In a World, about a woman breaking into the old-boys-club of voice-over work that was very entertaining, and Austenland, about a fantasy camp for Jane Austen fans, which has a pretty great post-credits video you should definitely watch for laughs which features the song “Hot in Herre.”)
AWP is coming up and I wanted to remind you about two speculative poetry events to keep on your calendar (and I’ll be reading at both with a slew of fantastic spec poets!)
– A Night of Speculative Poetry, or, The Superheroes of Poetry – Thursday February 27. 8 PM – 9:30 PM – at the Jack Straw Gallery
– Drawn To Marvel book launch and reading gala. Saturday, March 1 at 7:00pm. Ray Gun Lounge, Seattle.
I did get some good news, too – I found out one of my poems, “Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales” is going to be included in “The Year’s Best Horror Volume 6” edited by the estimable Ellen Datlow! For a full list of pieces, see here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2014/02/table-of-contents-the-best-horror-of-the-year-volume-6-edited-by-ellen-datlow/
Okay, that’s the extent of my sitting-up-typing-with-my-one-good-arm time for now!
Update on Feb 8: This workshop has been cancelled due to snow! That’s right, snow! We hope to reschedule down the road…
This Saturday, in Issaquah, despite the messed-up arm, I’ll be leading a workshop called “In a Land of Make-Believe.” I hope you can join me! Here’s the description:
“Join Redmond’s second Poet Laureate Jeannine Hall Gailey for an afternoon workshop where participants let their imaginations run wild while writing poems based on characters from fairy tales, comic books, mythology, and other magic origins. Swords, villains, grand romance, transformations, and happy endings optional.”
Where? The ARTEast Art Center
When? 4-5 PM
You can register here. The cost is $12, which goes to support the arts and artists on the East side!
I’ve had a frustrating time with the elbow break, which now might include some cartilage damage that might require surgery – eep! More time-consuming imaging tests and a second opinion with an elbow specialist are pending. Not the way I’d choose to spend the weeks before AWP…
And I’m working on the NEA application, harder when you’re trying to do all the typing and formatting with your one good hand. It’s such a gamble, but all you can do is try!
Tuesday I see my orthopedist who will decide whether or not I will be in a big cast for AWP. My arm really hurts when I accidentally move it or when I sleep, so they’re thinking maybe I need more than the sling. Nothing for glamorous impressions like a cast/sling combo, right? Since I broke my arm I am wondering what good thing the universe will be sending me to balance it out, because this really sucks. Book prize? Golden treasure? Large grant? I feel like Mr. Glass these days (Unbreakable reference here.)
In other poetry-related news, found this nice short review of Unexplained Fevers here at Open Way Designs. Thanks!
And my own review of Natalie Diaz’ When My Brother Was An Aztec is up at the Poets At Work site. I like that name, don’t you? We are at work, sometimes painstaking work, like the last six days, writing longhand because it takes sooo long to type right now.
And I am (despite everything) so excited that our speculative poetry event is a Stranger staff pick for AWP Offsite events Thursday night. I was not happy with the lack of official AWP events for speculative poetry so I got together with others and we created our own event, and it’s got a fantastic lineup! Here’s the Facebook event page for it. And here’s the poster!
Well, off to prop my arm up on pillows and very slowly do everything I’m used to doing with two hands.
Well, kids, I’ll be taking a bit of a break from my technology typing habits as I seem to have fractured my elbow bone (scientific name: olecranon) and my left arm is in a (mandatory) sling for 4-6 weeks! Everything is harder and slower with one arm, so forgive me for 1. not responding to e-mails as fast as usual for a while and 2. not posting more here, on Facebook and Twitter. In the meantime, I expect to be able to juggle one-handed by the end of a month’s time. If you ask how it happened, I will tell you a story about mountain biking and mountain lions, which might not be strictly true, but the break CAN be blamed on something with wheels, anyway. No, I was not trick skateboarding!
Hopefully, this time won’t make me insane, but this enforced sabbatical from such things as typing and cutting my own food with a knife AND fork will have some good effect down the road. I was hoping to be totally hale and hearty for AWP, but at least I thought to by my husband a spouse pass, so he can carry my books. So, if you want to get ahold of me, try calling instead of emailing, and maybe recommend some good books and movies.