Day Two #AWP21 reflections

AWP logo on a colorful background with balloonsI’m attending this year’s virtual Association Writing Programs conference and sat in on 2 discussions yesterday.

Here are some brief reflections on that experience.

A rising tide lifts all poet’s boats… I hope!

I attended the following:

  • Maximizing Virtual Events

Though this discussion seemed more centered on the interests of literary event organizers who had to suddenly pivot to virtual events in 2020 and 2021, I found much to admire about this discussion.

I was able to get some great feedback from other attendees in the chat as well as learn more about the behind-the-scenes of four known literary communities which host events: Black Mountain Institute, Literary Arts, The Loft, and the Wisconsin Book Festival. The Believer Festival was also highlighted.

I left this event with an offer to swap book reviews (#WinWin) and a wonderful interaction with a poetry Bookstagrammer who gave me more insights and ideas in a single thread than I have received from perhaps all of my poetry peers who I know live and in person.

This is part of what I like about AWP: If you are bold enough to ask questions and put yourself out there, the network can work for you even if you’re not one of the “cool kids.” (By that, I mean a literary celebrity of MFA’er or young upstart with academic connections.)

The discussion about literary citizenship at a time when promoting new books is extremely difficult also made me feel heard and less alone.

I do think that even post-pandemic, all literary events will continue to have a virtual counterpart as writers, publishers, organizers, publicists and booksellers everywhere are realizing that the pure accessibility of a virtual reading (geographically and physically) means even more people can enjoy the work of poets and writers for a fraction of the budget that live events requires.

This, too, makes me feel better about my own cobbled-together virtual book tour and how it is nothing like what I expected for my book debut, but which may still be a long-tail event that may benefit long-term book sales. Keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

When spoken word is literally disrupted

I attended the following:

  • Disabled Voices: Disfluent Writers Speak

Another amazing panel highlighting the works of three amazing writers who have speech impairments.

  • Jennifer Bartlett spoke about being rejected from live reading opportunities because her cerebral palsy disrupts her speech.
  • Adam Giannelli drove home the thesis that the world should not expect stutterers to adjust, but that it can and should make space and adjust to the needs of stutterers (and I most certainly agree).
  • denise leto has dystonia and talked quite a bit about vocal cord Botox to temporarily normalize her speech enough to be able to read or speak before others.

This panel reminded me of three events.

One was listening to the extraordinary poet, Ilya Kaminsky, read before an audience at the Port Townsend Writers Conference. It’s critical to note that his speech is different due to being deaf. He went to the considerable effort of providing the entire audience with printouts of his poems to read along. I found that, once my own hearing had adjusted to the cadence and accents of his spoken voice, it was better to just listen. He is an engaging speaker, not to be missed.

I am also reminded of a lovely regional poet I met at the PTWC who, during the open mic events, would have others read her work for her as she has a neurological condition which greatly disrupts her ability to speak clearly (much in the same way MS can lead to something known as dysarthria). I thought this was a useful solution in that moment, as the person who read for her was a loved one who did her work justice. Still, there is a pleasure in reading your own words aloud to a group that is stolen from poets and writers who live with speech disruption as a part of life with chronic illness, and I do wish to acknowledge this existential theft as well.

Finally, I recalled being at the AWP in 2019 in Portland, where and when I attended a caucus of disabled writers which included a fantastic deaf poet, Raymond Luczak, who had an equally fantastic interpreter. Luczak signed his work quite dramatically, while the interpreter did a hero’s job of keeping up and giving brilliant life to the poet’s words. What a wonderful collaboration, and one of the more memorable poetry readings of my lifetime.

I’m really glad I wrested myself from my cozy bed this morning to sit in on this discussion. That’s no small thing; I’m hitting a fatigue wall this week that sent me packing for a nap by noon this afternoon. But rising for this event? Totally worth it.

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