Overall, yesterday was a GREAT day at AWP, the kind of day that was so wonderful that I had trouble falling asleep. Let me recap. And it will be just with words, because although I took a lot of pictures, I don't want to sort them right now.
I love Embassy Suites. I love their breakfast buffet. Before I left yesterday, I fortified myself with a hearty meal. I loved that I knew that I was unlikely to get lunch, and so I felt free to eat all sorts of breakfast foods. It was the kind of buffet that made me say that breakfast is the best meal of the day.
I worried that we'd be too far away from the Convention Center and that we'd feel that we should have booked something closer. I'm not sure that there are hotels that are much closer.
This Convention Center is odd. I haven't been to lots and lots of convention centers, but I don't see many hotels within a comfortable walk. Maybe I've been approaching it from the wrong direction and all the walkable hotels are out of eyesight, but I also don't see them on the map.
I also don't see a lot of places to eat nearby. Were there no restaurants that wanted to stake a claim on convention attendees? Is the real estate too expensive? From looking at the surrounding area, it's hard to believe that, but who knows. Did they build a convention center in a place that's not zoned for food? Could they not change that?
And the convention center itself is hard to navigate. I'm fairly able bodied, and as I walked and walked and walked, I thought about how hard it would be for someone who has mobility issues. To make things worse, the place is under construction.
In short, I'm not sure I'd have chosen Portland if I had been on the planning team. But I'm happy to be here. Let me stress that the light rail system has been an absolute joy so far. I feel very lucky. I'm fairly sure I could have walked from the hotel, but I'm glad to have an option.
Hybridity was the word I'd use to describe the morning sessions I attended. I went to Anna Leahy's session that she chaired about cheating on poetry with non-fiction. What a great panel. I was excited to see Beth Ann Fennelly, who has written more non-poetry than just her recent book. It was a great conversation about how form affects content. It was also interesting to hear people talk about MFA programs, which often do not encourage people to explore additional genres. And it's interesting to hear how many programs, over 1/3 by one estimate, still have not added creative nonfiction (or nonfiction of any kind) to the list of genres that they teach. And we must speculate (based on what audience members said yesterday) that even the ones that do offer creative nonfiction as a genre might have the fiction and poetry faculty teach it, which isn't idea. Lots of interesting conversation about gender, about money, about what success looks like, about publication.
The second panel I attended was fascinating from a different hybridity angle. I went to the session on Intersections of Poetry and Visual Art. Faithful readers of this blog may remember that I've been tinkering a bit with this idea; see this blog post if you want to know more about my creativity journey that makes me interested in this idea.
This panel more than any other yesterday made me want to go straight back to my hotel room and start creating. I learned a lot about what people are doing with "poetry comics" and "graphic poetry." These poets, whom I had never heard of before, did a "reading," but it didn't feel like a reading because we had the comics/graphics/visuals on the screen--and I had a good seat. It was one session that made me wish I had a better camera.
After that session, my friend and I decided to take a break and find some of that famous Portland coffee. I was glad that I had researched the options before we left the hotel, and again I was surprised that there were so few places to choose from. The first place, Trailhead Coffee, was packed, so we hiked on to Ristretto Roasters, a place that had coffee but no food. Happily, we had brought some food of our own.
The first session I attended in the afternoon was Revelation or Resistance: Form or Narrative at the End of the World. I was less interested in the authors reading their works than in the discussion that followed. It was a good discussion, but if you know me, you know that my Apocalypse Gal self can talk end-of-the-world for days and never get tired of it. I wanted more conversation about what to do in terms of retirement planning and the knowledge that the world is seriously screwed, but I understand that not everyone has floor boards that are 2 feet above sea level. One of the presenters did early on present information from the latest, most serious climate report that came out a month or two ago; I've only heard from a few people who have actually read the whole thing, and he's one of them. He mentioned 20-30 feet of sea level rise in the next few decades, which is a much more compressed time frame than originally thought and a much greater volume of water.
I made lots of notes of my own thoughts during this session, and they ran along the lines of future generations who will be aghast at the fact that we spent lots of time and money in fancy conferences talking about narrative form and planetary destruction and not much time actually working on the issue. I do agree with the one presenter who observed that this slow motion apocalypse on many fronts is moving so slowly that it's impossible for us to react effectively. It's not like a world war that might galvanize and mobilize us.
After that gloom and doom session, I went to hear Rebecca Makkai and Tayari Jones read and have a conversation about the personal apocalypses their characters face and how they wrote the books they wrote. What a great conversation about gender and likable characters. Here's the best quote from that session, by Jones: "How are we going to write about the ways we really live if we can't write characters that live the way we really live?"
I ended the day by going back to the convention center to hear Colson Whitehead--WOW! He was an amazing speaker, and I can't begin to do justice to his talk that combined his quest for the perfect fried chicken recipe with his approach to the writing life. I may try to capture some of it later, but for now, I need to wrap this up, so that I can get back for Day 2.