Whitney DeVos and Benjamin Rybeck, Co-Editors-in-Chief, at AWP, 2011
Well, the Sonora Review staff is now back from scary D.C. and tucked into our soft Arizona sand beds. Tucson is cheap. D.C. is not. Great to see Our Nation’s Capital and all, but, my God, D.C. is most certainly not cheap.
This year’s trip to AWP involved Sonora Review getting rid of every single issue and broadside we brought with us. We didn’t even have to give that many away. Issue 58, hand bound by Spork Press, was especially popular, so thanks much to Drew Burk, Jake Levine, and Jon Walter for all the hard work they did to make that book fucking awesome.
Then, our Madam’s Organ reading: yikes. We were sad that Kate Bernheimer, Kevin Canty, Ryan Courtwright, and Nick Flynn couldn’t make it, but we still wielded some Ed Skoog, some Michael Martone, some D.A. Powell, some Joshua Marie Wilkinson, some Joshua Furst, and some Aurelie Sheehan, so it was all good. Also, Kate Bernheimer unleashed a storm upon the world: knowing she would not be able to make it, she asked Brian Oliu to read her piece for her; he also read one of his own pieces, published in Sonora Review 58. Brian Oliu rocked the party in a neon-inflected track jacket. His piece was moving. His reading was stellar. Brian Oliu is the real deal, a rising star, and a prince.
Anyway, our room at Madam’s Organ filled up faster than we imagined it would. Apologies to those who couldn’t get in. And special thanks to the staff of Madam’s Organ – and, especially, thank you Hanna – for making the night smooth and fun.
Also, after eating the worst meal of our lives at Basil Thai, the city of D.C. made up for it by gifting us with the nicely named Bistro Bistro, where spent 12 hours after the conference on Sunday drinking for discounted prices and eating free sliders and watching the game. We think the staff took pity on us since we were carrying around about three bags of luggage each and told them that we didn’t have a hotel room for that night, but if pity yields some good food in a nice restaurant (a favorite of University of Arizona president Sheldon, we’re told) and a ride to the airport in the owner’s BMW 750, then pity can’t be all bad.
Oh – and also, the University of Arizona Poetry Center was nice enough to let us share their booth. So thank you to Gail, Cybele, and Renee. Cybele did a great flickr rendition of AWP fashions. Check it out.
Personally, I remain just a little confused by AWP. It’s a trade conference for something that ought not be a trade. For every day I spent at AWP, I couldn’t help but think of how much writing I could have gotten done if I’d stayed home.
But while I’m sure there were some douchebags wandering around the conference handing out their business cards and sucking up to editors, etc. etc., I didn’t meet a lot of them this year. Instead, what struck me was that so many people seemed to be just as confused as I was, yet didn’t let this bother them. AWP seemed filled with people who genuinely gave a shit about writing. And not as some professional blah blah blah either (although a little $$$ is always nice). Rather, everybody I met at the conference seemed excited to talk about books. They all seemed to get off on words. And this, believe me, was marvelous.
So, here’s to the book. And I’d like to give a final shout out to the folks at Table X - especially Ugly Duckling Press - H.O.W., Electric Literature, Hobart, and Ninth Letter, whose books and literary publications I found particularly striking, and who are doing interesting stuff with the literary journal as art.
One of the nicest things about this conference was that it showed the book as aesthetic object as making a return. So let’s not give up on these book things yet. Let’s take them out for another spin and see what they can do.
- Benjamin Rybeck