Red Carpet Treatment at AWP
Maybe it’s how much we’ve been bombarded recently by the particularly icky, and frustratingly addictive, aspects of celebrity. Maybe because I’m mesmerized as Anna Nicole grabs a buzzing blade and opts for bald, Britney Spears weeps openly in a courtroom after deciding to bury herself in the Bahamas and James Brown—could it be?—finally calls it quits with that skanky golddigger Cameron Diaz and—after spilling his woes to a gushing Oprah—is adopted immediately by Brangelina. Maybe it’s because the sprawling Associated Writing Programs conference (sometimes referred to as “too many panels, too little time”) just happens to come on the tail end of the Oscars this year. And maybe it’s because I’m tired of Hollywood grabbing the headlines and having all the juicy fun while we poets twirl dutifully in dimmer orbits, sipping chai, submitting to Kingsley Tufts, and sharpening our pencils.
As my gleeful (“Ah! So many people! So much money!”) cabbie deposited me outside the Holiday Inn in Atlanta at what felt like 2000 o’clock last night, I decided that the AWP could definitely use a dose of nasty glamour. We need overwrought drama, blatant bedhopping, more hissy fits, one or two mysteries of paternity, an oily spokesman, several unbalanced pop tarts and a discreet little complex in the islands where we can go to “rest” when our “work” gets to be too “much.” We need to carry teeny dogs in teeny designer bags and give them names like—well, Teeny. Dammit, we need to wear cuter clothes.
Imagine, if you will, the red carpet on the very first day of the glitzy extravaganza known as AWP:
“Omigod! Omigod! Getting out of that ecologically correct stretch limo . . . isn’t that—omigod, it’s . . .
"Mark Doty! Mark, Mark, is it true that you’ve signed a pesky sestina to star in your latest book? Rumor has it that you had to get rid of that temperamental villanelle . . . and may I say you look particularly elegant tonight . . . what are you wearing? Is that—[insert shuddering inhale here]—Gap?”
Yep, we’ve toiled in the backdrop long enough. It’s our time to shine. I’m going to try and forget that the tender Delta baggage handlers snapped a wheel on my suitcase, that my cabbie smelled vaguely unwashed and that the throng waiting for me (well, waiting for something, anyway) outside the Holiday Inn looked less like paparazzi than underpaid, flight-battered English profs on the prowl for bad karaoke and brain-numbing margaritas.
A revolution begins with one. I have looked forward to this all year, and I—for one—plan to work it.
I fully intend to enter my 10:30 a.m. Thursday reading dripping in sequins and leading a young yet-to-be-named male model on a leash.
No photos, please.
Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Incendiary Art (2017), winner of an NAACP Image Award; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American...