Yecch. Home again.
All AWP attendees should be granted some sort of transitional grace period before re-entering the real world. Oh, yeah. We definitely need it.
Today, thousands of us hobbled off airplanes, dragging carry-ons bulging with obscure litmags, new tomes by first-time authors, glossy MFA brochures, a billion business cards, 12 Gettysburg Review sippy cups and an assortment of neon condoms emblazoned with logos and attention-grabbing lines that probably made perfect sense at one time or another. Wrap your head around it—read the Dos Passos Review!
We’d just spent four days in nerd nirvana, surrounded by other mutterers in darkness, pondering sonnet sequences, witnessing the triumphant birth of Annie Finch’s radical formalism and vaguely stalking Rita Dove. Although it’s officially called a conference, AWP is more an overwrought paradise, full of all our long-dreamed-of indulgences, a place for writers to strut, preen and bellow even the tiniest of victories (“Cow Chip Quarterly just agreed to publish my triple sestina! And it’s only going to cost me 20 bucks this time!”)
Once the show begins to wind down (11:13 on Saturday night always feels particularly sad), you see signs of folks struggling against the inevitable—standing in the Hilton lobby, stunned into inaction, wondering whether to join the guys for a weepy cocktail, unreel their woes in one last open mic, or trudge to the room to—dammit!—pack. We’re trying not to think about the moment many of us stumbled into today at airports all across the country. As we deplaned, grinning like Mary Tyler Moore on the streets of Minneapolis, we were greeted by underfed spouses, grubby children, crushing deadlines, dead-end jobs, filthy kitchens, unpaid bills, long commutes and dust bunnies under the sofa. Our “cute little writing thing, while tolerated (barely), is no longer understood as being more important than—oh, the fact since you’ve been off at your little “party,” the family has existed on mayonnaise, tap water and an ancient stump of pepperoni they found wedged behind the crisper.
Real life intrudes, and how. It takes particular fortitude to hold on to at least a smidgen of the unbridled glee we felt in the warm midst of our chronically misunderstood brethren. Remember the insistent ideas, the sudden creative revelations, the urge to write, write, write, the rebirth of our ambition? How to make that giddy high last in the face of so many mundane obstacles, at least until next year when we gather again in (gulp) New York?
It’s like when you come home from a fantastic party, the best party of the whole damn year. You’re swathed in our stilettos and sequins or tuxes and spats, hair spritzed, nails burnished. At home, finally, in front of the mirror, you begin to peel away the pomp. Bow ties are pulled loose, makeup is scrubbed away, and there it is, the real you, weary but relieved under telling fluorescents. It’s always heartening to see that you’re still there, as simple and unadorned as a single word.
So write that word. Then write another. And another. It’s what you do. Once the literary journals are devoured and the jimmy-hats have served their sultry purpose, all that’s left to link you to this glittering week are those words. It’s the one quiet thing that belongs to you, the current that pulses consistently beneath both the hoopla and grim reality. Sure, after a bitchin' bash like AWP--when a writer is the best thing you can be--it's normal to feel a little deflated when mere mortality taps you on the shoulder again. But that's when you have to think it, way out loud: Time to write something. Cause that’s who I am.
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); Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (2008), a chronicle...