It’d been six years since my last visit to AWP. This is not a confession. I had a strange time back then, adrift, inadequate feeling. You know, not feeling that I’d done enough, that I wasn’t pulling my own weight as a poet in the world. This is another way of saying that at that point in my career, I was so dependent upon the approval of others in order to judge my own worth as a poet, and that was disheartening, almost demoralizing. And certainly, we do this, think about our publishing careers in relation to others’ publishing careers.

First, I want to say that I am so pleased to have met the BOA Editions editors, Thom Ward and Peter Conners, who have been so kind and respectful via our telephone and e-correspondences. In person, they are more so. So thank you again to Thom and Peter, and actually, especially to Matthew Shenoda, for bringing me into the BOA Editions world. Peter tells me some folks were coming to the table at the book fair, asking about Diwata. I am so pleased to hear there is interest.

Second, I flew into Denver last Friday evening, and was up early Saturday morning and attending a 9 am panel, hosted by an incredibly energetic Sarah Browning of Split This Rock. I have copious notes, but rather that rehash what’s in my notebook, I want to just give some of my impressions. I do not know why the stereotype must insist upon perpetuating itself, that poetry is not enough in the world (of course, I spoke on a panel Saturday afternoon precisely about poetry in the world, in which “world” means outside of academic institutions). Poetry has always been in the world. I am really not so interested in engaging in discussions about poetry belonging to the academic institution, which is only one of many places where it exists, and even thrives.

This is an ongoing theme in my life and career, or it’s the issue which matters most to me, and so my ear is constantly tuned into discussions about it — transgression of border, in my own poetic and even activist practices, and given the poets and poetries to whom/which I am drawn.

That said, some highlights:

  • John Murillo, reading “Ode to the Cross Fader,” from Up Jump the Boogie, his first book, newly released by Cypher Books, also reminded us of something we take for granted — doing our best work, remembering our responsibility as poets to witness and advocate.
  • Melissa Tuckey, asking us to think about how our activism can serve our poetry, reminding us that we write political poetry because we are paying attention.
  • Dan Vera, citing the “astounding tonguefuckery of the the Bush administration,” believes the role of the poet is to address the authority, respond to it empowered by language, to exist separate from it.  Poets decode language in order to name the unnamable.

Later on that afternoon, at a panel and reading for the anthology, Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing, a young woman of color in the audience articulates that her being neither MFA student nor professor has made AWP attendees turn their noses up at her. She tells us she works in real grassroots work, and asks how the academy can support her in this work, for she’s had and currently has no such support, but rather, discouragement.

I kept turning this question over and over again in my brain, until I finally came to this: is it even reasonable to ask the academy/academic institutions for support for real grassroots community work? I don’t think it is reasonable to ask for this. In response to this young woman’s question, Martín Espada told her this would be like expecting the boss to support the strike of the workers. This doesn’t happen because it’s not in the boss’s interest. In other words, Espada says, don’t ask for support from the academy. Find your support in your community. Toi Derricotte agreed, don’t ask for the academy’s support, because once you become reliant upon the academy’s resources, supposing you do indeed gain access to their resources, then what of your politics will you have to compromise in order to continue having access to their resources. In other words, you’d be beholden to their standards.

So these are just a few things I am thinking about this morning, as I fight off my migraine. More AWP stuff to come.

Originally Published: April 12th, 2010

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, the Philippines, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. She earned a BA in ethnic studies from the University of California at Berkeley and an MFA from San Francisco State University. She is the author of the poetry collections Gravities of...