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I’m spending this weekend at home, grading papers to free up my upcoming week. Does it need to be said that I’m attending AWP? I believe this is my 10th time–and though I have my gripes about the conference (overloaded schedules, claustrophobic book fair) I also celebrate its pleasures, like meeting up with friends and former students. As anyone knows, the conference is poetry-heavy. Perhaps because fiction writers usually have little to lose by not attending, but poets have plenty to gain.
Some may balk at the networking that happens at every corner and others may bitch about how there are too many writing programs and books of poetry being published, blah blah blah. But I’m excited about these “too many”s. That means that groups that have been historically excluded (like Chicanos/ Latinos and Native Americans) now have better chances of finding venues and homes and audiences for their work. How easy we forget that “too many” tends to represent the dominant white population.
AWP-Denver is getting it right this time by shaping a conference that better reflects the land and its people. The buzz on social networking sites is that there will be more Latinos and Native Americans attending this year, so I had to show up though I’ve been threatening to take a breather. (Next year in DC–if it isn’t an African American conference, it’s not a conference. AWP organizers take note.)
For the longest time I resisted entering the teaching profession. In fact, after I completed my MFA I did anything but jump right back into the university academy as an instructor. I worked as a literacy specialist for an after school program, I worked as a translator at a hospital, I even returned to my old life as a dancer and assisted my former dance director at his studio. But as my credentials grew it was hard to stay away–the academy pulled me in, tempting me with crazy things like health insurance and a regular paycheck. Who knew those things were useful?
But the perk that I wasn’t expecting, and which I have since learned to appreciate and hold on to as the main reason to stay in the academy and support AWP, was engaging with graduate students. I absolutely love my students. And believe me, I’m a hard-ass teacher: I’m too honest for my own good in the writing workshop and I demand more than the young writers can give.
I don’t make any other promises than helping young people grow as artists and readers. It’s for the love of the poem that we get together every week. If the academy is facilitating that than we owe some gratitude not the shade that usually gets thrown on it, usually by people who feel somewhat superior because they fancy themselves outsiders. Please. (Insert eye roll here.)
Who knew I’d be part of a maligned population just because I want to be among my kind–people who want to write and talk about what they read? And, as a bloke who comes from a family of migrant farm workers, the clean job with the nice paycheck isn’t bad either. So do me a favor: if you’re an AWP or “academic poet” hater, don’t come near me. I wield a cane now and I’m not afraid to use it. And I will be damned if I allow my students to be insulted for investing time, money and energy into their graduate education.
P.S. I’ll be back in a few days to gab about race. Oh, yes, Rigoberto’s a Chicano hornet and he’s building his nest on Harriet