On Friday, February 13th, I went to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference at the Hilton in Chicago. I attended four sessions: The Pedagogy Forum: Poetry; Shameless Promotion: Get the Book to the Readers; Writing Your Passions: Forbidden Topics; and The Poetry of Resilience. I learned valuable poetry lessons from my experience.
The Pedagogy Forum: Poetry
I went to this session because I wanted to get more ideas for teaching creative writing and poetry courses.
The ideas I gleaned from this session will be woven into ideas for teaching presented in the sidebar (look right!), especially “opening exercises in poetry.” But what were the most important things we thought about together? Revision. Cumulative projects in introductory creative writing and poetry courses. The poetry of witness and the ethical responsibility of the poet.
I really enjoyed the session and a small group I was in with Michael Rerick, Kristi Maxwell, and Caki Wilkinson, all graduate students from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, Shenandoah Sowash, a graduate student from the University of Maryland, and Kathy Whitson, a Professor from Eureka College, Illinois.
Shameless Promotion: Get the Book to the Readers
I went to this session because I wanted ideas for how to share “Sanctuary,” my newly published chapbook, with as many readers as possible in the future. I’m a poet, not a publicist. I don’t really know how to do the business side of poetry (and even find it a little distressing that there IS a business side), but I know I need to learn.
This turned out to be a great session on how to promote a newly published book coordinated by writers Marisha Chamberlain, Margaret Hesse, Todd Boss, and John Spayde. The four of them have helpfully put together a webpage explaining best practices for promoting and publicizing a new book: squad365.blogspot.com.
Todd’s points about giving particularly resonated with me. Promotion and publicity can seem like very selfish, unnatural acts, especially for a Christian poet (with her mother’s proverbial wisdom always ringing in her ears, “Let others praise you; never do it yourself!”). But since I view poetry as ministry, as the opportunity to encourage other people’s hearts, minds, and souls, sharing the good news about one’s own poetry can be a gift.
Writing Your Passions: Forbidden Topics
I went to this session because I want to write a memoir about my relationship with my best friend, but I want to do it in a way that both honors the truth and honors the living members of her family, especially her children, her mother, and her sisters.
The main question: Are there any forbidden topics in literature these days? There are! Sometimes we, as writers, forbid ourselves to write on certain topics.
I especially appreciated the highlighted books Seven Laurels by Laura Busby Parker and 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton. The authors of these books invented characters very, very different from themselves … in order to write about race relations in the American South in the first case … and about traumatic violence and the importance of recognizing the humanity of perpetrators in the second case.
In the authors and their works, I saw the redemptive power of choosing to write what others might forbid us to write … and what we might forbid ourselves to express.
The Poetry of Resiliance
I went to the session because I believe in the spiritual importance of resilience, the ability to keep living after trauma, to come back and keep going despite loss. As an overcomer of childhood sexual assault, I was interested in how other poets honored the truth of their own traumatic experience, bore witness to it through poetry, and brought words of healing to their listeners.
The session began with a clip from the documentary, “The Poetry of Resilience,” now being filmed by Katja Esson.
Then three amazing poets read their work: Valzhyna Mort, Brian Turner, and Kwame Dawes.
I bought Kwame’s new collection, Gomer’s Song. The poems are rooted in the story of Hosea. Some are quite brutal, others beautiful.
the opening lines from “On Me and Men”
“Here is the calculus of desire —
I have studied its insides
like I have studied the language
of the sky … ”
Gomer’s Song (2007)
The Book Fair
The real reason to go to a conference, as any poet or scholar knows, is for the books: hence, my trip to the book fair.
Once there, I was delighted to meet Gregory Wolfe, the editor of Image, in person at last. I learned about the Glen Workshop: “Fully Human: Art in the Religious Sense.”
I spent some time with Finishing Line Press, where I met my editor Leah Maines, and with Mayapple Press, where I met the poets Andrew Christ (Michigan), author of Philip and the Poet, and Johanny Vázquez Paz (Chicago), author of Poemas Callejeros/Streetwise Poems.
All in all, a good experience. I value what I learned. I think I will go again next year.
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