2017, Archives, February 2017, The MFA Years


editorial note: the above title is fake news full of fact facts.


WED. FEB 8th AWP’17: in which the writer attempts to find productivity in flight

Sun creep over the New Mexican Mountains. Flat dime-sized clouds sit like halos on the Sandia Peaks. Cohort and colleagues and faculty litter the TSA security point. Are you pregnant? Beware of Zika. ZIKA. ZIKA will get you, if you travel. Shoes off. That one shoe-bomber must be so proud, changed the experience of flight forever. Southwest Airlines to Baltimore. Shoes off. Reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. Trying to respond. Just put your anus and placenta on the page and the nerves and anxiety will evaporate. The woman typing in the neighbouring seat is reading The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. A man across the aisle is marking poems with a red pen. Is the whole flight literati? Maybe we should share a shuttle? Words. Words Words.


LATER. WED. FEB 8th AWP’17: in which the writer attempts to write like a chipmunk, yet to be encountered, yet to edit his masterpiece… 

Flashback: the closing minutes of last year’s AWP Los Angeles: Barge-loads of wasted paper, catalogues, journals, promo-materials, cards, bookmarks, paper paper paper cardboard money filling rolling bins. Working folk folding tables, stacking chairs, pulling curtains, vacuuming, on the clock, next expo in the wings, 18-wheeler unloading in the docks. Sound and light minions running cords, cables unhooked, fat speakers hefted, boxing microphones… my what a lovely conference! Boom, crash, tumble, out the door across LA through skid-row tent city into the heart of addiction and insanity and poverty. Rarely have I felt such opposites so quickly. In Rio, yes, daily, favela to Copacabana, but the guard wasn’t down. Good-hearted-do-gooding-change-making attendees get into their cars onto their flights back to our ivy-walls and duck ponds and am I the only one stupid enough to walk across LA on a sunny polluted Sunday afternoon? I get to my buddy’s gallery almost weeping. Hot, eh? He says with a hug. How was the book fair? Jesus, inside all paradise, but outside, man, do you walk in this town? Not unless I break down.

But that was me, then. Not AWP. Not the attendees or presenters. Not the street-dwellers. That was me mashing it all together, overwhelmed and under prepared and tail-spinning. Took a while to get over that one, still haunts. I can see the problem clearly now ten months later, hindsight all 20-20. I stopped writing. Drank too much. Slept too little. Didn’t dance enough. Ate shit. No scheduling. Was only half present for panels. Took no notes and never returned to the notes I did take. Said few thank-yous. I was a reaction, not an intention.


LATER LATER. WED. FEB 8th AWP’17: in which the writer attempts to get some shit done before the shit kicks off

Not this time. I got some ground rules going in:

  • Write everyday, at least 1200 words. You’ll feel better, happier, better to be around.
  • Go to the panels you want. Find them, get there. If they suck leave, but get there.
  • Meet old friends. Make new ones. Handshakes and thank-yous.
  • Don’t try and resolve the outside (Trumplandia) with the inside (Writer’s Wonderlandia). Attempts will cause short-circuit. If you try, you’ll end up on the first Greyhound north to Trudeaulandia. At least, he can name the countries we bomb, oh yeah Syria and yeah 6 others…
  • Know when to leave the party. No hard liquor. No hard drugs.
  • Read at least an hour a day.

The Baltimore bus to the DC train to the convention centre is a no-brainer. I pound through Ruth Ozeki’s Time Code, by Restless Books, (who e-fing rock!) an engaging three hour mediation on her face. I chat with three other folks headed to Mecca. An extremely nervous girl from Minnesota, eh. A journalist professor from Albuquerque. Texting left and right, setting a time to meet friends I haven’t seen in twenty years. What self will I bring?

Check-in another no-brainer, no line. Wander the book fair, lay six copies of The Blue Mesa Review on our table and wait for the cavalry. Airbnb on 5th, two blocks away, 65 bucks a night, a one bedroom shared by three. I order a strong local IPA at a bar called Lost and Found, where other attendees trickle in—Hi!! How’s it going? Hugs. Thanks for coming. It’s so crazy, it’s snowing in Seattle. Working from home is always good. Vocal-fried, each phrase up-swinging into a question, and I’m off into eavesdrop land with Michael Jackson underscoring, don’t stop till you get…


THURS. FEB 9th AWP’17: in which the writer attempts to conjugate an adjective; overwhelmed, overwhelming…

On the morning table shift, bright-eyed and happy tailed, bump into a friend I haven’t seen in twenty years. We acted in plays together, we published our first undergrad poems together back when, maybe 1991? Both nineteen again. We laugh and laugh and talk poems and mutual friends. Panels, lunch, more panels, back to the table. Fight the approaching sense of overwhelmment (Is that a word? If not, I’m coining it you healthful and mind-fulls can lawyer-up and cowboy-up…) Agent talk. Amazing conversation with publishers. Name drop, story drop central station.

And boom, onto the dance floor, shaking a leg like there’s no tomorrow. Is there a tomorrow? Is tomorrow Friday? Intentions gone. Evaporated.

I wander the book fair, work the table, talk talk talk. Old and new friends. Feels we’re all fighting the same fight. Panels, readings, receptions, cards exchanged, ideas, cigarettes, jokes. I don’t write or read. I stay off the hard stuff and enjoy the soft. Release on the dance floor, double-fisted and sweating. I throw compliments like confetti. I splatter thank-yous like gold dust. I listen and remember.

FRI & SAT. FEB 10th & 11th AWP’17: in which the writer throws caution to the wind, goes rogue and give up all intentions, realizing after 600 words, or 3 minutes, unless you have some blazing insight, people have clicked-on, so flood them with images and non-sequiturs until they are so confused they will do anything to get you to go away… or give you money… or elect an orange emperor… wait… wait… The Game of Thrones is starting…


SOMETIME FRI or SAT. FEB 10th or 11th AWP’17: in which the writer realizes a big mo-fo-ing sculpture lasts longer than a poem, at least physically.

20170212_000457.jpg LATE LATE SAT. FEB 11th AWP’17: in which the writer says yes, it is that fast, so fast, a blink.

Sunday morning. Carnival over. A buddy and I walk The Mall. Lincoln. Play tourist. Re-hash. Look up name of his friend’s father on the Vietnam Memorial. How many died? Why did we even go there? We talk and talk and walk for hours, digesting, rambling. The architecture of Washington D.C is solid and stout, filling my cup with faith. The historical power and permanence of capitols, London, Paris, Rome, assures just for a flashing-instant that these turbulent times, too, will pass. This country is living an anxious overhaul. Revolution waits in the wings. Our psychology is adapting slower than our technology. Our moral and ethical centres cannot hold. But this city, these buildings, the writers and thinkers will overcome the petty minded money-grabbers. We must write with open hearts. We must write dangerous words. We must pull our brothers and sisters up and embrace them. We must conquer the evil within. We shall overcome by embracing our other, by radically empathizing with what we believe to be our opposite.


AFTERNOON SUN. FEB 12th AWP’17: in which the writer waxes poetic and prepares to face the cold turkey…

Bo-bo-boom, I’m on the return flight. Deleted in security. Muffled announcements. TSA rage. Belts and shoes are weapons. Toothpaste. Water. Back to grading and writing and groceries and laundry and that old I-fell-behind-feeling. Sure, I didn’t write much, read little, lost my intentions and can’t wait to do it again better in Tampa next March. We gonna have a party! Hope to share more hugs and thank-yous. Meet more cool folk.

It’s wonderful to pretend we are not alone, even for a fleeting weekend, we can believe. We are not alone. Repeat, we are not alone, we are not…

                             I believe I would be incomplete

                             if I did not know longing;

                                                                    “Hungry Ghost” by Mark Doty


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