Continuing from the last post, this year MAPH was able to send our creative writing students to the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Boston, MA. In return, we’ve asked them to write us each a short piece on their experience at AWP.
Today’s comes from Carina Schorske, a current student in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities who is focusing on creative writing.
Writers love to hate AWP. I’ve heard one acclaimed poet refer to the conference as “loathsome,” another as “soul-sucking.” Several older writers advised me not to go: stay at home and write, they said. Lock the door.
But it is hard to trust Adam and Eve when they beg you not to eat the fruit. They seem so wise in their fallenness; they are like gods! And then the serpent slips a free plane ticket into your pocket.
Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston has its own subway stop. The building is a block long and the ceilings are so high you can feel wind in your hair on the escalators. You can smell snow and vending machines, newspapers and deodorant. There’s a map for each floor, of course, but also a map for each room: rooms are divided into aisles and aisles into numbered squares.
Leonard Cohen has a song called Boogie Street. Boogie Street is the kind of place you go to break in your new ankle boots, try your first cigarette, and find your hustle. It’s crowded, crass, and commercial. It is, in short, the traffic jam of ordinary work and desire. But in his interviews, Leonard Cohen admits that it’s always Boogie Street: Boogie Street in the monastery, Boogie Street in Times Square. You don’t get away from it.
And indeed one of the glories of AWP is confronting all the scenes of desire you secret away from yourself at home. You see the young poet reach into her backpack for her stack of chapbooks, and you see her face when her thermos leaks and the fresh pages turn damp with tea. You see the schoolteacher arrive at the front of the line just before Derek Walcott is ushered away from the book-signing table by his handlers. You see Derek Walcott say, I’m tired. But more than any of these specific scenes you see at least ten thousand people confessing: I want to write. And I want you to read me.
Almost everyone is eager to cancel this confession. The costumes are elaborate and the displays of disinterest are dramatic. But there’s no use, the blood has been spilled. It’s a fool’s errand to try to get clean. Another poet of pop music comes to mind as I survey the crowd, as I survey my own crowded heartscape. In Live from the Underground, Big K.R.I.T. poses the right question for AWP:
Whachu mean you ain’t nasty / why the f*** you came?