Three Days of AWP (Wipes Brow)

April 4, 2019 § 20 Comments

awBy Alexa Weinstein


James Richardson said the short form is like math homework where you don’t have to show your work, you just have to give the answer. He was quoting someone else. Nona Caspers said Lydia Davis surrendered to the way her brain works, which is a kind of rebellion. Kimiko Hahn talked about how, somewhere in a haiku, the language has to wildly explode. Elena Passarello named a few ways to let the audience/reader know the piece is over: you can create a narrative ending or a rhythmic ending, or you can go cosmic (Thelma & Louise, Between the World and Me). James Richardson said most endings are too ending-y, and you should try every line you already have instead of trying to come up with one.

Michael Steinberg said student nonfiction writers deny themselves reflection, speculation, self-interrogation, projection, digression, and confession, even though that’s where the action is. Ana Maria Spagna said we tell readers which things we care about most by describing those things in depth, using accurate visual details. Phillip Lopate said what he meant by an intelligent narrator was an intelligent presenter of the self who proves trustworthy—not as a human being, but as a truth-teller. This requires maturity, which can be developed through extensive reading, which we shouldn’t be afraid to write about (the books we read, not the maturity). In the meantime, while we’re still growing up, bluffing is acceptable. Yi Shun Lai said our reflection on the page should avoid being static, and our speculation should aim to be transparent; it’s okay for both of them to be I-driven, and to stay unsettled.

Sara Jaffe invited us to deliver the gift of wildness. Jonathan Lethem said Robert Musil referred to his book The Man Without Qualities as “a half-finished bridge into free space.” Righteous! Leni Zumas described our strange, wild, private interaction with texts, and our devotion to them, as incredibly difficult to translate and share. In response, people around the room made that noise.



(*when people were talking, not reading their work aloud)

who you’re telling • what you stumble on • when we break them • where you came to • why the edges

how it made me feel • how many pages

a whole human estate • a few lines is fine • a list of limbs • a toss in the air

in dialogue with the story • in a small town • in which I was complicit

not containable • not as concrete • not resolve the questions • not made of craft

the larger pattern • the slow fuse • the embarrassing • the line between • the only sensitive one • the one other thing • the unsayable • the falling away

no long speeches

as the plane crashes • as I learned to write

so weird and unique • so enchanting

for the picture • for the end • for taking it

like a sentence • like lying down

to stand in front of • to bank your understanding • to break open the narrative • to blur the line • to be on fire • to be in the world • to be ashamed • to hand this over

more silence • more attention

wants to arise



At PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art), I dipped multi-colored carrots in fancy hummus and peeled a tangerine while enjoying a confusing tribute. Sometimes people were performing the poems of Keith & Rosmarie Waldrop, and other times they were reading from their own books published by the Waldrops at Burning Deck Press. It wasn’t always clear which was which and nobody ever said their own name. In front of me, a kid who was maybe four licked her hands and did her best imitation of a cat. It might have been a dog, though. I’m not great at telling animals.

At Powell’s, I sat between two beloved friend-geniuses, Wheels Darling and Moe Bowstern, for a queer reading called Femme Force: Wendy C. Ortiz, Amber Dawn, Barrie Jean Borich, Larissa Lai, Ariel Gore, and SJ Sindu. I loved this event so much that I can’t really talk about it yet. My devotion is wild and untranslatable.

On the giant tour bus used as the AWP shuttle, I completed two 90-minute loops, running into 11 hotels on each loop to check if somebody was getting on. Usually nobody was. The driver and I talked traffic. The sun was out; I was moving. For this volunteer work, I got the whole conference for free.

At Mother Foucault’s Bookshop, I sat where I like to sit, on the stairs. Books in Arabic were stacked by my feet. I thought about looking at English and seeing only lines and shapes. I thought about myself as a stack of books, sitting on a staircase. The poets from Nightboat Books came on. Allison Cobb described the trees of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn as a net of breathing. Eleni Sikelianos talked about poems as unsearchable engines, a secret hiding place where we can still put things and keep them private. jayy dodd asked us to say HERE and then say NOW, in between each poem, and it turned out I really liked doing this. She wore an amazing purple cape and read a poem that did tremendous things with its hands.

At the Doubletree hotel, I met up with my poet friend Judy Halebsky for the last time. We dipped into the reception for our MFA program and caught up with the only person there I still knew. It was nice to be remembered. Then we went upstairs and sat outside her room, where we could listen for the crying baby while we talked. You can see Mt. Hood & Mt. St. Helens from up there. We could see all the way to 1996. Walking home, I had giant orange sky until the end. I couldn’t tell the difference between the poem/story part and the part that was just human life.

Alexa Weinstein writes, edits, and teaches in Portland, Oregon and can be found online at Her writing appeared in Essay Daily’s “What Happened on June 21, 2018” project. She has performed her work at Dominican University, Portland Poetry Slam, Northwest Magic Conference, and the Independent Publishing Resource Center (zine release party for XTRA TUF 6.5) and is currently working on a book of essays for live performance.

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§ 20 Responses to Three Days of AWP (Wipes Brow)

  • I think your journal must look something like mine. Thank you for the quotes and for “We could see all the way to 1996.”

  • Susan Blackwell Ramsey says:

    Nice job. I think James Richardson said it was Erin/Aaron Haskell who said the nice thing about the sort form is that, unlike math, you don’t have to show your work.

  • Wow, wonderful. “A whole human estate”–love that and all of this.

    • Thank you! It *may* have been Phillip Lopate, and he *may* have said that every reader is a whole human estate. I’m very happy to discover your blog, as I love reading about other people’s reading lives. Plus, this activity is officially Lopate-approved. I definitely didn’t realize how much great reading I would get out of doing this!

      • Really, I’d love to feel like a whole human anything–most days! Thanks so much for stopping by my little blog. I really appreciate it. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed your piece–and hope to make it to AWP myself one of these years!

  • Joanne says:

    I really liked how you did this. One of the most intriguing portraits of AWP I’ve ever seen.

  • Robyn Ringler says:

    Your words make me feel a visceral longing that made me cry and which I don’t understand quite yet. Oh, thank you for writing this. Thank you for writing this. Thank you–for writing this.

  • Kim Steutermann Rogers says:

    So, true story: I was having lunch today with a friend and happened to mention that I’d just returned from a writing conference in Portland. He said, “My daughter went to that.” Then, he pulled out his phone and shared a text with a screen cap of this blog post. “Ha,” I said. “I’ve written for Brevity Blog, too.” And in reading this, I see we also attended a couple of the same sessions at AWP. Nice to meet you, Alexa!

  • Beth Peyton says:

    This piece is really nice. I loved the attributed quotes (hi, Mike Steinberg!), The unattributed ones, the beautiful things you haven’t quite processed yet. And the city! I’m with Robyn Ringler. Thank you for writing this!

  • T'chaka Sikelianos says:

    Words like these sound like they could be a Built to Spill song. I mean that as praise. This bird can write. Always has, always will. A pleasure to read your scratch you brilliant earthling.

  • pupsandprada says:

    I love this! You captured the conference atmosphere perfectly from the early sharp attention to every detail through to the “I’m just going to write what I like” mindset that sets in a after a few hours of presentations. One of my very favorite activities when visiting anywhere for a conference is to take advantage of free time and just explore. You captured the randomness of just experiencing places and people perfectly; one never knows what will be discovered or who will be met (or even just observed) in a new place. Thanks for the absolutely fantastic, enjoyable read!!

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