AWP happened this weekend. I chose not to attend and I read instead in Iowa City, at Prairie Lights with fellow Iowa Hawkeye and Chicago poet extraordinare Chris Glomski.
I have attended AWP twice once in Chicago and once in Austin Texas and each time I have come away with allot of cheap and great books and a sense that what is wrong with poetry is encapsulated by what is wrong with AWP.
Poetry is a lifestyle hoice.
To be a poet is the be inducted into a community that has at its center a love of language and a revulsion of ease and simple answers. Poets are those people who encapsulate what is to be critiqued and to be discussed and in Ezra's words make things new always.
AWP is the conference of writing programs. While I think that writing programs are important and needed I feel that one of the problems with poetry today is the standardization of poet's lives. Many poet's feel that the way to build a life as a poet is to get an MFA and then get a teaching job so that you have time to write. Arielle Greenberg in her seminal essay on this subject put it well - the MFA is where you obtain connections to get a good job and build a poetic network. How many poet's in writing programs are older? How many are working class? How many are non traditional? How many have actually lived as adults?
The trajectory of networking has nothing to do with poetry and has everything to do with money and power. Poetry requires risk and requires living in the world as it exists. Jen Scappettone told me once that you need to live your life and see where the poetry takes you- to live on the edge.
Nothing of the sort is happening at AWP. AWP is a place to make connections and to professionalize yourself. But being a 'professional' poet is ludacris unless you are Pablo Neruda. As poets retreat into academia and are published by ever smaller presses and websites they abrogate their prophetic role and retreat into hipsterdom.
In the end getting together with other poets for mutual strokes is ok- but it is not poetry. Poetry requires active engagement with language and with life. When I was in Iowa City this weekend after our reading I realized that in the end does poetry matter? Of course it does-- but another question is worth asking- if you were to be executed for being a poet would your work cause you to be killed? If it would not maybe you should rethink being a poet?