Tampa, baby!

I am 75% packed for the AWP Conference in Tampa next week. Why am I packed so early? It looks like it will be 80 degrees, and I need shoes!

I’m a planner. More important,  I’m psyched for the trip! The suitcase becomes a visual reminder that I get to run away for a week and be with my poetry peeps!

My involvement with AWP the organization has changed over the years. I vaguely remember the early days when it was based in Norfolk, VA at my alma mater Old Dominion University (late 80s). I *think* I may have even crossed paths with Executive Direction David Fenza way back when. My first conference was New Orleans-- probably not the best place for a first timer. All I remember is Pat O's.

For the heck of it, I looked up the previous conferences. These are the ones I've attended.

2002: New Orleans, Louisiana
2003: Baltimore, Maryland
2007: Atlanta, Georgia
2008: New York, New York
2010: Denver Colorado
2011: Washington, DC
2013: Boston, Massachusetts
2014: Seattle, Washington
2015: Minneapolis, Minnesota
2016: Los Angeles, California
2017: Washington, DC

I have a thing about attending Midwest conferences during the winter. That changed, of course, with Minneapolis.

Atlanta was special. That year, I took my 9-month-old daughter, and it was the last time I spent time with Phebus Etienne. She passed away soon after. All of them have their own unique vibe. I can tell you chapter and verse about the weird joy-- the strange magic--of each conference.

From MFA student, to novice writer, to emerging poet, to published author, to professor/exec director, to board member, it’s been quite a ride. My relationship with AWP has outlived my marriage, a few jobs, and my favorite pair of jeans.

I approach every conference with a goal, otherwise the conference becomes overwhelming. Here's my plan:

  • Map out my schedule the night before
  • Exercise early, like crack-of-dawn early (read: rooftop pool)
  • 30-minute freewrite, every damn day
  • Pack provisions: extra cords and chargers, water bottle, pens, business cards, Kind bars, hand sanitizer, mints, tea bags.
  • Go to at one session a day, at least
  • Hit the book fair in the morning, when everyone is fresh
  • Find an hour of time midday to unplug/step in the sun
  • Figure out where the bathrooms off the beaten path are
  • Go to one or two off-sites in the evening
  • Say hi to EVERYONE!
  • Don’t stay out too late (this will be hard)
Saying hi to everyone is most important to me. What can I say? I crave connection, now more than ever.

For the past two years, I’ve been so focused on board duties (because I want to do a good job), and Mass Poetry work (because I want to do a good job), that I didn’t do half of the things on this list last year or the previous year. Not this time.

I will wrap up grading and Mass Poetry work before the conference (yahoo!), which is why my suitcase is packed one week in advance. Just one less thing to think about.

If you see me in the halls or sessions or book fair, please say hello.

See you in Tampa!


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