AWP Experience Day 1: How I learned to stop fighting and love dim-sum

I’ve decided to keep a daily journal of my experiences so far at my first AWP. This year’s conference seems so far to be particularly charged for two reasons: it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the conference and it’s in Washington, D.C. The recent election has really left an impact on both the people attending and the panels presenting. The panels, which were decided and approved upon months ago, have now taken on an increased urgency and (sometimes quite loudly expressed) anxiety. Two of the panels I attended yesterday–“Translation as Political Act” and “The Iranian Diaspoura as Cultural Ambassadors”–were particularly affected. Kristin Dykstra, a poet and translator of cuban writers who was one of the presenters at the former panel, expressed her anger in blunt, precise terms: the sudden fragility of the arts in academia, of her tenure, and of one of her translated poets, who was with her on a tour of his new book.

That being said, I don’t want to give the impression that the entire conference was dour. All of the Iranian writers (all women) who read at the Diaspoura panel were funny, energetic, and amazingly precise, both in their presented works and in their personal comments. I had a great conversation with a presenting translator about Afro-francophone literature in Cote d’Ivoire (!!!).

I’m still a little pressed that I slept in yesterday afternoon and missed the Raena Shirali book reading, but such is life. Plus, I ended the day by eating so much kimchi and ramen that I was practically glowing with sweat on the metro ride back to the hotel, so all in all, I can’t complain.

Few stray thoughts/comments:

  1. So far, the dining experience in D.C. has been A++.
  2. Big shout out to the translator of Japanese who introduced me to Ozaki Hosai, free-verse haiku, and a politics of poetry I didn’t even know existed.
  3. If you like poems that are mashups of Obama’s speeches and Serbian folk tales, or found poems consisting of google search phrases that will put you on a government watch list, go read Trebuchet by Danniel Schoonebeek immediately. I never would have known how much I needed this until I read it.
  4. Best heckle at a poetry reading: “Where is Nelson Mandela in these poems?”