be inspired

What frees you is not words but rather someone’s presence — their actual being.  That is the scripture you must attend to.

~ Coleman Barks, 1 March 2014 AWP Seattle

Most of us who attend academic conferences usually hit up just enough panels to write a convincing report we can submit along with our airfare and hotel receipts and then spend the rest of our time whooping it up with our colleagues, yelping the finest restaurants, hobnobbing in swanky watering holes, wandering museums and strolling through street markets and local boutiques.  You know, present your paper and attend just enough of the conference to prove you actually went and deserve the $1000 check to cover your river boat cruise and bar tab.  Well I have to say, this is the first conference I’ve attended where I’ve done zero sightseeing.  No Space Needle.  No Pikes Place Market.  No Pioneer Square.  So much of nothing I couldn’t even tell you what all I missed out on because I never even looked at a guide book to know otherwise.  Not even one visit to a bookstore!  Instead, I went to, and get this people, twenty discussion panels.  Two Zero.  Twenty panels!!  That is on average about six one hour and fifteen minute panels per day.  Listening.  Sitting.  Listening some more.  But instead of panels comprised primarily of grad students padding their CVs or assistant profs on a steady march toward tenure — a droning drum beat of dry academic research followed by pedantic questions from the audience — each session at AWP featured professional writers, editors and publishers sharing practical advice and reading from their work.  It was a communion of kindred spirits, a celebration of the radiance and wonder of the written word.  As one of my favorite writers Brian Doyle said on Thursday, of why stories matter.  How we should catch and tell stories.  How, if we tell the right story at the right time, the universe will move an inch.  AWP: A creative hangover so vast and deep it will (hopefully) take me weeks to recover, but what an absolute joy.

The more awareness the more the soul . . .

. . . She has what soul loves to flow into.

She’s kind.  She weeps.

She makes quick personal decisions.

And she laughs so easily.

~ Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks and read at AWP Seattle March 1, 2014

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my #awp14 itinerary

AWP2014I’m about to head to my first AWP Conference and before I’ve even gotten on the plane, I can’t see straight.  The drum beat leading up to this conference of 15,000 writers, publishers, editors, teachers and so on began about a month ago, and between the tweets and emails and blog posts hawking this reading or that book signing, I am utterly overwhelmed.  Not only are there about four sessions on my itinerary for every hour in the day and a drool-inducing bookfair to wander around, but there are colleagues with dinner reservations and friends with access to VIP receptions and invitations to cocktail parties masquerading as poetry readings.  Calgon!!  A dear friend who has been going to this bookish party for ten years sent me an article she just wrote called “How to Make a Fool of Yourself at AWP,” and I am scared, people.  This is the same friend who used to leave strange boys sleeping on my couch in college, only instead of Grateful Deadheads or fraternity brothers, now they’re likely to be published poets or friends of Barack Obama (read her funny article).  Don’t get me wrong.  I am looking forward to the intellectual coma this is sure to put me in, but remember that I am essentially creeping out of the Mom Cave for the first time here so to speak.  I’m anxiously anticipating a pack of wolves with red markers in their hands.  Unabashed self-promoters with wet ink and a surly quip — you know, grad school posturing all over again, lord help me!  Maybe I’ve got it all wrong.  I probably do.  And gosh darn it, even if I don’t have a book out, I’m still a pretty good, um, blogger.  Oh, Lord help me.

:: I’ve selected a characteristically eclectic mix of offerings focused on blogging, publishing, star gazing, teaching and writing as spiritual practice.  For a sampling of the literary stardust I’ll be dancing in at AWP, check out some of the events I’ve got lined up: [Read more…]

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who said anything about cake?

Let them have As.



UPDATE:  It really has come to this–English teachers, admit it!  And then read “The End of the Essay” by Rebecca Schuman via

Some choice cuts:

Students of the world: You think it wastes 45 minutes of your sexting time to pluck out three quotes from The Sun Also Rises, summarize the same four plot points 50 times until you hit Page 5, and then crap out a two-sentence conclusion? It wastes 15 hours of my time to mark up my students’ flaccid theses and non sequitur textual “evidence,” not to mention abuse of the comma that should be punishable by some sort of law—all so that you can take a cursory glance at the grade and then chuck the paper forever.

What’s more, if your average college-goer does manage to read through her professor’s comments, she will likely view them as a grievous insult to her entire person, abject proof of how this cruel, unfeeling instructor hates her. That sliver of the student population that actually reads comments and wants to discuss them? They’re kids whose papers are good to begin with, and often obsessed with their GPAs. I guarantee you that every professor you know has given an A to a B paper just to keep a grade-grubber off her junk. (Not talking to you, current students! You’re all magnificent, and going to be president someday. Please do not email me.)

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