The AWP conference is here in LA. Hard to believe it’s already been three years since I attended the one in Boston. Remarkably, depressingly, I recognize almost none of the presenters and panelist on this year’s program. That’s partly why I didn’t register to attend. Well, that and the fact that the real fun happens after the conference, in the off-site gatherings. I went to some last night (it was great to take the metro there, even though I have to drive just to get to the metro—this is LA, after all). First, happy hour at a cramped bar downtown that clearly was not prepared for the deluge of thirsty, penurious, literary types. It was sponsored in part by The Common literary journal, and I had the chance to catch up with my friend John Hennessy, who is the editor. Someone actually asked for my card. Do poets have cards?!? I suppose they should, especially in this digital age. There’s something romantically and quaintly anachronistic about it. I don’t get out much, especially not to literary gatherings (if such things even happen in LA). I must say, there’s a wonderful, comfortable feeling that comes from looking over a crowd and thinking, “these are my people,” even if you’ve never met any of them before, and may never see them again. Also, a fun game for literary gatherings: try to guess the genre of the person you’re meeting before they tell you. You’ll probably be right more than chance would dictate.
After happy hour, a brisk walk up Flower took us to the Standard hotel for a reading that included a very old friend from college who has finally found a publisher for the novel she’d been working on for well over a decade. Yet another poetry reading followed—it was supposed to take place in the Library Bar, but was relocated to the much quieter and introspective District, in the basement of the Sheraton. One poet from Brazil read long lyrical passages in mellifluous Portuguese; most of them seemed to be paeons to love, requited and un-, which seemed so quintessentially Brazilian. As for some of the other readers, many of their poems left me somewhat nonplussed, but it was all the more encouraging to see writers following their own muses, regardless of readership or critical acclaim. On the other hand, I also got to chat with John’s wife, the novelist Sabina Murray, who regaled me with tales of fine dining with her publisher. That sort of thing doesn’t happen to poets very often. Though I suppose that’s not entirely true—I’ll be heading downtown again tonight for a family-style dinner hosted by my publisher. Then, the plan is to head to the PEN party, where I hope to run in to a few more distant friends. It’s strange to feel part of a literary community. I think I could get used to it.