Tuesday, February 28, 2012

AWP 2012 in Chicago, or, Why Do We Do This?

This blog has been silent for a while, and generally for very positive reasons that I will mention in later posts, but that is not the matter at hand.

More to the point, tomorrow I will be joining several thousand writerly types in one of the great annual rituals like the migration of Monarch butterflies or the spawning of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay.

In other words, I will be attending this year's conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Chicago, where I have lived and near where I grew up.

With airfare and hotel paid for, and no-cage boarding arranged for Roo the Rescue Dog, the only question remaining is Why am I doing this? With plenty of company I can ask Why Do We This?

It's not for the money. No one I know will be turning a profit. A few in academia may break even if their departments fund them, but such funds are increasingly hard to come by.

Yet money is far from the only currency exchanged. Like other fine arts and some performing arts, writing depends on other economies. One is the prestige economy of publications and professional activity that may eventually turn to tenure and grants, though for relatively few. Even in these cases the amounts of money involved would seem bafflingly small to a financier circa 2006. Presenting papers and giving readings, though, can yield a slice of that small pie. Sometimes overlapping with the prestige economy is the gift economy of networking, favors exchanged and trading in books, journals and swag of usually modest dimensions; this serves as the framework for no small amount of conviviality.

Even without a quid pro quo, more than a few genuinely enjoy advancing the professional and creative development of others and/or buying a broke graduate student a drink. The term for these feelings in economics is "warm glow altruism effects".

While I took no action toward the proposals noted in this space last year, I will come in with a plan, as discussed in detail by several other bloggers. The centerpiece of mine will be the event shown in the flyer above, an offsite meet-and-greet (and signing) by poets affiliated with WordTech Communications, the publisher of my 2005 collection Settling for Beauty and my August 2012 collection Labor Day at Venice Beach. With any luck I will also have the opportunity to visit the fine people of Accents Publishing and American Book Review (and that leaves 25 more letters to cover). I also hope to stop in with Salmon Poetry, publisher of the anthology Dogs Singing, the proceeds of which go to two dog rescue organizations.

Another distinct pleasure will be attending a few readings and panels to get off my feet for a little bit and, more importantly, to remind myself that we are there for the art.

This could be fun. Please feel free to introduce yourself if you see me, assuming my badge has the right side showing.