Defining Space: Post AWP Thoughts


The Solo Artist – 1992
Originally uploaded by Paul L. Nettles

I’m still organizing my thoughts post-AWP with a draft of a blog post about having the cultural capital to be able to create my own space within AWP and, by extension, the poetry world.  Well, I don’t really mean THE poetry world as much as I mean MY poetry world.  It’s a pretty self-centered notion but one that I’ve discovered is the only way to go if I’m going to keep my sanity and inspiration.

I keep thinking back to the excellent Fire & Ink Reading at AWP, a display of community motivated poets who work in and around academia, sharing their stories of survival and inspiration in the treacherous but fulfilling world of activist poetry.  At the end of the reading, one woman asked how does she find this same sense of fulfillment when all the AWP folks she encounters seem incredibly uninterested in activist poetry–Where can she find acknowledgment?

I was lucky enough to speak with her after the panel and I gave her my own answer–You gotta look elsewhere, create your own support; cuz if you turn to one direction for it and it ain’t there, then you need to turn to another direction for it.  Find a different way.

And that’s it right there.  Poetry Survival 101: Define Your Space.  You have to or else you’re gonna be sucked into someone else’s.  Simple enough advice but it’s a piece of advice I keep forgetting for mahself.

Case in point: I’m reading Craig’s post on the Harriet blog, Whitewashing American Hybrid Aesthetics, and I want to engage it and call out the editors of this anthology and everyone who thinks its the greatest thing since white bread (wink) but then I think: Why do I even want to deal with a whole subsection of poetry that doesn’t speak to me?

We’re not talking the metaphoric speak, I’m saying that if I was in the same room with these folks at AWP, very few would give me the time of day unless they saw me in the company of other poets in the ethnic avant-grade. That’s the real real. I’ve had it happen to me before and it’ll probable happen again. And you know what, I’m cool with it because I don’t want to get sucked into that kind of energy.

Now the fact that I do now many poets in the ethnic avant-garde, many of whom manipulate language and poetry in wonderful, fascinating and political ways, is probable why I did speak on this anthology before and wrote a flash review of the 2/3s of the book I did read.

I’d like to think it was a good attempt to draw attention to how this anthology is trying to create an artificial center for hybrid poetry and place itself right in the eye of a faux hurricane that it more dank air and water pistols than anything else. But I doubt it, I think all I did was try to converse with a poetry that doesn’t actually speak to me (in the metapohric sense).

I’m glad Craig wrote what he did and I’m sure it’ll generate good response. I’m glad there are many serious wordsmiths writing hybrid poetry who continue writing it despite not being acknowledged in this anthology. And I’m glad I wrote this post, if only to remind me that walking away is an essential step in making my own way.

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

2 thoughts on “Defining Space: Post AWP Thoughts”

  1. yo, i like your review of the anthology. such a strange anthology, imho.

    and i def feel you about defining your space. i feel like my space at AWP, in the last 3 years i’ve gone, has always been at the book fair…either at the tinfish table, achiote press table, or this year the omnidawn table. i feel most comfortable talking to people about the press or my books or other peoples books from these wonderful presses. i feel like that kind of one-on-one interaction with actual readers is really powerful. and i learn so much about what people are interested in, what makes them engage with a press’ mission, and what makes them actually do that wondrous yet simple act of buying a book. that’s my AWP space.

    word,
    c

  2. That’s what I’m talkin about: name that space.

    For me, that space was learning from panels, connecting with old friends and being friendly to new faces. I think this means I haven’t actually carved out a space of my own but all good things with time.

    Sorry I didn’t get to connect with ya at AWP but, lucky me, I get to see ya most of the year here in the Bay.

    Palabra.

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