AWP is a boring-ass literary convention where literary people host these shitty panels with names like “How Passion Fuels Professionalism” and have a book fair where all the small presses and magazines set their books on tables in these huge convention rooms and people walk around dull-eyed trying to find a book they’ve heard of or to spot someone they know from the internet. Many of my internet writer friends like to skip the convention and just go to the off-site readings and parties in whatever city it’s being held in.
After last year’s event, in Chicago, my home city at the time, my good friend, Steve Roggenbuck, edited a video together that featured funny moments from a party/reading held that Saturday night:
Steve and I met when I saw his blog in 2010 and invited him to contribute to my magazine, Pop Serial; Steve coincidentally was about to move to Chicago. Steve is a funny as hell guy who’s real good at poetry but decided to transcend it and just being good at living life altogether. He has taught countless teenagers and tweens online what he calls the way of the boost.
To “boost” is to do or be such that yourself and others experience greater happiness and quality of life — one can boost in so many ways; for instance, by liking a large number of someone’s profile photos in a row, creating a veritable waterfall of likes on the person’s screen; by enthusiastically petting a wild or domestic animal; by lying facedown in the grass while screaming or emitting no sounds at all; or by simply drinking juice while thinking, “I am drinking juice — wow!”
Steve has also popularized such words as “frick,” “fricking,” “YOLO,” “666,” and “lief” (as in, “c’mon ya little shitbaby, live your lief!”).
I think of Steve as my brother — he’s the best friend I’ve made since early childhood. I love his spirit and what he says and does. Since quitting grad school Steve has traveled America for a year and been profiled by The New York Times. To me he’s the most exciting poet alive.
I knew I would see Steve this weekend and many other good writer friends and people I’d never met before. In a cab to Cambridge I texted Alex Vance, a Facebook friend and fellow writer from the same online scene who, despite never having met me and having almost no prior interaction, had kindly agreed to let me stay at his apartment along with some other mutual writer friends. We talked as he made dinner and we drank some wine. I remember saying it was nice that two of my favorite contemporary writers, Steve and Heiko Julién, were also two of my favorite friends.
Vance and I arrived at my first event of the weekend, Literature Party, thrown by HTMLGIANT and Publishing Genius, and my friends Alex Seedman and Kelsea Basye (aka Moon Temple) were outside the entrance to the building. To me Moon Temple looks like a cross between a cat and a goth Michelle Williams. I had met her at New Years in New York but hadn’t gotten to talk to her much until afterwards, on gchat. Seedman has been one of my good friends since moving to New York. He is a tall, handsome, well-dressed man who gets along well with seemingly everyone.
Inside Literature Party looked like a high school dance. Adam Robinson, poet and Publishing Genius founder, was playing guitar onstage while wearing leather pants. I noticed he had shaved off his big beard.
I ran into a lot of friends: Sarah Jean Alexander (who formed a trio with me and Seedman all weekend), Marshall Mallicoat, PeterBd, Elaine Sun, Maggie Lee, Andrew Worthington, Scott McClanahan, Shaun Gannon, DJ Berndt, Stephen Michael McDowell, Theo Thimo, Will Bechtold, Nathan Masserang, James Tadd Adcox, Jess Dutschmann, Carrie Lorig, David Fishkind, Andrew James Weatherhead, Cassandra Troyan — a bunch of people. I saw Steve. I gave everyone a hug.
I met some more people for the first time who I knew online: people like Cameron Pierce of Lazy Fascist Press, with his wife, Kirsten Alene, Michael J. Seidlinger, and Alexander J. Allison, who had flown in from England.
We left the party and called cabs. Most of our friends slept at Vance’s.
The next day we went to the book fair at the AWP conference. We wandered the book fair floor for a while. I said it reminded me of an antiques roadshow and said other disparaging things about the book fair, AWP, small presses, indie lit, literary people, etcetera. We went to the food court (the conference was in an event space inside a mall). Seedman had Panda Express and Sarah Jean Alexander and I drank coffee and charged our phones. We viewed a woman at a nearby table plucking hairs from her upper lip in a cosmetic mirror for more than five minutes. We went back to Vance’s to nap.
We met up with Scott Krave, another Facebook friend I had never met before, for dinner at Veggie Galaxy. On the way to dinner Seedman noticed a sex shop and immediately darted in to buy poppers. We had a big group. Vance’s friend Kachina joined us. I had a Chipotle black bean burger.
That night’s reading was in someone’s basement in Roxbury. We arrived a little late and it was crowded. The basement was dark and unfinished — I could picture a crust punk show in this basement.
We hung out in a room to the side of the crowd that someone dubbed the Xanax Annex. Scott Krave had given Theo Thimo his good-quality camera and Theo and others were taking a lot of photographs. Moon Temple read while smoking a cigarette (her hand was shaking). People reacted most loudly when she asked if anyone liked Yu-Gi-Oh!
I read a piece published on Thought Catalog: “Instead of a Quarter-Life Crisis, I’m Just Being Myself, Which Is An Insane Person.” Ellen Kennedy was supposed to read, too, but Marshall said she probably wasn’t coming.
Steve Roggenbuck read, accompanied by music. He was charming, high-energy, funny, moving, and improvisational, as always. His energy was particularly high at this event. Me and some of our friends were standing in the front row and people finished some of his most memorable lines as he said them. He read poems and tweets and bantered with the audience; he read from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Steve called me onstage to read from our collab ebook, I Love Music (we had planned to maybe do it but I wasn’t sure if we would). I took off my shirt and hugged him from behind, mimicking the cover photograph from the ebook. I told someone earlier I don’t feel inhibitions as much anymore.
Steve’s reading was going very well. I kept looking at people’s faces in the crowd that I didn’t know and imagining them being really into the reading or maybe even having their mind blown, that a poet was this entertaining to watch. At one point the smoke alarm went off and someone immediately ripped it down to quiet it, inducing cheers from the crowd. Steve was jumping up and down, reading with great passion. I felt like we needed to respond to him, we needed to do something.
His reading ended and Moon Temple went in for a hug. Sarah Jean said “group hug” and everyone in the crowd closed in around Steve and hugged him. Someone stepped on the extension outlet and the lights went out as we hugged. The lights came back on and everyone slowly moved apart.
The upstairs living room became a photoshoot/meet and greet/poppers area. Ellen Kennedy arrived. She had come after all.
Everyone hugged and took photos. Adam Robinson and Melissa Broder arrived. Ellen was going to read. Steve told her to read an embarrassing poem from her book.
Ellen read tweets and the poem, which was hilarious and concerned pooping. There was lots of laughter.
People started saying goodbye upstairs. I made sure to say goodbye to Sam Sangermano, who I knew from Facebook and New Years in New York.
We took the train back to Vance’s. We ordered veggie pizza from Dominoe’s and I was asleep when Moon and Theo left.
We said goodbye to Alex Vance and his friends and Stephen Michael McDowell.
Seedman, Sarah Jean, and I took the Megabus back to New York.
We talked about insecurities, relationships, poppers. Our voices sounded so loud because everyone around us was silent or asleep.