Arriving Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta, after checking in, I went outside. The temperature was 75 degrees, cloudless blue sky. Amazing day. I sat there on the sidewalk, sunning, watching the swarm arrive. Reb was the first person I saw that I knew, at least via the blog, and she gave me my first of many hugs. I believe the next person I saw arrive was Sandra Beasley. I went inside soon after. Around 3 or 4 o'clock people began arriving in waves. The Hilton's computers went down for around thirty minutes. The check-in line nearly snaked out the back of the hotel.
That night a group of us gathered for dinner. Ander mentioned, jokingly, that a Hooters was two blocks up the street. None of us had ever been. It seemed like fate or destiny but in reality it was only a bad idea. I wasn't really prepared for how uniquely and aggressively unpleasant the whole experience was. Not to mention the bad food. Someone, she will remain nameless but she will be repaid in kind, oh yes, alerted a waitress that it was my birthday, hence the picture of the girls flanking me. I said my name was Barry and I was 17. They didn't blink. In truth, my birthday is next week.
Beginning about then, the rest of AWP becomes a profane blur. Thursday morning I hit the book fair, which was intensely disorienting due to its casino-like vibe and confusing layout: it was all rooms and rooms and rooms and ante-rooms and no windows and no air and no time and 5,000 people milling about. I never quite got my bearings the whole time. I wanted to go to the Prairie Schooner Prize reading, which I wasn't part of due to my book not being out. About 11:15 I decided I'd begin making my way towards the elevator so I'd have time to make the noon reading. I didn't find the elevator until 12:05. I felt bad, like I was making a bad impression, not showing up to the people who are, you know, publishing my book. I'd eventually meet Hilda Raz and the whole gang, however, so all was well.
With this AWP being held in Atlanta, there was a huge contingent of Alabama folks running around and it was a great, almost surprising pleasure to see them. Surprising because my time there was so mixed. It felt good, like a reunion on some small scale.
I had one brief, deliciously thwarted little brush with "fame". I was walking through the book fair. I heard someone say, "Is that Paul Guest? I think that's Paul Guest." I turned around. The person greeted me, saying, "We've never met..." We had actually met 3 or 4 times. So if you're scoring at home, I'm recognizable but ultimately unmemorable. I love that story because it's healthy. It's like a little poem.
Actually, I did meet a lot of people who read this blog, which was neat and a little strange in that I never really seem to realize more than a handful of people stop by. So to everyone that said hi, hi back.
Also lots of fun to see students from places I've read over the last year, especially Virginia Tech. Hi to you guys.
Strange, a little, to run into faculty members at places where I interviewed. Not unpleasant, certainly, just a little hiccup of strange.
Mary Biddinger had signed a copy of her book for me, which was impossibly sweet. John Gallaher is a cool dude. Charles Jensen is tall and quiet and nice and we shared an elevator on Sunday just before I left. Reb is way cute.
Thursday my phone piped up with 5 voice mail messages out of the blue. My phone is cheap and kind of flaky. It was the chair of a search committee hoping to interview me. Good news there. Apparently, he'd been trying to reach me since last week. So I called from the coffee shop we were sitting in and set up the interview. Wish me luck.
Kevin Prufer and I have the same exact phone. Martha Collins is adorable. I asked Michael Martone to adopt me. Or give me his leonine mane of hair. One or the other, his choice. He declined to do either.
At the Graywolf reading, sound was a problem. People in the back of the crowded room had trouble hearing. Ander, the last to read, tried to remedy this, practically bellowing to see if they could hear. It was a moment from Spinal Tap: he was turned up to 11. This didn't stop me from yelling "LOUDER" like people always do. A good laugh at that.
Mark Doty's reading of Lynda Hull's poems was awesome.
Alex Lemon and I ran into each other approximately 17,000 times.
The funniest line of the weekend, or almost any other weekend ever, by Mark Ehling, cannot even come close to being mentioned here. Don't even ask. Just know that it was sweet, sweet poetry.
We talked our way into the wine bar, closed for a private function that apparently 5 people were attending, atop the Hilton, 25 stories high. The view was pretty great.
The sweet lady who gave me free coffee and tea for us all is to be honored.
I was accosted by the editor of one journal, in jest, for passing by without speaking until I told him I was talking to a pretty girl. Say no more, he said.
Free stuff: a frisbee, a slap bracelet, a change purse, a Bear Bryant button, multiple journals, stickers, faux tattoo, candy, book on syntax, business cards, a fly swatter.