AWP or Bust!
Apologies. I brought no camera, took no notes, and only soaked it in the event with no documentation, naked. The Loft has a Youtube, and hopefully you’ll be able to watch or relive the event. The waiting lines wound from the room entrance to the stairs, 2 hours early. There were camera and press and two packed overflow rooms. Maybe you’d prefer watching from home.
That’s another reason to apologize: I’m a complete newb in that I don’t understand the literary world, have only heard of AWP last year, and had never read most of writers before the reading. I would call this A Cherry-Girl’s Guide to the Bust Magazine Reading, but I’m worried about how the SEO will look on that. Anywho!
Bust is a third-wave feminist magazine you can read instead of Cosmo or Elle to improve, instead of harm, your mental health. Its scrappy origins reminds me of Paper Darts and really endears me to it. They cover topics as varied as vaporizer ratings, baby showers, and the espionage work of a black Jazz-age expatriate to Paris. The result is feminist in a chill, anything-goes, inclusive way. Copies came free with the reading, and there’s an interview with Amber Tamblyn, their poetry columnist.
The Bust reading line-up was accordingly all-female and sex-positive. The range was no less eclectic: from tongue-in-cheek sexually frustrated prose to sensual responses to microaggressions sublimated into poetry.
The host and the first was the aforementioned Amber Tamblyn with poetry from Dark Sparkler. Maybe you know her as an actress, maybe you didn’t know her acting made her a better poet. The theme of the collection she read from was the lives of child actresses, a personal topic that she handled with just enough pathos, just enough space, and just enough hot damn! So you don’t have to take my word for it, here’s her opening poem and her work, Jane Doe.
The second reader was my personal unexpected favorite, Franny Choi. And judging by the thunderous reception, my favorite reading of Pussy Monster was the room’s favorite. She had reorganized the words of Lil’ Wayne into an outburst of male insecurity. Here, you have to see it to understand. While you’re on her website, you might want to check out her latest collection, Floating, Brilliant, Gone.
As a POC of a different color, I’m intrigued by the ways I’m simultaneously like and unlike Choi. The theme of catcalling from her first poem, that’s universal. But the particulars of that catcalling, that’s the stuff of poetry.
Third on the list was xTx. I’ll go full cherry girl and admit that I still don’t know what to make of her. It felt like a rare sighting of an endangered species. I should have taken a photo.
In contrast to the performances of the readers before here, xTx read quietly, subtle stories. Her story Today I am a Wife from Today I Am A Book was a expression of quiet desperation. Her collection Normally Special was the first work put out by Tiny Hardcore Press, which is good press to remember for work as good as seen here. Here’s a vid of her swapping stories, just because. As a heads up, she won’t show her face.
A friend once told me that penises are funny because they’re floppy and external while vaginas are hidden and secretive, but it’s reasoning like that that keeps women off SNL. I want vaginas to be funnier, and that’s why what I loved about Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, another performer of a poet. She began by recounting an apology to her vagina for the sobriety following her breakup. Her collection The Year of No Mistakes centered around sex and the lack of it, relationships and their endings, emotions both good and ugly, and arguments in defense of them.
Finally came Roxane Gay, the lady of the hour. She’d received props from the the readers before her for accepting and promoting and inspiring their work. Her mag is Pank, her press is Tiny Hardcore Press, and you should see ample links to both above.
You may know Roxane Gay through her bestselling novel, An Untamed State, and her essay collection, Bad Feminist, but she chose to read uncollected short stories with wildly different tones: one was about her unrequited love for the hot UPS man and included several self-deprecating tweets; the other was a romance, of sorts, about the secret trysts of two close women married to other people.
The final reader, Patricia Smith, gave the crowd another hairpin-turn shift in tone. The 2014-2015 Loft Mentor, Slam poet, and all-around awesome award-winner was last, rightly given with her intensity. She began a work from Big Towns, Big Talk, “Doin’ the Louvre,” a two-girl romping through the Louvre in unrestrained joy, maybe inspiring the Mona Lisa to break free of stuffiness.
The final piece of the show was “The Five Stages of Drowning,” inspired by the real-life murders of two young black girls by their fathers. It reminded me why I hate poetry: formats and unexpected breaks that give you vertigo, emotions that cut you deep, and the deathly stillness that follows as you try to process all that you’ve felt.
There was silence for a while.
And then there was applause like that for a rock concert. Speaking as a first-timer in many ways, I want more of this. Yep. I think I’ve been hooked.