I agree with Janaka...that No Thousands reading was magic. I mean, once I got off the stage of course. I totally forgot all my poems (and some of Sam Starkweather's and Justin Marks' brand new Rope-A-Dope Press chapbooks) in the cab. And of course, I read first. Luckily the nice folks at The Empty Bottle let me print out my poems behind the bar. Anyway, I was a mess. But the rest of it was like, religious. Some poets I hadn't read before (thanks to Octopus and Cannibal) and some I already loved dearly and now love even more. I thought a couple of the readers were going to cry (including Dean Young), and at least one of my friends in the audience was so moved that she had to leave and go reevaluate things. Literally. And she's a fiction writer who doesn't normally read poetry.
But, while this happened near AWP, it wasn't part of AWP, thus proving my 10% AWP theory, which basically states that about 10% (and I think that is pretty generous) of AWP is even the slightest bit interesting. Picture yourself walking through the gargantuan book fair. Count the tables you see...1, 2, 3, 4, oh...sweet. a cool one, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. see. one in ten. Now picture yourself flipping through the AWP schedule thingy. At ther very most you dog-ear or highlight one panel/reading in ten. Max.
So, why do we go? To check out those one in ten things, sure. To see a couple of panels, to visit small presses and journals at their tables. But mostly to see our friends who have moved away and to go to off-site events after the bookfair closes. Do we get a 90% discount? I certainly didn't. Therefore, here's what I propose:
1. We somehow get AWP to have a higher percentage of good shit. They have to notice that the off-site schedule is getting bigger and bigger each year--that has to tell them that the on-site things are getting less and less relevant, no?
2. Since that is highly unlikely and prolly not worth the energy, maybe we could get AWP to offer different levels of registration. Like all-inclusive (panels and bookfair), panels only, and most importantly, bookfair only. That way you could pay for what you are actually there to do.
3. Since that is also highly unlikely and also prolly not worth the energy, I say we start a new conference. I think we could easily get 500-1000 people to attend an alternative conference in which all the on-site stuff would be as interesting as the off-site stuff. And it would be free. Yes, free. I don't know how he did it, but Matt Henriksen, this past fall, put on the Frank Stanford Poetry Festival down in Fayetteville, AK. I'm not sure how many ended up coming, but there was no registration. As long as you showed up, you were able to attend the panels and readings, 100% of which were interesting. It was a revelation.
Why then, wouldn't a bunch of us be able to put on a more general AWP-type conference in the same way, featuring craft and po-biz panels, readings, after-hour stuff, etc. And of course, a bookfair.
Here's where my theory is imperfect. Janaka says that as a book seller, it helps to have 5000 people milling about. And I can understand that. Maybe this is why option #2 might be the most feasible solution. Anyway, just some post-AWP angst.