How to Win AWP by Cameron Witbeck
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been to AWP, I’d have one nickel—which is basically like five pennies. Sure, there are probably people out there with six, seven, maybe even ten nickels. But who are you going to go to for AWP advice? A guy with a bunch of nickels? He doesn’t care about you. He’s busy counting his nickels. He’s buying mini-tins of Altoids and hogging the penny-pony at the local Dollar Tree for twenty minutes at a time. You want AWP advice? Listen to me. I only have one nickel. And that nickel shines just for you.
- Surviving the Rut: Every year in the upper peninsula of Michigan, the woods are filled for a short period with nightmare sounds, pee-troughs, broken trees, and traumatized lumberjacks. This magical time is called the moose rut and when it comes you better watch your ass because fifteen hundred pounds of antlered, horny meat might come abounding for it. AWP is like the moose rut, but instead of moose, you have a bunch of tiny, flannelled word-elves slathering away at each other in a kava-tea soaked frenzy of “networking.” You’ll know you’re in the thick of this inverted mating ritual by the calls you’ll hear (i.e. “My work is post-post________,” “I only eat food that has committed suicide,” “Sorry, but I’m late for my Friday Google Hang with Ashbery and Bono,” etc.).To survive either the moose rut or AWP, you have to make a few concessions: 1.) Everything is going to smell like piss 2.) You’re going to be excited, confused, elated, and vaguely violated 3.) There will never be a climbable tree near enough to your current location.
- False-Flagging: Do you have a fake name to give needle-eyed memoirists, slack-panted fiction-thropes, or fuzz-toothed poets after an oddly heated debate about the location of the nearest restroom? If not, get one. Mine’s Billy Tumbler. Remember: it’s not networking if you both hate each other.
- What/Where/and When to Eat: Don’t. I know a guy that ate nothing but bananas, granola bars, and bank-suckers for the entire time he was at AWP. He became very ill.
- Picking Panels: When deciding which events you should attend during a busy day at AWP, you should ask yourself the following succession of questions: 1.) Are there any panels relevant to my graphic-novel-in-verse about the great Plankton-Walrus War of ought-six? 2.) If not, is there a panel filled with small, pliable poets that I can attend? 3.) If so, can I feasibly hijack a position on the aforementioned panel? 4.) Can I make them love me? 5.) Why won’t they just love me? 6.) I’m sorry, mom.
- The Book Fair-Chase Principle: Here’s a fun challenge: 1.) Take one issue from every table that’s giving out a free copy of their publication 2.) Say thank you 3.) While still in eyesight of the vendor (preferably while engaged in good-natured conversation) throw the publication in the trash 4.) Immediately pour whatever three-dollar rail drink you have clutched in your terrible little monkey paw into the same trash receptacle 5.) Smile.
- Off-site Events: A little known fact about AWP off-site events is that at every one of them there is a special VIP section reserved for Booker Prize winners, Azerbaijani diplomats, Toni Morrison, and (if you know the secret password) you.This year the “password” is a bit more complicated. To get in, you need to: 1.) Dress in historically accurate attire as a Founding Father who co-authored “The Federalist Papers” and/or was born in Haiti 2.) Brown-bag a twenty ounce (or larger) can of ice tea 3.) Translate all of the lyrics to “Gangam Style” to the regional dialect of East Frisian. Note: Initiation into AWP off-site events is based on the “blood in, blood out” model as popularized by Salvadorian gang MS-13.
Now you know what I know and you’re all the better for it. If you want to thank me, stop by the Passages North table at the book fair and ask for “Billy Tumbler.” I’ll be watching you.