By BARRIE JEAN BORICH.
CHICAGO: Poems in the elevators. Poets in the hotel foyer. Editors in the coffee shop. Nonfiction writers on the plush carpeted stairs. Fiction writers heading for the lobby bar. Wednesday night was the eve of the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference and we know the party has started when the poetry movies begin playing in the elevators. I arrived early for a meeting, so in the morning walked through fairly a clear field, just a few furtive looks. Should I know you? Should I know YOU? But by 5 p.m. there are no open spaces.
How does one recognize a writer in a hotel lobby? Less because of who we are than because of who we are not. Who knows if the few well-heeled business travelers in cashmere coats, carrying meticulous briefcases, write poems when alone their high floor VIP suites, but we AWP writers do not come here to write. We come to talk. We come to promise each other e-mails. We come to hug on the street and say it’s been too long.
We know each other by our long loose hair or graying beards, our heavy frame hipster eyeglasses and knit hats and dazed just-off-the-shuttle smiles. Our black coats have dusty sleeves and our laptop bags are bulging. We shake hands and nod, try to flirt, or try not to flirt, make split second decisions on whether or not to return some stranger's gaze. A man in a peacock blue blazer joins a conversation between myself and another Minneapolis woman and we each assume the other knows him, but no, unless you count that meeting in the elevator. I have my picture taken with a line-up of Minnesota authors and someone asks if Twin Cities writers are one of the biggest contingents here? We might be; equal to Portland at least.
But all this is at 5 p.m. At 2 p.m. the first writer I see with Minnesota connections is one of my panelists, the memoirist Bonnie Rough, author of Carrier, just in from her current home in Seattle. I’m pleased to see her suitcase is bigger than mine. We hug, kiss on the cheek. I make a salty joke, and she laughs.
The conference has not yet begun and already we’re talking about the panel we want to do next year. We hug again and then we part, as she heads toward the elevator, where I’m sure the first thing she’ll notice will be the poems.
Barrie Jean Borich is Assistant Professor—The Creative Writing Programs at Hamline University, Creative Nonfiction Editor of Water~Stone Review, and Board Member and Editorial Committee Chair—VIDA: Women in Literary Arts