Me and Michelle took a cab to Cielo Gallery, which was hosting a series called “The Rejected” of panels that weren’t accepted for AWP. Michelle had been invited by our friend to participate in a panel, even though she wasn’t on the original version that was rejected.
The LA Times touted the “Rejected” panels as a productive antidote or protest to the privilege and homogeneity of the official conference:
“For two days, CIELO gallery in South L.A. featured panels and readings that had been rejected by AWP — all addressing issues related to marginalization — and the organizers hired an American Sign Language interpreter for all the panels.”
Which isn’t quite how it happened, at least as far as I saw. Michelle’s panel started at 4:30, and we arrived a little early, probably around 4. There was another panel in progress, so we walked in quietly and sat in the audience. All the people on Michelle’s panel were already there, watching the speakers politely.
It was a cool gallery, a warehouse space on a residential street corner. The panel was interesting–five poets, all people of color, and as far as I could tell, they were describing how sound played into their poetics. I wasn’t completely sure about some of the points they were making, partially because we came in late, but more pressingly, because a neighboring building was blasting top 40 dance tunes right outside the gallery’s aluminum wall. So an Indigenous poet was explaining the relationship between poetry and lost languages, in a mumbly voice, his hand half-covering his mouth in a gesture of shyness, and behind him, as though a soundrack, “All about that bass, ’bout that bass…”
There was not an ASL interpreter, which is too bad because that might have been helpful.
Still, undaunted, the panel talked. And talked and talked. Soon it was 4:30–still one presenter to go. Did the moderator not realize that another panel was scheduled, right now? Hard to say. The final presenter presented, without urgency. Then it was 4:45, and the moderator looked at her watch.
“It looks like we have time for a few questions,” she said.
No one from Michelle’s panel protested, because this panel, like their own, represented the marginalized, and you’d have to be an asshole to interrupt the marginalized.
People asked questions and the panel answered, while we sat in the audience and waited.
At 5pm, the moderator said, “Any more questions? I know we’ve gone a bit over, but I think we can still take one more question.”
No one offered, so she said, “Well, I have a question. I’d like everyone on the panel to answer it. How–” (I shit you not) “–has sense of place affected your poetics, and also how do you define identity for yourself and how does that identity find expression in your writing?”
The moderator of Michelle’s panel left.
Everyone explained where they had lived and how it affected their poetics and how they defined their identities and how that found expression in their writing.
The neighbors ran out of top 40 dance tunes and went silent.
At 5:15, they stopped talking. As the surviving members of Michelle’s panel assembled themselves at the speakers’ table, the long-winded panel and their audience went into the adjoining room (separated by a thin screen) and had a very loud, lively conversation, returning frequently to interrupt our panel for items they had left behind at the table–phone chargers, backpacks, sweatshirts.
“It feels pretty shitty to be rejected by the rejected,” Michelle said when it was her turn.
The small remaining audience sat through the panel of our friends, trying to look pleasant and encouraging, until the moment they were done and we were all out the door.
Worst AWP experience ever!!!
And it wasn’t even at AWP.
Michelle suggested we cheer up with dinner at her favorite childhood tourist spot, Olvera Street, the oldest neighborhood in Los Angeles. We almost called a cab, but Google said it was a twenty-five minute walk.
At least it was warm and sunny as we walked through the garment district (or they call it the fashion district), past warehouses and wholesalers closed for the day, walked and walked and walked and walked until the sun began to set and we were in the theater district, and now mysteriously forty minutes from Olvera street. Then we bought some falafel, took a cab back to the hotel, and called it a night.