Back from West Chester, Volume 1

I wanna put on, my my my my my flat shoes!

LoL, my feet are sore, my body's exhausted, my mind is absolutely full...

Time to step back and digest all of this, decompress... something like that.

Shall I start from the beginning: My First West Chester Experience.

In case by now you haven't figured, I went to West Chester Poetry conference for the first time this year. I returned just yesterday. I received a scholarship to go, and was invited to participate in Dana Gioia's juried poetry workshop on the Poetic Line. How could I turn this opportunity down? So, I didn't. All by my lonesome self, I put on my big girl panties and went. I arrived knowing no one, and left with many many wonderful friends!

Day 1.

I woke at 2am. Why did I even go to bed? Yeah, er, that's a good question! My plane was scheduled to leave at 5:30am out of Brownsville. My dad was coming for me at 3:30 since, it's a bit of a drive out to Btown. Anyway, that eve I was way too giddy to sleep. Ok more nervous than anything else, since, well, this was a big deal for me.

After saying goodbyes to my dad, I went through security at the dinky Brownsville airport and sat, fiddling with my fingers, waiting to board the plane. Jovita Gonzalez's Dew on the Thorn kept me grounded, distracted, and feeling stereotypically 'El Valle' throughout the whole trip :)

I went from Brownsville, to Houston (got a little lost at the airport, but was helped out by a very nice old lady), and ran ran ran to catch my plane to Philadelphia. I was like, the last one on the plane. It was so embarressing. And then, me, being cheap, didn't check any baggage. So I'm lugging everything as a 'carry on'. My overstuffed suitcase wouldn't fit in the overhead bins :'(. So embarressing... I had to unpack my shoe collection and stuff various shoes in my purse, book bag, ect. before it finally fit. OMG. But I managed, and we took off. Phew! My neighbor was not happy to be seated next to me, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, again, I disappeared into the world of Jovita Gonzalez, feeling more homesick than ever.

When I arrived in Philly, I realized I'd have a few hours before my shuttle to West Chester would arrive. So I had lunch, surfed the web (reread Dana Gioia's essay Can Poetry Matter so I wouldn't sound like a ding dong), before heading down to the baggage claim area where the driver was to meet me.

And that's where it began... as I walked down those steps, my eyes scanning the area for a "West Chester" sign, I heard a someome ask, "are you a poet"? Huh? I looked around. Two ladies, sitting on a bench together, waved me down. One has short, dyed red hair, the other long white/blonde hair tied up in a pony. They both looked very poet-like, a little older.

I nodded, surprised. I wasn't wearing an I'm a poet t-shirt... "West Chester," the short haired one asked and again I nodded.

"How did you know?" I was just a tad afraid.

"It's the look on your face!" She answered with a smile and a laugh. "Poets have this, glazed over look of fear and excitement. Can spot them from a mile away. I'm Barbara, and this is Tina." We shake hands.

"Katie," I answer, sitting down next to Barbara.

"Katie, from Eratosphere?"

I laugh. "Yeah! That's me!" Ok, now I'm starting to feel a little bit better. It turns out this woman and I had chatted a few times on Eratosphere, the online poetry workshop. She introduced me to her friend, Tina, who - like me, is a WC first timer, and primiarly a 'free verser'. So phew, I wasn't the only one. We proceed to talk about all things poetry - publishing, writing, form vs. free verse, reading... before I knew it, we had a little crowd of poets gathering around us, and the West Chester experience began. At the airport, I met another young girl, Tara (who, is blonde, 24, and from Texas... just like me...) and Bill, an attorney from Minneapolis.

Eventually the shuttle came and totted us to the West Chester campus. The ride was about 30 minutes long, so while on the way I learn that I know Bill, too, from Eratosphere! I'm really glad I started posting on that site :)

When we get to the dorms, we all check in - and I need a moment of peace. I sit up in my dorm, call my BruBru and let him know I'm doing well, and freshen up to get ready for the evening reception/dinner. I head over to the union - and when I open the door I was filled with this overwhelming nervousness. It was like going to a party, and knowing no one. Everywhere I looked, groups were talking, people were laughing and sipping their wine. Great... just great... not a familiar face in sight.

Until, about a minute passes! :D Tara, from the airport, sees me from the crowd and comes up to me. "Let's get some wine," she suggests, and we preceed to talk about how we're both a bit overwhelmed, nervous, out of place, but now at least we're feeling this together ;)

And it didn't last long. In moments, former poet laureate Dan Hoffman strikes up a conversation with us two blondes, and we end up talking to A.E Stallings, and some Eratospherians seem to recognize me, too - and then we see Barbara and Tina from the aiport, Tara introduces me to her professor, and finally - I meet the poet Becky Foust before we head off to dinner a few glasses of wine later. Phew! Yes, I know that's a run on sentence and no I don't care.

Dinner is delicious, I meet some other fantastic poets and we chat about life, work, and writing. After dinner we all walk over to the theater for a reading - Robert Pinsky! He has a little book signing afterwards, and I regret not getting one for my dad... Oh well.

So that was my first day. After the reading, there's a party but I decide not to go. I was very much exhausted after being up for almost 24 hours! So I crash in my dorm room - though I can't very well sleep since I'm excited for day II.


  1. I am so glad you experienced this! I love the east for this very reason, the friendliness, the love of literature, the genuineness...sigh. You simply MUST apply to Juniper Summer Writing Institute held at UMass next year. I loved it and am sure you would, too.

  2. Hi Katie--

    Glad you wandered my way on the web--and that I met you on my one day at West Chester!


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