“The Best Part of AWP” by Jeff Mann

“The AWP Conference & Bookfair is an essential annual destination for writers, teachers, students, editors, and publishers.”

Other than the ethnic food—Russian in New York City,
First Nations in Vancouver, German and Greek in Chicago—
it’s all the black-bearded grad students scurrying from
conference session to session, bearing like crown jewels
their earnest eyes, high cheekbones, lean Christ-like
bodies, the very groupies I crave, not one of whom
has heard of me. They take assiduous notes, panning
gray-grit verbiage for those gold-dust secrets
that might lead to Art or Fame. How to convince
them I have all the right contacts to lend and thus
lure them to bar and bed? This one two rows ahead
gnaws his pen as a captive would his gag, as a horse
would his bit. His beauty’s a simple composition,
inimitable as an orchid’s anatomy, white flesh
highlighted with black: heavy hair, thick brows,
long lashes, close beard. He’s a wildflower glittering
amid featureless grass, the only face among this gray
facelessness, just another blossom I ache to smell, touch,
and taste, for here inside me’s the same stubborn child
I used to be, chewing marigolds, full of the urge
to pluck and devour what’s brilliant, the same
perverse and hungry brat crying and whining as
he’s dragged from the flowerbed, petals like golden
feathers clinging to his lips, tongue, and teeth.


Jeff Mann has published five books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, Ash, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels; two collections of essays, Edge and Binding the God; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; five novels, Fog, Purgatory, Cub, Salvation, and Country; and three volumes of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, Desire and Devour, and Consent.  The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards and two Pauline Réage Novel Awards, he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech.