Where the Rubber City meets the road: Akroning in Bowling Green at the Winter Wheat Festival

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written and photographed by M. Sophie Hamad

first published in Issue 16 (Dec. 2015)

I am a socially awkward person. The great thing about being at a writers’ conference is that I am not alone in social awkwardness, but rather I am surrounded by it. It’s nice to feel a part of something—even if that something is awkward.

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Stack of books purchased at Winter Wheat’s book fair. (PHOTO: M. Sophie Hamad/The Devil Strip)

The Winter Wheat Festival at Bowling Green State University, hosted by the university’s  international literary journal the Mid-American Review (MAR), has been bringing writers together—awkward or not—for 15 years. Every November, writers flock to BGSU to connect with other literary enthusiasts for a weekend. Writers attend up to six of the 48 craft workshops (eight options for each of the six sessions), in addition to four scheduled book readings and signings, and a book fair on Saturday. This year also offered two open mic readings at downtown Bowling Green pubs, as well as a round-table discussion with the editors of MAR to kick off the Friday afternoon workshops.

I went with fellow Akronite and Devil Strip associate arts editor Noor Hindi. This was our first writers’ conference. She drove her badass sports car, but didn’t push the “sport” button on the turnpike. Thank you, Noor. We got into Bowling Green late in the evening, had a quick dinner and missed the first two readings because we were just too tired.

Friday morning, we had a tasty brunch at Naslada, a Mediterranean bistro on Main Street in Bowling Green. The Turkish coffee with Turkish delight was good enough that I enjoyed it black. I’ve since dropped sugar from my coffee routine.

We then proceeded to get half-lost for the rest of our trip. We turned around more times than I can count. I repeatedly lost and found my hat.

Friday’s round table discussion was informative but kind of boring. The editors of MAR answered questions about how they do what they do and what they are looking for in regards to submissions and contributors. MAR had a check-in table set up with dozens of books for sale. Tweetstalk McWheatley (the new MAR mascot, introduced this year) was present to greet guests (quietly—he is a plush animal, after all).

There were two conference sessions on Friday. Noor and I chose one about writing memoir through meditation, which ended up being my second favorite workshop, and one about Nonce poetry, which was kind of weird and not as exciting as I’d hoped.

After dinner, Michael Czyzniejewski read from his book of short stories, “I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories.” It was hilarious. His story about ding-dongs made me cry-laugh.

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Tweetstalk McWheatley, MAR’s new mascot. (PHOTO: M. Sophie Hamad/The Devil Strip)

We ended the night at Grumpy Dave’s Pub with the open mic hosted by Akron’s own “Rubbertop Review” in collaboration with “Slippery Elm.” I did my first open mic reading. It was exhilarating and fun, but I’m glad Noor got it on video, so I can know what to do differently next time: drink first, less shaking, more laughter.  

Saturday was the main event. Most people travelling from Akron only attended Friday’s open mic and Saturday’s BGSU festivities. The book fair was epic—or at least it was epic for me and Noor. I’m sure the book fair at the AWP Conference is a million times more wallet-breaking, but this was a good introduction for us. I filled a free tote bag, courtesy of Lit Youngstown, with 25 books. I could have picked 50, but my bank account yelled at me for considering it.

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Winter Wheat Book Fair. (PHOTO: M. Sophie Hamad/The Devil Strip)

There were four workshop sessions on Saturday. Noor and I enjoyed writing exquisite corpse surrealist poetry and performing a Dada poetry piece with the rest of the attendees at the “Text/Sound/Text/Music” workshop. Noor got a lot out of that workshop—it was her favorite.

The most inspirational workshop for me, though, was taught by Jennifer Moore, whose book “The Veronica Maneuver” was just published by UA Press for the Akron Poetry Series. Her workshop was called “Recycling Language: Techniques for Creating Innovative Poems from Existing Texts,” and she taught us how to make poems using erasure and Cento forms. I wrote a fun poem using erasure, but most importantly I walked away with a head full of ideas for future poems. Erasure might be my new best poetry friend for a while.

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M. Sophie Hamad’s erasure poem created in Jennifer Moore’s workshop. (PHOTO: M. Sophie Hamad/The Devil Strip)

After the workshops, I got to fangirl hard. Tarfia Faizullah, author of “Seam,” a moving collection of documentary poetics about Bangladeshi women who were raped by Pakistani soldiers during the 1971 Liberation War, read some poems and signed books. We were wearing the exact same cardigan. I pointed that out to her after gushing about how much I love her work, how much she has inspired me and how I wrote an essay on one of her poems for American Women Poets class last year. I don’t even think that she was weirded out by any of it, which made me love her even more.

We then attempted to attend Friday night’s after party and poetry reading at Two Foxes Gastropub. We stayed for the food but left at the beginning of open mic because the feedback noise coming from the portable amp was awful. We were exhausted and missing Akron anyway.

I’ll definitely return to Bowling Green, but probably not until next year’s Winter Wheat.

 

M. Sophie Hamad writes poetry and is grateful to be doing so in Akron, versus Bowling Green. NEO, represent!

 

Feature image (top): Tarfia Faizullah reading at BGSU. (PHOTO: M. Sophie Hamad/The Devil Strip)

 

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