Hello everyone, this is Kenton and it’s my first post on the blog. How exciting!
I was recently part of the first annual graduate student conference called Text and Techne: Literature, Language, and Culture and had an amazing time. I want to share my experiences in hopes that it might alleviate fears that anyone might have of submitting a paper to a panel and hopefully influence someone to submit to a panel they are interested in if the opportunity arises.
First off, my experience, was ultimately very fulfilling and worth all the work put into it. That being said, it was a *lot* of work and here are the sordid details…
When you submit a paper to a conference they don’t want the entire paper in the submission. What they want is an abstract (about 500 words) and a little bit of information about yourself. I didn’t have a paper that worked directly for the conference’s topic but I did know my area of interest was performance poetry and that I had a somewhat solid background of experience and research in that area. So I quickly constructed a very (very!) rough draft of a paper that I wanted to write that incorporated both the conference’s topic and some of the things that I was/am genuinely interested in researching. From this draft I made an abstract and submitted it. I then promptly forgot about it because I didn’t think that I would get accepted.
Almost a month later I found out that my proposal was accepted and I was simultaneously panic stricken and excited which is a very weird mix of feelings to have. Fortunately, in no time at all the excitement and panic faded and I was left with a much more familiar emotional companion, fear. Rebecca Wise and myself were the only two undergraduates out of sixteen panelists and I felt that I was in way over my head. Not only did I not even understand some of the titles of the papers that my fellow panelists had submitted but I only had a skeleton of a draft and had only begun to flesh it out.
Spring break was my savior. I spent hour after hour and day after day researching and writing. Every book the Library has on slam/performance poetry, orality, voice in poetry and anything else that looked helpful was checked out and I lived with those books for several weeks. I even emailed some of the authors of said books as well as some of my favorite poets asking several questions and I was pleasantly surprised at how kind and accommodating they were. Another resource I found really valuable was JSTOR’s dissertation data-base. There were only four dissertations on slam poetry but they really helped guide me in the right direction while providing a model for how an academic paper should look like.
Eventually my paper was put together and I was able to breathe a little easier knowing that I at least had something to say. Whether or not it was interesting was another question but I was confident that there was at least a kernel of something worth saying somewhere in my paper. It was then that I realized that no one was going to even read my paper. The only interface that anyone was going to have with my work was through my presentation. I hadn’t really thought of presenting it much when I was writing it and when I read my paper out loud I became acutely aware of just how short 15 minutes really is. The longest version of my paper was over 20 pages (something like 10k words) and took about 40 minutes to read, yikes!
Luckily there was a lot of effluence and finding things to cut was pretty easy… throw a dart at a pile of papers and delete away! This is where I made a huge mistake. Instead of cutting down the amount of arguments I was making I cut what I thought were unimportant supporting ideas and ended up with ten pages of sporadic ideas which Professor Macri very graciously offered to edit for me. Professor Macri gave me wonderful feedback and I was able to cut my presentation down to about five pages that demonstrated one main point. I added three minutes worth of audio clips to help give the audience a feel for what I was talking about and that was that!
I was tempted to feel like I had wasted a lot of energy by writing so much more than I needed but being over-prepared helped boost my confidence in the days approaching the event. Another bonus of overdoing it was that in the Q&A session afterwards I felt much more comfortable answering people’s questions. They were a lot of the same questions I had asked myself and attempted to answer in the larger version of my paper. I think that if I had just written the five pages and been content in the beginning with just making the one argument I would have had a much more difficult time of it and the panel wouldn’t have been half as rewarding.
On the day of the presentation the most stressful things ended up being the mundane ones. I hadn’t wore my Sunday best in a while and realized that morning that I didn’t have any nice shoes to wear. Cursing myself I put a coat of polish on my combat boots and decided to talk fast enough and loud enough that no one ever got a chance to look down! The trouble with that idea was that I had to sit in this uncomfortable wooden chair while the other panelists presented and my pants rode up to reveal laces and all. I resisted the urge to cross one leg over the other in an attempt to keep them as low profile as possible but I don’t think it helped much.
Anyways, the day was more or less successful and I had a great time. What did I gain from the experience? Well, maybe something to put somewhere on my grad school application, some networking opportunities and exactly 15 minutes of fame. But the most valuable thing that I got from the conference was a chance to think seriously in an academic manner about a subject I love and with that experience came the realization that it’s something I want to pursue. If you find yourself in a similar position I can’t think of any reasons not to submit a proposal!