Friday, August 28, 2009

Has It Really Only Been A Week?

by Keely Hyslop

My first week of classes is over and done with. Over all I'm feeling pretty excited and energized about being an MFAer. There's still some free-floating nervousness, but mostly there's just intense joy at being back on a college campus and back in workshop. Just the hustle and bustle of students coming in and out of their classes, jostling for books, and struggling to cram down lunch before the next class fills me with glee. If I needed proof I was a nerd I think I have it.

But let me start from the beginning. Monday was orientation, a fairly informal meet and greet/ panic over the fact that you don't have any classes because the recent brutal CSU budget cuts has decimated the class schedule. I was lucky in that I signed up for my classes the same hour I was allowed to register so I had a full schedule, but many people who had delayed in registering had no classes at all. Maxine Chernoff, the department head, was kind enough to put together a list of all classes in the creative writing and English departments that still had spaced and other professors chimed in about projects they needed assistance with that would give a grad student credit.

In every class the budget cuts have been a looming shadow. Mandatory staff furloughs are a required topic of conversation for the first class, so it's impossible for students to bury their heads in the sand about the issue even if we wanted to. It's interesting and strange observing the different ways that different professors handle the topic. Some professors stick to the book and simply tell us what days the class will be unable to meet because the professors aren't allowed to teach. Other professors seem to be hinting at the need for direct student action. One professor even went so far as to admit surprise that more students weren't rioting. Sometimes I get the impression that the campus is a powder keg ready to explode with frustration. The academic and the activist in me are of two different minds on the topic. The academic of course wants to just keep her head down and get as much out of her education as possible, but the activist in me reminds me that these budget cuts are unjust, particularly to the professors and the undergrads, and that it is everyone's duty, even busy grad students to rise and meet injustice whenever one encounters it. Reconciling the academic and the activist has been a major tension in my writing in the last couple of years, why shouldn't it be a major tension in my life?

Here's a link to a student made documentary on the CSU budget crisis if you'd like to know more:

Even though I felt sheepish doing it since there were some students who had no classes or in complete schedules, I still did a bit of shopping to make sure I was taking the classes I wanted to be taking. I made one change. I decided to take the Fourteen Hills class where you get to work on the staff of a literary magazine instead of taking the Writers on Writing lecture, which was a series of author readings, which quite frankly I can already get just from bumming around the city's used bookstores. I also decided to drop the intro to composition class in favor of taking a graduate instructional assistant position.

So this quarter I'll be taking 12 units: Fourteen Hills, an MFA Poetry Workshop, a process course on the persona poem, and a graduate instructional assistant course (leading an undergrad group in workshopping for a course called American Poetics). I'm also debating applying for a part time tutoring job, though I think I'm going to think it over for a few days. I'm doing ok financially for a few months at least, and I don't want to bite off more than I can chew, plus my writing schedule is still erratic. I really want to carve out a designated time for working on my poetry, rather than how I've been doing it: squeezing it in whenever I have an empty space in my schedule. I can already tell that if I keep shrinking my free time, but consider my free time and my poetry writing time to be synonymous, I'm going to have a problem.

This is kind of an abrupt transition, but I really wanted to talk about my first poetry MFA workshop. My first MFA workshop was quite simply divine - the highlight of my week. In a stunning display of dramatic tension building the professor, Paul Hoover, sent out an email the night before informing the class that we would be bringing 15 copies of one of our own poems, as well as a poem by a poet we admired to read to the class. This, from what I can tell, set off wide spread panic throughout the class, which gave us something to bond over in the halls before workshop started. We began the workshop by reading and discussing the poem by someone else we'd brought, which I think everyone really enjoyed. There's a certain intimacy that develops when you're discussing your favorite poem with other poets. (I brought Jack Gilbert's Failing and Flying, by the way. My favorite poem is technically The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot, but this is my favorite poem that was written semi-recently.) It was a good beginning because it put us at ease before we began to workshop some of the poems that we, ourselves had written. Sharing a poem that was incredibly personal to me (one of the occupational hazards of writing from experience) with a room full of strangers was pretty intense, but they were gentle and fair with me. I think the poem was well-received, and even if they hated it, I have a good feeling about this group. I think we're going to be able to approach one another's shortcomings with compassion and a focus on tapping into unrealized potential.

And that's all for now. Sorry I've been a bit absent on this blog lately. I'll try to be more present in the discussions from here on in. I love this blog because it makes me feel like we're all in this together.

Happy writing everyone! Have a nice weekend!


  1. It is so wonderful that the faculty made such an effort to make class schedules work, despite the budget cuts. Still, the budget cuts are unfortunate. Hopefully it'll be straightened out by next year?

    Also, I LOVE Maxine Chernoff. Her prose poems have been the primary influence of MY prose poems throughout the last two years. I'm so jealous!

    -Rachel Marsom

  2. I love the idea of presenting not just your own work but the work of people you admire :)

    Hope the budget stuff eases up soon! As someone looking for a job, I feel their pain!

  3. I don't think we hear enough about the impact of education budget cuts, so thanks for sharing. Way to be on it so your stuff is taken care of!

    The persona poem class sounds really intriguing. I've been trying to dabble in that. Having a class on something always builds confidence about writing it though. I definitely want details on this class.

  4. I think I might be more nervous about sharing someone else's work I admire than my own work. :P

  5. I am with JayTee on wanting to hear all about the persona poem class. And your first workshop sounds fantastic! I kind of wish we'd jumped right into workshopping right away, but we didn't. Next week.

    And I am glad you mentioned the budget cuts. That's scary stuff!

  6. @Rachel I like Maxine Chernoff too. Unfortunately she's on a fiction kick right now, but she says she might go back to teaching poetry on occasion. I'm watching the class schedules like a hawk.

    @JayTee & Emily I'll definitely talk more about the persona class. It's the only one I haven't had yet since it's on Monday and classes started Tuesday. Camille Dungy is teaching it and I'm really impressed with her work and hear she's a great teacher, so I'm very excited to meet her.

  7. now that I know who the professor of your persona class is I am double jealous.

  8. glad the workshop went well. i want to read your poem!

  9. @Bethany I can email it to you if you like. I don't want to post it because I was planning to enter it into a contest pretty soon.


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