Wednesday, December 16, 2009

End of semester/New Year's resolutions

I've been intrigued by a few of the recent semester recaps (and look forward to more of them!), but on subjects like these (personal, even brief autobiographical narratives) I unfortunately get a bit long-winded. Especially in prose. So instead, I'm going to make a resolution, based on what I've learned this first semester. (And probably still be too long-winded...)

People often say the best thing about the MFA is having time to write. I'd like to kind of tweak that: the best thing about the MFA is having time to spend with your writing. What started for me as simple productivity has lately morphed from "what subjects do I want to pursue" to "how do I want to pursue them?" Trying to get at some of my underlying patterns and intentions, in ways that I haven't before (while working and at colonies, even in college, times when I've been writing more piece-meal) has been a real boon.

Since before the MFA I've been (and continue to be) a pretty firm believer in our work being shaped by the motivating identities of our ideas. I don't just mean identity politics in terms of religion, ethnicity or gender (although I think that our backgrounds can be wellsprings of information and context), I mean identity politics as in philosophy, the physical sciences, history, linguistics, music, painting, etc. I think these perspectives can inform poems consciously and unconsciously. For my part, I sometimes come from a philosophical background in my poems, in ways that I can not predict until reading the poems much later.

I know I will never be able to learn all of the secrets of rhythm and language, syntax and diction, music and blank page, and those are aspects of poetry which I think we must all constantly learn and re-learn. But I think I can more easily try on some simpler hats: Can I write like a biologist? A chemist? A historian? A playwright? A sculptor? What does it mean to take on that discipline? (A rhetorician? A geologist? A rabbi? The list goes on...)

So I'm thankful for the space to recognize some of my more cumbersome philosophy-writing habits (they're already a little too internalized, not that I don't like them), and I look forward to the time and space to experiment with science-poetry, history-poetry, mathematics-poetry. Who knows how successful this will be? (Probably more successful than my plan to write the great superheroes meeting philosophers long poem...)

So now my question to you: What's one thing you are thankful for from your first semester (Or the last year, if you're not currently in an MFA program)? (Or what's more than one thing...)

What's one place you want to take your work? (Or again, more than one place...)


  1. Ah, and I should clarify. I don't mean poetry about those disciplines (science, math, etc.), but poetry written as if from someone grounded in that materials' perspective.

  2. Hmmm, there are lots of things I'm thankful for from my first semester, but the biggest thing I'm thankful for is this: One of my professors took a two page assignment I'd done for our first class and underlined all of the "to be" verbs. I had no idea I was using them so much. After that, I made sure that my pieces for class, including the final story I turned in, had no "to be" verbs in them. And now I'm working with a thesaurus open at all times to make sure I choose the strongest verb possible. And thanks to that my writing improved about 100 percent.

  3. See, I started out writing like that, without "to be" verbs, and it ended badly, because sometimes someone simply is something.

    "Thomas was an insurance claims adjuster from Wichita"

    It defines his whole life, everything about him can be reduced, or expanded, to fit within the prison of that profession. Is there a better way to say it? I don't rightly know. I like it and I think it's effective sometimes.

    All things in moderation.

  4. I just had a fellow poet point out how many times I use words like SO. I am SO cognizant of it now :)

    Josh - I LOVE pulling math and science in some shape or form into my poems. My most recent chapbook does that.

    Most thankful for - my editor. Having a full length book coming out next year has been scarier than I thought, having someone really dedicated to it with you helps.

    To take my work - hmm. Cave Wall Press. Tried 3 times next year I'll try again :)

  5. You sound like you're getting into some pretty interesting stuff with your work. Good luck with that!

    I am thankful for a light workload so I/my family could have time to adjust. I know that sounds bad, but really, it made a world of difference. I'm also extremely thankful for Greg's time in individual conferences.

    As for my work, I want to experiment with something other than narrative poetry. We'll see how that goes lol.


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