Wednesday, September 30, 2009
by Whitney Gray
Hope the semester is going well for you. While I'm wrapping up my sixth week, I am amazed that some of you are starting your first week. Crazy. Well, in the midst of all this homework and reading and y'know, attending class, I had almost forgotten that I am one of the featured poets over at Contemporary American Voices, an online publication.
At the request of my beloved professor and mentor, Judson Mitcham, I submitted three poems, all of which were included in my writing sample. My best friend, Dot, is also featured on the site. We went to the same undergrad, and now she is enjoying her time as a low-res student at Pacific. My heart jumped when I saw she had new poems. (Does anyone else get like this? You see a new poem by someone you love/admire/work with and you get so totally excited?)
So, yes, this is a post to brag, but mostly to gush, and to say I hope you all share your publication news with us. It's a small victory for me, but I'm proud to have it and to share it with you. I've only been published in one other journal, and I'm 99% sure they lost funding and fizzled out after only one issue. (Bummer!) Anyway, you can check out the poems here. Enjoy! I can't wait to read your reactions!
I did it. I led a 90-minute in class discussion. I mean the professor would break in and add to our discussion but my questions were valid. I read the novel the way I was supposed (with a few discrepancies). It's a great feeling because my limited English Lit background was always a source of tension for me. I feared I would be behind my classmates but I feel like I'm fitting in.
At the moment though I have writer's block. I have to write a hero's journey 10-minute play and I can't think of anything worth while. I can't really think of anything at all. My mind is a blank. My tragedy came so easily. With this I am stuck and I only have until Tuesday.
If you want to check out Act 1 of my tragedy (VERONICA) it's on my page.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
by Emily May Anderson
(Apologies in advance for any spelling and grammar errors, or a general lack of sense. I only slept for three hours.)
I’m wondering if anyone else has had an MFA reading yet. Here at Penn State, the first one of the school year was last night. For some (probably sadistic) reason, the readers for the first two readings of the year are always the first-year students, and I got to read last night along with a first year fiction writer and a first year CNF writer. It was a lot of fun! I was nervous, but in a good way, and everyone was very supportive. There was a surprisingly good turnout considering that the weather was disgusting – cold and rainy – and the reading was held at the same time as the big Iowa game. A few of the 2nd and 3rd year MFAs went to the game instead of the reading, and the general consensus among the rest of us was that it was really not okay for them to do that, but there are no “rules” about it; it’s more just a social convention. However, a lot of MA/PhD students came out, especially our fellow first years, and I really appreciated that. I kept hugging people later and saying I was so glad they were there.
An explanation of the hugging, and a corollary to the lack of rules, has to do with the very informal nature of the readings here. They are organized by MFA students, held in a really cool campus building,
in this crazy basement room with red carpeted walls (couldn't find a good picture of the room, sorry), and there is beer. Rather a lot of beer actually. No faculty members attend, only students. The introductions are very funny. The beginning of the intro my friend Daniel, a 2nd year MFA, wrote: “Various theories have been offered regarding the origins of Emily May Anderson. One story states that Dylan Thomas, king of the gods, awoke one morning with a splitting headache, and asked William Carlos Williams to strike him with a hammer. Williams did so, and Emily emerged from Thomas’s head, fully formed and carrying the notebook of wisdom and the pen of truth.” And it goes on in that vein.
So, yeah, the MFA reading series is surprisingly informal (at BG, where I did my undergrad, they’re very different) and intoxication is encouraged. Most of us went to a bar after the reading and then there was more socializing after that, hence my three hours of sleep, and my probable lack of sense here. It was a great experience though, and I look forward to the next reading.
Questions to the other MFAs: have you read yet? how do you feel about reading? and how formal or informal are MFA readings in your program?
Friday, September 25, 2009
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I just posted some of my thoughts on what I would do if I couldn't be a poet/student/teacher over at rachelmarsom.com. Definitely something to have in the back of our heads whether you are in graduate school or thinking about applying to MFA programs.
Here's the linky:
What would I do?
In a word: amazing!
In more words: challenging, thought-provoking, paradigm-shifting, and at times teeth-gnashingly difficult...
Ok, enough with the adjectives, let's get to the concrete details.
In Professor Dungy's persona class we read approximately one poetry book per week (between holidays and furlough days we miss four class and for some of the 'hard' books we get an extra week). Each week when we have a book due, in addition to coming to class ready to discuss the books, we bring a persona poem written in response to the book and a one page single spaced essay on what techniques of the poet we just read we utilized in our response poem.
I love the homework format. I'm learning so much more about poetry techniques from this class than I've learned from literature classes in the past because as much as I love discussing the themes of a work or its tone and metaphors, in lit classes you often don't get down to the nitty gritty of how a poet is making you react the way you do to their work. To do the homework in this class, not only do you have to think about what the poet's doing and how they're doing it, but you have to do it yourself and then put into words what you just did. I really feel like I'm communing with the poets I'm reading, getting at their writing processes, and constructing hypotheses on why they've made the choices they've made. I've never felt this close to a poet whose work I'd just met a week before. It's uncanny how much craft information I'm internalizing and I feel like it's already having a tangible effect on my ability to view the choices I make in my own work more objectively.
Here's our reading list for the semester:
The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck
What Was Lost by Herbert Morris
Cooling Board by Mitchell Douglass
Winners Have Yet to Be Announced by Ed Pavlic
Zong by NourbeSe Philip
Dance, Dance Revolution by Cathy Park Hong
Master Letters by Lucie Brock-Broido
MacNolia by Van Jordan
The hard part about each week's assignment is figuring out how to respond to the poet without trying to imitate them. To be honest on the first book, Wild Iris I wasn't sure how else to respond. Some part of me needed to write a poem that Louise Gluck could have written, and when I got the poem back Camille said I'd done a really good job of writing a Gluck poem. Then we read Herbert Morris who writes epic poems with a level of historical knowledge I don't possess and can't pretend to. I confessed to Camille that I'd been unable to imitate the poet and she told me it was not required, that she just wanted us to think about the poet's techniques and let some aspect of their writing be a jumping off point for our own experimentation. For Cooling Board I want to write a poem in my own voice with a twist rather than a poem that doesn't quite manage to be a Mitchell Douglass poem. I guess it's hard because I get so perfectionistic about the assignments and tell myself that sounding less like the author is lazy in some way, too easy. But I think I'll actually get more out of the class (not that I'm not already getting a lot out of it) if I can take off my literary figure kabuki masks. It's kind of ironic that I think of it in that way since the word persona was apparently derived from the Greek word for mask.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
I was teaching class this afternoon, and about halfway through the class period, I heard a helicopter fly over. Then again, and again, circling low and slow and very loud. I couldn't talk over it, so I stopped for a moment, then when I could make my voice heard, I said "What is going on?" I thought it was a rhetorical question, but the students (or most of them at least) already knew. A freshman student had disappeared on Saturday night/Sunday morning after leaving a fraternity party; the campus police, and other law enforcement officers were looking for him. Apparently the university has an emergency warning system for things like this, and most all of my students had received either email or text messages about it. So the helicopters were circling, and there were a lot of police officers outside (we could see them through the window); it was really rather disturbing. I found out tonight that maintenance people found his body today, two buildings away from where we have class, apparently dead from a head injury sustained in a fall. Here is a link to an article. It sounds like it's really just a tragic accident, but it's really sad, and one of those things that I know I'm going to have to discuss on Wednesday and I don't know exactly how to handle it. A couple of the students today were freaked out, and I really don't know what, if anything, I need to say to them on Wednesday......
I'm sitting in my office hours being unproductive. I can't stand office hours. One girl showed up to give me homework, as she slept through my 9 oclock class. Other than that, it's silent. Pretty much standard, though students have visited me here much more frequently than at NAU. I wish I could work by appointment only. That's my dream teaching experience...appointment only office hours!
Tonight's my first poetry workshop. Last week was first workshop workshop, but I've been ill, so I missed it, and I'm not sure how my instructor (Laura Newbern) runs it. It's in 6 hours, and I'm already getting nauseous. I probably won't be able to eat until I get home from class around 8:30 or so. I always get so irrationally anxious about these things. I'm sure after this workshop I'll become an expert, but the first time's always tough. Expect workshop commentary tomorrow!
Today's teaching got way off track in my 9 oclock class. We were supposed to be talking about this article on eating disorders/food habits. Instead we talked about Harry Potter for about ten minutes. I've never read Harry Potter or seen the movies. I don't have anything against the books. I just have no interest, and I never got sucked into the hype. I think it's sort of nerdy. My students were appalled by this. Apparently JK Rowling is the greatest current novelist. Apparently Harry Potter was the series that made them all love to read. This was the series that changed their generation.
While I appreciate their unity and their ability to relate and talk about a book like this, this discussion actually discouraged me. I know for a fact that they don't all LOVE to read. I know that (for the most part) they go home and play video games and get on facebook and watch TV. If they loved to read, they'd be better writers. If they loved to read, they'd love to write. If they loved to read, they would talk enthusiastically in class instead of staring at me. If they all loved to read, then why do book sales always seem to drop (except for those self help diet books). If they loved to read, they would be literature majors instead of nursing, biology, chemistry, business majors. I just don't buy it. I wish I could.
by Jonterri Gadson
In one of my meetings with Greg Orr (both names for Marita's sake lol) he made the comment that poetry must really mean something if I'm willing to take such life risks in the name of it. He's right; I have it bad for poetry, I do. I already know I won't be happy doing anything else, so it's less about poetry being some sort of talent, and more that poetry is an affliction.
I can't get the idea of taking life risks out of my head. We're all taking life risks for the sake of our art. But why? How did you come to the point where you were willing to make sacrifices to be a poet/fiction writer?
I'll start and I'm going waaay back to third grade lol.
In 3rd grade, I was taken out of the regular English lessons to go with a special tutor and write short stories for an hour every day. This was because I scored well above my grade level on the English section of the achievement tests. This was the first time I received positive recognition for writing/English.
In 7th grade, I heard about a poetry contest. I wrote down this poem and handed it in to my Language Arts teacher:
Shattered dreams of mine, created over time
By a little girl, in her own small world
with a wide expanding mind
Shattered dreams like glass
in my mind they last.
What about her future
and the time she spent preparing
for the shattered dreams to pass?
That's a pre-teen JT original, folks lol. I agonized over that last line. It's still not right, well, the whole thing is just wrong lol. I read it so much before I handed it in that I still have it memorized today. She didn't comment on it, just told me to type it up and mail it in if I wanted to. I never mailed it in.
In 8th grade, I stole my mother's poetry from a box in the garage and brought it to school. My mother wrote this poetry in the 60's...as a black woman in the 60's...as a black woman in the 60's in America. Well, anyway, the poem I turned into my 8th grade English class as my own was "Black Man Let Go of That Dirty White Hand." OMG! Oh, did I mention I was in Idaho in 8th grade. Yeah, that went over well. "It's a little militant, don't you think?" LOL I remember the beginning of this poem:
We've been in the white man's hand a little too long
Now it's time we let him know that we too are strong,
but to do this we must have black unity
but black people are not united as our people should be.
In high school, I was asked to read "To--" by John Keats out loud. I started out reading it with a fake English accent and trying to be funny and then I got caught up in the rhythm and the beauty of what I was reading and I actually started saying "oh!" out loud like "oh, how beautiful." It was crazy. That's the first time I remember being affected by a poem. I read that poem now and I don't see what I saw then.
In short: I grew up. I let myself down. Other people let me down. And by people I mean men lol. But family too. Religion no longer made sense to me and I felt very alone just for being alive. The one thing I was certain of was my internal drive to write. So I decided that if I was going to be here on this Earth doing this living thing then I was going to do what I was internally driven to do so I could at least maybe have a shot at happiness while I'm here.
So that's me and why I write. What about you and why you write? Why are you taking life risks (like getting an art degree lol)? I'm interested to see things we might have in common that led us to writing.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
So this is a little delayed but I've been busy with work and boyfriend and homework and well...life.
Thursday I went through my first official workshop critique as a graduate student. Scary. I believe I came out unscathed.
I submitted the beginning of a novella I wrote called APT 509. It was a hard choice because APT 509 is close to my heart. The end or last two thirds of the story are the strongest. The beginning is the part that needed work so it was the perfect piece to workshop because I didn't know how to make it better. I just knew it was missing something. My classmates really helped me to figure it out. I edited the first nine pages so far since the workshop and I think it's already improving, slimming down in some places, beefing up in others.
It was hard to put that part of the story forward because it's not the best example of how I usually write. It doesn't show the best of my ability, so to present it first was a scary task. But I did it and now I hope that they like part 2 even better because that's the part I consider great lol.
I would love to ask some of them to reread my piece now but I feel like that's overstepping and my friends are just busy. I guess I'll just have to figure it out, keep plucking away at it. We'll see.
In other news, I had to write a 10-minute play where someone takes a journey. So I did a metaphorical journey from naivette to real world where a teen finds her mom cheating on her dad. That's a journey right? Please offer advise otherwise.
Friday, September 18, 2009
by Jennifer Brown
I thought I’d let everyone know what kind of writing I’m doing in my program, which is a lot more than I’d expected to be doing given that I don’t have workshop this first semester. I wanted to go for an MFA because I knew it would force me to write a lot more than I ever would on my own—and I’m getting what I wanted.
I have two classes that require what others may not consider a lot of writing, but that is a lot for me (plus I have a lit class that requires academic papers).
In my Forms of Fiction class it looks like we will be writing a 3-4 page story each week after we turn in our first 3-4 pager on the 28th, and we have to turn in a full 20 page story at the end of the class. The first mini-story, due on the 28th, is a journey story, written in conjunction with our first reading, which was The Odyssey. In later weeks we will be reading and writing fables, fairy tales, a coming of age story (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for the reading! Yay!), etc. I’ve already started and tossed two journey stories into the trash, and I’m now on my third attempt, which I hope will be ok. I think I’m being a little obsessive—but it is the first thing we are reading aloud in class!
In my Setting class we had our first assignment that I turned in this week, which was to go up to the top of a hill at dawn and write 500-1000 words about the light. I loved doing it. Due this week are two 500-1000 word pieces written in response to D.H. Lawrence’s “St. Mawr” (A gorgeous book if you haven’t read it. Some of his prose is downright rhapsodic). I’ve started both of these pastiches, one of which I like, and one of which I hate and need to do a lot more work on.
So as you can see I have great assignments that are pushing me to write, and to write stuff I would never have written on my own. But to be honest I’m struggling a bit. You see, I am one of those people who takes forever to write something. I have only one story I would consider finished, and it is only 9 pages and it took me over a year. I write the first paragraph, and then I start to revise it, and revise it, and revise it. You can see how this means that I never get anything done. So a 3-4 page paper, plus a couple of 1000 word pastiches is a TON of writing for me. But I’m so glad.
This is exactly what I signed up for.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Hello friends. How I have missed you (except for those of you who mutually stalk me on facebook)! It has been ages since I last posted, but for the last two and a half weeks I’ve been locked in Denney Hall from 9-3 every day preparing for the first-year English composition class I will be teaching. Wait a minute…back up! Let me tell you about Columbus and me.
I landed in Ohio on August 22 and spent the first days in a deep depression. This was the biggest move of my life—my first time away from home, and I mean away (like 2000 miles away) and I was stranded in the Midwest: a foreign environment if ever there was one. My gas was not turned on, neither was my cable or internet. I felt like I had entombed myself in a Gulag. I began questioning whether or not this was a good idea, whether going to an MFA was worth transplanting myself this way. All hope seemed lost…
Then I got up, walked to the closest internet café I could find and ran into Rachel, one of the now-second year poets in my program. It was the best possible thing that could have happened to me. Rachel and I talked for hours about the upcoming GTA training, what to expect in my first workshop, where a guy can get another guy, how sad it is to leave home. In four hours she reminded me that I was here, at Ohio State, to be a writer (and an adult) and that meant shaking up my perspective and resisting complacency. And so…here I am!
For the past two and a half weeks I have been training for my job as a GTA, and I have to say that everyone who has called this period of time “information overload” is not joking. This fall I am teaching my own section of First-Year English Composition, which is a general education writing course, but one that I have a lot of control over, particularly in terms of theme. It’s a lot of pressure to manage, but the past couple of weeks have more than prepared me to handle the stress. I know time management is going to be an issue once the quarter kicks off, but for now I am finishing up my syllabus, managing my burgeoning social life, and writing as much as possible.
Once I have my first workshop, I will post about that, I promise. Ironically, my class will have a blogging component this quarter, so I will try to keep up with blogging myself!
I'm finally posting.
When I was offered a fellowship to UOregon in May, I was thrilled. Starting then, though, this avalanche of responsibility and personal expenses began and it has only just now started to slow. Money is one of the least interesting things in the world to discuss, in my opinion. However, it's a part a life and can serve as an inhibitor, a liberator, or sometimes a sordid combination of the two in seedier avenues. Let me be frank: moving across the freaking country is expensive. I love my MFA program. I love all the lovely poets and fiction writers I've met, my professors, even the clerk who works in my new favorite restaurant down the road. I love my new oddball neighbors and the fact that I have an abundance of ripe grapes in my backyard though I have no idea what to do with them. I'm thrilled to be here. But getting here, was expensive. It is in no way cheap to move your spouse, yourself, your dogs, your cat, and possessions 2500 miles away. I don't think I could have done it alone without racking up around 6K in credit card debt.
So, future applicants - when you're whittling down your lists this might be something you want to consider: "how much is it going to cost to get my ass to my new fabulous MFA program?" and plan ahead. It'll save you some headaches and some cash. My advice - if you're moving further than 1000 miles away, get rid of everything that's not breathing, sentimental, or readable.
Did I mention I'm happy to be here? I am, and I'm thrilled about the class I'll be teaching. One of the reasons UO's program is lovely is that all first year students teach some form of Creative Writing. Around 1/2 teach Intro and the other 1/2, including me, teach in a program called the Kidd Tutorial. Kidd is a course series for Junior and Senior undergraduates. The course is a multi-genre writing workshop / craft inquiry course. We read literature, craft essays, and discuss writing. My class is designated as having a poetry emphasis; much of what my students read and write will be poetry, but we'll also read and write creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and anything else I can come up with that I think will improve their writing. Plus, I keep the same five students all three terms this year, so I'm excited to see how their work and their thinking about writing develop.
One of the reasons I'm excited about teaching in the Kidd program is because I was initially concerned I might experience poetry burn-out if I was studying, writing, teaching, and reading poetry ALL the time. I do want the MFA immersion experience and think it will be great for me as a writer. Typically the way I've worked, though, is to immerse myself in all types of literature - I'm as influenced and inspired by fiction as I am by poetry. I'm excited I'll be teaching other writers how to learn from and to let themselves be influenced by other genres. Reading is a true pleasure, and as writers - it's our 2nd highest form of practice (next to ass in the chair, pen in the hand).
Next week's orientation; class begins later here - Sept. 29th. I'll let you all know how my first workshops and teaching sessions go. I've enjoyed keeping up with what's going on with everyone!
First off, thanks for all the love for the Dear Jack Foundation. It's just an amazing story (with a killer soundtrack).
But on to my topic... so another one of my professors said something completely harsh yesterday.
One of my classmates asked how to differentiate between commercial and literary fiction. I was liking her response would be subject, themes, writing style, academic praise or criticism. No. Her answer: they are usually poor written with characters that aren't developed and don't make you think at all.
Then she cited Sophie Kinsella. Okay, that's chick lit - it's way different then general commercial fiction. I've read plenty of commercial fiction that is well-written, has extremely developed characters and made me think about my life and society. I think Bella Swan and Harry Potter are pretty well developed, just to prove a point. (You guys are commenting on this like I said Harry Potter and Twilight belong in the canon. I'm just saying that they are well-developed. Yes the writing is for YA and yes it's sometimes not amazing. But character-wise... they are good. So Relax!)
Anyway, I just couldn't even imagine someone saying that to their class of writing students. I write commercial fiction. Sigh. This is why I didn't want to be an English major.
In other news, my playwriting class is still AWESOME! And my story gets workshopped tomorrow so I'll be back with an update... oh and my story definitely commercial.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I had my first fiction workshop (Ann Hood’s) at The New School last night. We read, ahead of time, stories from three students and discussed them at length after taking care of first-meeting administrative details. I handed in a story, a new revision of The Shadow Line, to be workshopped next week.
Obviously, the idea here is for us to become better writers through the process of having our stories discussed and being told what’s confusing, what’s overdone, what’s clear, controlled, effective, what bad grammar we’re able to see in the work of others but are blinded to in our own, how what others think we’ve done differs from what we think we’ve done or are trying to do. As helpful as this will be, I think this is also about becoming a better reader. The more imperfect work we read (alongside the renowned work from our prose lit classes), the more practice we get at understanding, in very general terms, the kinds of things we might be doing in our own (and certainly imperfect) work without knowing it.
Some notes I took during class:
Revision is literally seeing your work again (via Joseph Conrad)
It can always be fixed (via Ann Hood)
Anybody can write stories but only writers can revise them (via Ann Hood)
For short fiction, everyone important should be introduced by the end of the first page.I think that’s a good general rule, especially for beginners.
Rather than frame a story, think in terms of containing it (that is, temporally: a weekend, a year, an event, etc). This will help keep things tight and moving.
Avoid present participles. (This reminds me of my adverb ban).
I really enjoyed this class and I am looking foward to the rest of the semester.
by Jonterri Gadson
After my last workshop, I met with Greg for a 30 minute weekly one-on-one meeting. These meetings are optional, but I plan to take advantage as much as possible. So in my first meeting with him, we talked about my feelings about the first workshop and he gave me suggested readings. He said something that I found rather significant:
*In undergrad workshops, praise is a major form of support. At the level of the MFA, the support comes in the form of how serious your classmates take your writing and in the time that they put into commenting on your work and in sharing their thoughts on your work with you.*
I'm learning that he has a very casual way of saying major, perspective-shaping things lol. I was nervous about going into this meeting and not having anything to say or that it would be awkward. This wasn't the case at all. Greg is very easy to talk to, especially about poetry.
Yesterday, I had my second workshop and another one of my pieces was discussed. After giving it some honest thought, I realized that much of my anxiety about the first workshop stemmed from my feelings about the piece I submitted. I had somehow decided that the piece was basically already done before I turned it in to be workshopped. I mean, I thought it was pretty impressive. Yeah, you don't want to really have that thought about a piece if you're going to have it workshopped because you will be proven wrong (and rightfully so in most cases).
So the piece that was up today was one that I had taken as far as I could take it but couldn't exactly get it to where I wanted to be. Because of this I was truly open to the feedback. And I got great feedback. The thing that trips me out about workshop is that people seem to pick up on all the things you think you can brush over in a piece and all of your motivations. I love it when they have the same questions as I have about my own work. No, it doesn't answer the question always, but it does help to confirm that there is something questionable in the piece.
I met with Greg again earlier today. After discussing with me the distance I've been putting between myself and the speakers in my poems in various ways, I shared with him that I worry that my poems will come off like I'm a whining victim if I get too close. I shared that I was worried that my writing sample had been just a bunch of victim poems that wouldn't get me anywhere lol. He suggested I let that go and that a victim is passive and the act of writing poetry is to take control, to make beauty out of that truth. He phrased it bettter. Then he lent me a copy of his book, Poetry as Survival. The timing couldn't be anymore perfect for that gesture.
I consider myself a risk taker when it comes to the subjects of my poems. This meeting helped me to realize that I actually haven't been risking enough.
So are you all meeting with your professors? How is that going?
Do you get the title of this post? lol Yes, workshop my blog post, please.
Monday, September 14, 2009
This isn't really about my MFA studies but it's important to me and I want to get the word out.
My favorite band is Jack's Mannequin. Their music saved my life. Their music is very influential in my writing and in my life still to this day.
The lead singer of the band... Andrew McMahon (maybe you know him from Something Corporate) discovered as he was recording his debut album that he had leukemia. He had been videotaping the recording process and continued into his treatment and recovery. He made a documentary which is finally hitting stores Nov. 3rd.
The trailer is here and I hope you guys feel as moved as I am by the story and maybe find a great band to listen to and a good cause to support!
Greetings from the low-res front! I've been enjoying a packed few weeks, not so much time for blogging . . . finally catching my breath!
I recently began posting poetry readings on my individual blog, via YouTube. Please visit and feel free to comment! Constructive criticism would be appreciated!
I also posted a little update on my progress with my various writing projects . . . I think part of the low-res struggle is having limited interface with other people who are working hard to keep themselves on track with their writing. Reading everyone's posts here has definitely been a significant motivator and morale boost for me, thanks to you all!
Saturday, September 12, 2009
It's hard to believe next week will begin my 4th week in grad school! I'm feeling the weight of everything now, and I think I'm finally in full-swing. I have plenty of assignments to complete for my classes, and I've been doing quite a bit of work for my Instructional Assistant (IA) position. I'm having a lot of fun, but also doing a lot of work. You can read the entire post here, at my blog.
I hope you all are having a great time so far! I've really enjoyed checking in and reading all these posts. And hey, thanks for answering my questions I posted a few weeks ago!
by Emily May Anderson
When I visited Penn State in March, some of the MFAs gave us an unofficial tour of the Burrowes Building, home of the English Department. They showed us some of the seminar rooms where we’d have classes, the library of lit mags and previous student theses, the big poster listing all the student publications, and they showed us the GTA offices. All the MFAs have their offices in a large basement room divided into shared cubicles. It’s fluorescently lit, cluttered, and feels like…well, cubicles in a basement.
I was a little put off. My disappointment was probably because I had the good fortune to be an undergrad a couple of years after the English Department had moved into a brand new building and the grad students at BG had real offices – two (or maybe three) people might share a room, a real room with a door, and they’d each have a desk – on the 3rd or 4th floor, with windows. Those little basement cubes were just depressing!
At the beginning of this semester, it was a little bit annoying to have to schedule my time in the office in cooperation with my cube-mate; there’s only one desk and one computer so we can’t both be in there at the same time. And the temperature regulation in the basement is not the best; it tends to be hot, so people open windows, so then it gets cold. I’ve learned to leave a sweater in my cabinet.
In spite of the fun that I’ve had here in State College, I’ve still felt pretty isolated, particularly during the week. My “previous life” in Columbus was very social: I had a lot of friends, I might go to trivia on a Monday, karaoke on a Wednesday, or just meet someone for coffee or a drink or dinner any day of the week. I seldom went more than a couple days without some sort of social interaction. And here it’s not like that. We are all buried in our work during the week (some people stay buried on weekends) and I might talk to the people in my classes, I might talk to my roommate for 5 minutes here and there, but then I go home and work.
Enter my cubicle. For a few different reasons, I ended up spending more time in my cube this week, and I realized that I would not want a separate office somewhere. I really like seeing people walk by; sometimes they just wave and say “Hi, how are you?” and a few times this week I actually had real conversations with some of my fellow students. It was nice! Just taking a few minutes out of the work day to chat with someone was surprisingly refreshing, and I realized that I love my cubicle. I would imagine the set-up was just designed because of the lack of available space, but it functions to foster community and to help people feel connected to each other.
So, do you have your own office? Do you have a cubicle? Do you feel like you get enough social interaction during the week? Etc?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
That's me and my boyfriend at my Uncle's wedding by the way. Aren't we cute? Haha.
So week two has passed successfully and I still feel ahead of the game with my reading. I finished Northanger Abbey already for my Tuesday afternoon class and I am halfway through A Doll's House for my playwriting class.
I'm up for workshop next week. I'm not as tentative about the fiction workshop as I was last week. This week was much better and after the first workshops today, they weren't bad. The writing was good, the critiques constructive. I'm excited to give my story a go next week. I'm submitting the first 25 pages of my novella. The part that actually needs the most workshopping so it should be good.
I was concerned about having two and a half hour classes but they go by so quickly. They are packed full and at the end I'm surprised to be finished and starting my drive home. I feel like I'm getting a better feel for my professors and my classmates. I'm comfortable, I'm starting to show myself more than last week.
So much reading to do, I shouldn't even be blogging now!
Check out a one-page play I wrote for class on my blog
Til next time!
My brain is working a million miles a minute, and I've had an insane afternoon in terms of thinking about my poetry. I had my first thesis meeting today, and I'm just so excited about writing and being here, and seriously I might spontaneously combust.
Here's the linky to a long blog about my thesis meeting experience:
by Jennifer Brown
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
by Whitney Gray
I thought it might be fun to post a few questions to our contributors.
All of us have very different backgrounds, and yet, we've made it to the same place. It hit me today that it is September, and the end of the year is drawing closer. A year ago, I was beginning my job at a children's shoe store. (I am not even kidding.) The thought of an MFA program never really crossed my mind. I was still recovering from a hectic senior year at my undergrad, and the summer was a good time to relax. I made a few trips, adopted a cat, moved into my new place with a new roommate, and made a point not to work. But, I needed a job, and I ended up working at this store. It was fun (sometimes), and easy money (not commission-based, yay!), and allowed me to do a lot of reading. I sat in on a couple workshops hosted by my favorite professor at my undergrad, and then I began to realize I wanted to be a part of a writing program. I knew I lacked discipline and wanted a rigorous work-load and the opportunity to keep workshopping. So, now I turn to you, my fellow MFA'ers--where were you one year ago? What were you doing? Were you considering grad school at that point?
The programs are a lot of work, yes, but I would be lying if I said the MFA'ers (at least at UNCG) didn't party hard. Has anyone been to a good party (or other social gathering)? The director of UNCG's program, Jim Clark, held a barbecue the night before classes began. Many students live within walking distance to Jim's house, so we congregated in the streets, drinking beer, swapping stories and introductions, and nibbling on Jim's delicious North Carolina-style bbq'ed ribs. I find the unofficial "orientations" to be far more exciting than the official meetings. I've also attended a Mad Men-themed party, which I was more than happy to attend. (I LOVE THAT SHOW!) There is also talk of another themed party (dinosaurs! dinosaurs?), and I'm sure there are many more to come. So how have you been enjoying your time in the program? Have you been to any great parties?
I can't wait to hear your answers!
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Hi everybody! Hope you had a wonderful relaxing Labor Day weekend! I'm already looking forward to fall break...just a month away!
I wrote some about writing, where I write (as silly as it is) and my process over at rachelmarsom.com. Here's the linky: Where do you write?
p.s. I am only getting workshopped twice (scratch that, four times, OOPS!) this semester. My first time will be Sept. 21st, so that's why you haven't heard anything specific about poetry from me yet!
Monday, September 7, 2009
by Jonterri Gadson
Okay, so I'm fresh out of the first workshop where one of my pieces was discussed. Immediately following my workshop, I felt really uneasy, so I had a conversation over drinks with the other 1st years that started like this, "I'm feeling uneasy, so I need to say..." and that helped a lot! So let's talk about that here too :)
Overall: Workshop was great. I'm glad I'm here. I am in the right place. The biggest thing I got out of it was that my work MUST go to another level. From the comments I received on my work, I am not even close to where I would like to be with my poetry. I believe that these people honestly care to help me with my work and I am grateful for each one of them and the time and care they put into their comments.
What came out of my "feeling uneasy" convo was that my discomfort was actually with the format of the workshop. In undergrad workshops we started with a praise section: what worked in the piece, why it worked, what you liked about it etc.. There was no praise section, no buffer, so it was a little shocking to me this time. I'm not saying that there weren't any positive comments, there were, but there was no set aside praise time lol. I'll go to church if I want praise, I guess, not workshop.
I don't consider myself resistant to change but I believe I'm being a bit resistant to change. I can admit this so I can move on from this. I'm glad to get exposure to different methods of workshopping. I'm open to the process. I had expectations that I shouldn't have had since I knew nothing about how it would all go down.
I got a lot of great feedback on my piece, though I don't really know where to go with it yet, but I'll give it time.
I had doubts about my ability to give useful feedback to people's work that was totally different than my own. Discussing the pieces in workshop gave me a better understanding of each piece and what the poet wanted the piece to do. I loved hearing others' perspectives and their perspectives helped me to clarify my own.
I can honestly say I'm not the same person that walked into that workshop. I know it's dramatic, but it's true.
When I was 10, I almost drowned in the city pool. After the lifeguard fished me out of the pool, she sat me down on the edge of the pool and said, "Alright, we have to get you right back in the water, otherwise you might always be scared." I have another piece up for discussion next week. I didn't come here to succumb to fear.
Now that last paragraph right there, that's drama lol.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
by Emily May Anderson
1. It wasn't as scary as I'd thought. I was a nervous wreck the night before my first poetry workshop in over 9 years. I even sent a copy of my poem to one of my poet friends in Columbus before workshop. But it was not that bad. Robin Becker's approach to graduate workshop is not to "fix" the poems, but to read them, paraphrase them, question them, and try to understand them, and to ask questions about how they might be improved. It was very constructive!
2. I need to read more carefully. I mentioned before I think that the focus of our workshop this semester is on chapbooks. Each week we will read a chapbook or two and respond to them. I read the ones assigned for this week and thought I made pretty intelligent comments, but the people in the class were deep and really seemed to have studied the books a lot more than I had. I felt like I was understanding them better through the discussion, and like if I would have read them sooner and more repeatedly that I would have been better equipped to discuss them.
3. This will be a lot of work. The eight of us are each workshopping a poem each week, plus reading and responding to chapbooks. We critique each other's work in class only, so that does not add to the workload out of class, but it makes for an intensely focused three hours.
4. I am glad to be here and to be doing this. And that's the most important part.
Oh, and if you want to read the first piece I workshopped, I posted it on my blog tonight. (My name links to the blog. It's the newest post.)
Friday, September 4, 2009
I already talked about much of my first day. It was a good day. A little nerve-racking I'll admit. A lot of reading to do, a big presentation (90 minutes) - scary, but it was inspiring. I enjoyed the day and was glad to be there. I was anxiously waiting Thursday and my fiction workshop.
My Fiction workshop was not quite as exciting and exhilarating. We didn't write or read. We didn't do much of anything. Basically for two hours we went around and introduced ourselves and went off on tangents about various authors or ideas. I felt at a loss with such little structure. We didn't even get a syllabus yet. I think it will get better once we start workshopping and writing but my first class did not have me leaving happy. Or feeling like I was studying writing, nonetheless anything.
I'm debating what I should get ready for my first workshop which I hope to be the week after next. A few chapters from my novel? The beginning of my novella.... I'm not sure yet. Something good.
My teacher said something to the liking of: all first year students think they can write but they can't and they suck at it.
I don't like that statement. Writers can always get better. I get better every day. I mean the change from my last novella to my current novel is insane. I didn't want to study writing originally because I didn't want someone to tell me I couldn't write because writing is my life and even if I never get published and even if my boyfriend and friends are the only ones to ever read my stories, I don't care. I will still write. So I'm going to try and take advice and really get something out of the workshop but I'm not ever going to say mine or someone else's work is bad.
Next week should be interesting.... the real work begins...
Thursday, September 3, 2009
by Whitney Gray
This is going to sound overly dramatic, and I'm certainly playing it up a bit, but there's always a hint of truth in comedy.. right?
Well, today we had our first poetry workshop at good ol' UNCG.. and it was.. interesting. I really loved the pacing of the class. In three hours, we covered six poems out of the ten submitted. Each poem received a lot of time for reading and critiquing. At times, I struggled with the format of the workshop, because the poet is given no time to defend or clarify anything within the poem. (One friend pointed out that if you were reading a poem out of the canon, you wouldn't have the luxury of asking the poet. Point taken.) In previous workshops, we would discuss a poem, and then turn to the poet so that he or she could answer any questions, or to ask his or her own. It helped clear up some confusion for both the readers and the writers. We discussed this with our professor, who said we may turn to the poets in later classes, but for now, we will stick to the layout.
Another interesting part of the class was how the poems were ordered. Stuart Dischell implemented the method that however the poems were turned in, no matter the order, was the order that would be used in class. It just so happens this "random order" stacked all of the first year poets back-to-back and at the front of the pile. I didn't have the pleasure of going first, but being a part of the first group wasn't as intimidating as I had expected. I did, however, go last, and with only a few minutes remaining in class. I was worried that people would begin shuffling around, preparing to leave the course, but no one glanced at the clock and hinted that they were ready to leave. I received an equal amount of attention to my poem that the previous poets received. I appreciated the equality, as well as the pacing of the class allowing us to fit my poem into this session, rather than leave it to next week.
I will say, however, that the experience in the workshop was very tough. My classmates are far more trained that classmates I had in my undergrad workshops. People know exactly what they want to say, and how to say it. When they have any confusion or difficulty with a part of a poem, they say it. I'll admit, my poem wasn't the strongest, but I was very surprised to hear the reactions. My poem was read to be quite hilarious, when really, it was intended to have a very sarcastic, but not necessarily humorous tone. The misreading made it difficult for me to focus. Then, I had that moment every warned me of: The Moment of Self Doubt. I began noting on my poem--"is this poem a failure? What have I done wrong? How can I clarify?" Those notes didn't hold the real questions though. "Am I a failure? How did I get in this program? Do I really know how to write? Does everyone think I'm stupid?"
The feelings, thankfully, have passed, but that little bit of self doubt will always be in the back of my mind. I think this doubt will help drive me to write better poems and to focus on the things I value in poetry: precision, and above all else, clarity. I wrote about the importance of clarity in my Statement of Purpose, for Pete's sake! It was a good dose of reality, albeit difficult to swallow, but it can only help me.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I have to say after a year and a half out of the game, it felt really good to be back in a classroom. I hadn't realized how much I missed the classroom and discussions on literature and having new people to talk with, bond with over books and writing.
I will admit I was a little nervous at first, afraid that I wasn't as smart or well read as my peers but I think I held my own. I read a good amount between high school and college and then on my own. I feel well-rounded.
I had two classes last night. Five hours of class - my butt hurt for sure. The day started off with Genre Development: Novel. It's a reading intensive class. 12 book. I have to do 90 minute presentation/discuss on September 29 about Mrs. Dalloway. Great. A preview of what my future in teaching may be. There's eight people in my class and it seems like a good bunch. A little quiet though.
My second class was playwriting, which I was a little worried about but my teacher is a riot. I think I'll really enjoy it, as long as he lets me keep my shoes on from now on.
I have a lot of homework this semester. It's going to be a challenge for sure.
Fiction writing is tomorrow night.
I'll keep you updated.
Put a link in the comments and I'll update the post. I'll list them in alphabetical order:
Arts & Letters - GCSU
Dislocate- University of Minnesota
Fourteen Hills - SFSU
The Journal- Ohio State
Northwest Review- University of Oregon
Packington Review- University of Illinois- Chicago
Phoebe- George Mason
Before I scoot along to that last class, I have a question for my fellow MFAers. For my literature class, taught by the amazing and fabulously coiffed Jeanne Larsen, I must submit the most perfect poem ever published. Needless to say I am baffled and dazed by options. Since I know there are many, many poets and poetry lovers who contribute to and read this blog, I thought I would ask you. What do you think is the most perfect poem?
by Jonterri Gadson
Alright, so I had my first poetry workshop on Monday. I had the drama of putting my poem in the wrong spot the week before, but it didn't matter because we didn't end up workshopping. The class was more of an Intro to Greg Orr. So we all went around and introduced ourselves and told the story of how we came to write poetry. This was a great exercise! These people fascinate me!
What I learned was that I need to read, read, read more. All of my heroes are contemporary poets and Greg made the point that poets exist on a family tree and that we should study their descendants. The point that really brought that home was when he mentioned how Sylvia Plath's earlier work was less strong but once she immersed herself in the work of Roethke her writing took off. We read 6 of Roethke poems and the lyricism was so strong! So I may start my exploration of the family tree with him. I'm excited about that because one of the major things I wanted to get out of an MFA program was exposure. Getting it!
He's obviously passionate about poetry and that's a huge comfort. Poetry does not appear to be just his day job so I am interested to see what he'll have to say about my work. I turned in another poem so I may be getting workshopped for the next 2 weeks.
After workshop we went out for drinks/food and I discovered that, oddly, "peach margarita" sounds exactly like "huge margarita". Try it in a sentence! lol
Last night we had our first reading in the UVA MFA Reading Series. A poet and a fiction writer read. I (and 2 other first year poets) have class until 9pm when the readings start so we were about 15 minutes late. It was alright. We hung around for a few hours and had some drinks and I got to meet some fiction people I'd wanted to meet and to talk more with my poetry people. These people totally fascinate me! One of my classmates talked to me about doing a duet poem. Excited about that! Good times.
Oh, the venue is beautiful!
I read on 10/20. Raina said she may show up, so that would be a huge bonus! Anyone else is also welcome if you happen to be near. For those in the DC/VA area, please share your events because I just may be able to come support you!
Oh! I did my first post for Meridian, UVAs literary magazine. Thanks to Keely for commenting! You all should consider submitting your work to Meridian. For real. :)
Okay, so I have yet to establish any type of writing routine here! I can honestly say that 75% of the reasons why are due to my own laziness! I know, I know! So I'm saying this here for accountability. Next week, I WILL be talking about how I found a place to write and how I'm going there every week day. If I don't, feel free to say, "Ummmm JayTee, where's that post about how you are the queen of writing time?"
Quick post to let you know that the MFA Degree Association is offering free memberships (totally free, no trial period) to MFA Chroniclers!
I look at MFA Degree association as a social media site for MFAs of all types. From the site it looks like they are planning to host panels & workshops, provide opportunities for members to interact with "editors, gallery owners, agents, managers, etc.". Right now there is an event scheduled in Los Angeles.
Here's some info on Lawrence Ross, the founder: wikipedia and his own blog from his time in UCLA's MFA program for screenwriting.
We can cross-post our blog posts over there if we like, he has no problem with us sharing our content over there if we choose.
I don't want to give out anyone's email address for the free memberships without permission so post in the comments if you'd be interested and I can send him a list or you can email Lawrence Ross, the founder here: email@example.com.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
by Whitney Gray
Last week, I visited all of my classes and got a feel for what I'll be learning. Thursday was the workshop, and we didn't do anything other than introductions and discussing the syllabus and a poem or two. We turned in our poems on Monday and by the afternoon, we had packets prepared and placed in the mailboxes. (I have a mailbox! Exciting!) I picked mine up after a long day of work in the English department, and looked them over as I walked home.
After I made it home, I sat down and re-read the poems, paying closer attention to the writing and styles. As one of my classmates joked, "we all wrote the same poems." It was interesting how many insects (or other creatures like mangy cats) and dead folks popped up in all of our poems. The best surprise of all? All of the writing was good.
I'm sure we've all been in workshops where there were a few folks who meant well but didn't get it. I don't say this to sound superior or snotty, but I do feel like I can point some fingers at my fellow classmates who joined the classes for an "easy" grade. These are the folks who didn't turn in poems, or would turn in 4-lines about the stalker "who watches the woman at her house/he waits for her quietly like a mouse."
Suddenly the caliber of the work has sky-rocketed and there's an obvious sense of commitment. Each poem is thoughtful, well-written, but with plenty of room for improvement and discussion. The styles were varied, as were the lengths of each piece. I'm looking forward to discussing these poems and really digging into them. I can't wait to read a poem and get a response other than, "I liked it." (I had a class of people who would say "I agree with [name here]" but they would never offer their own comments.)
Has anyone else been to workshop yet? Has anyone else had bad experiences with their workshops (or the people involved)? Or was I the only one fortunate enough to read rhyming poetry about sorority rush?