Saturday, May 29, 2010

End o' year thoughts

by: Raina Lauren Fields

Whew! What a semester! If you’re interested in reading about wrapping up: my first year of graduate school, my first semester of teaching, getting engaged, and what I think is in store in fall 2010, then read on!

This semester, I took:

Poetry Workshop – Erika Meitner
Editing a Literary Magazine – Bob Hicok
Practicum – Matthew Vollmer
Modern African American Fiction – Virginia Fowler

Classes were stressful this semester. I took my first graduate literature course and felt in the dark, a lot of the class. It was a lesson into what I need to do to step my game up in these literature classes in the future. We read a lot of great literature – some of which I read before, but with a much more refined eye to the texts: Gwendolyn Brooks’ Maud Martha, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, were just a few of the books we read during the semester.

Poetry workshop went smoothly and I felt like this semester was a breakthrough in my level of writing. Unfortunately, none of the pieces I produced this year were published in any literary magazines or journals, but I hope with some work and some love that I can place them somewhere in the future.

The literary magazine course I took involved reviving The Minnesota Review, a leading critical magazine’s work and bringing up the status of the literary work that is presented in the magazine. I read slush for the poetry section, along with several of my classmates. I also was involved in researching marketing and advertising opportunities. Next semester, I will act as the General Editor, providing support and guidance to the publication. In addition, my classmates and I have started an online literary magazine under the guidance of Bob Hicok. While it’s not formally affiliated with the MFA program (in that it’s not being funded by the university), it’s a great learning experience in the inner workings of a magazine.


Teaching…is hard. For the spring semester, I taught one section of Virginia Tech’s ENGL 1106: Writing with Research. Side effects included student drama, continued feelings of overwhelm and fatigue, and dear God, what did I sign up for! Next semester, I will be teaching two sections of ENGL 1105: Introduction to College English. This summer, I’m spending some time to get together my syllabus, lesson plans, and researching different exercises and activities that are not only intellectual but fun.


I went to AWP in Denver! I was a blast! Met a ton of great folks, including some of my poetry idols, Rita Dove, Allison Joseph, and Patricia Smith. I spent way too much money at the book fair, but the only consequence of that is being smarter! (Oh and a smaller wallet, but you win some and you lose some). I also was on a panel entitled “The 21st Century MFA student.”

I am back in VA after two weeks of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop, which took place in College Station, TX – also known as Aggieland, also known as the town of Texas A&M. I’ve never experienced workshops like that ever before. Every day was emotional, every day was learning something new not only about your poetry but yourself. I am so thankful from that experience and am still decompressing and still writing.

Nest semester, I hope to get more involved in and out of the department by volunteering, tutoring, etc. I've also started the ground work for a professional certificate that I could complete by Spring 2012, but am playing with the idea of trying to design my own certificate in education. Not sure if the graduate school will buy it, but there's always trying!

Oh, there's that pesky thing called a thesis I'm starting to think about. And always mapping out what will happen in the future, once I've finished this darn MFA. But I'm trying this new thing called "living in the moment," so let's see how that goes.


For Spring Break, my boyfriend and I visited Paris and London. It was a great, romantic trip. We also got engaged in Paris! My fiancĂ©, Ross, and I had been dealing the effects of a long distance relationship since I started my MFA program in the fall. (He’s in NJ, I’m in VA – an 8-hour distance). He also works full time, so seeing each other more than once a month, just isn’t an option. Methinks we will be getting married Summer 2012, though no date is set yet.

Ross recently got into the MFA program in poetry at Virginia Commonwealth University with full funding! We are now going to be 3.5 hours apart, which is much better!

Hopefully, I’ll be spending the summer in NJ with Ross, though finding any semblance of a summer job is so difficult. I do need to keep up with my apartment and my car payments, so I’m praying something goes well. I have a few internship offers in NY, which I’m really grateful for, but they would be unpaid and it may not be practical to do something like that now.

So, we shall see!

Congrats to everyone who finished their first year! We did it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I finished undergrad!

By Laura

On Sunday I graduated from the University of Rhode Island with my BA in English. Yay! So I wanted to write a post about how my undergrad career has led up to the decision to go to an MFA program.

My first couple years of college, I really had no idea what I would do when I graduated. I loved my major, loved working hard in my classes, but whenever I thought about the future... panic! It didn't help that I was bombarded from every angle with the English Major Question that I'm sure many of you are familiar with: "What are you going to do with that?" (Said with that certain disdainful tone, as though English were the most impractical thing ever to major in and I might as well get a degree in making daisy-chains, for all the good it would do me in the "real world.") I knew that writing was my favorite thing to do, along with reading everything I could get my hands on, but didn't know if it would be possible for me to pursue writing as a real career.

Then, in my junior year, I took a poetry workshop. Right from the first day of class, I was smitten. I had an amazing professor (Peter Covino), whose book was the first book of poetry I ever bought (and loved). I'd been writing poetry since high school (as a teenager I would scribble sestinas on the back of my math homework during class), but that poetry workshop really taught me to take poetry seriously as something I could do, to believe in the integrity of the work. I'll always be grateful to Peter for that. I took another poetry class with him the second semester that year, and he encouraged me to apply to MFA programs. Once I found out what an MFA program entailed, it pretty much sounded like the best thing ever and I decided that was what I had to do! I decided to go for the MFA because of all the opportunities it will open up -- meeting and working with more amazing mentors, being part of a close community of writers, teaching (hopefully!!), just immersing myself in the whole experience of starting out as a writer. I know the MFA itself doesn't guarantee me success as a writer, but I know it will be a great experience.

This past year, I continued to write poetry, taking two excellent poetry classes with Talvikki Ansel (another wonderful poet & professor at URI), in which I was further encouraged to move my work out of my comfort zone and try new things. I also discovered nonfiction by taking a workshop with Mary Cappello last fall. I loved exploring and practicing the strange and indefinable genre that is creative nonfiction. I was so happy that I was able, in my second semester senior year, to take Prof. Cappello's graduate seminar in experimental nonfiction while still an undergrad, which was an amazing learning experience and which moved my writing in more unexpected and daring directions.

I feel very fortunate to have had such a wonderful experience as an undergrad, and to have found so many incredible creative writing mentors already. I'm looking forward to grad school so much -- all the new things I will learn, the as-yet-unknown directions that my writing will move toward, the professors and students with whom I will get to work closely -- but I'll also never stop being grateful to those at my undergrad school who have helped me so much! Because of the excellent professors with whom I worked at URI, I've been inspired to devote myself to my writing, believe in it, take risks and stretch it in new directions. I know it's only the beginning and I've still got the MFA and (probably) PhD to go, but I hope that someday I can inspire and encourage students in the same way my professors have inspired and encouraged me!

Monday, May 24, 2010

First Year Wrap Up!! (UVA)

I, too, made it through the first year of my MFA program. Let's get straight to the highlights:

Fall Semester

-getting to work with Greg Orr. The weekly one-on-one's were like therapy. I was able to comfortably explore topics in my poetry that I wasn't ready to share with the workshop yet in these meetings.

-MFA Reading Series. I loved hearing my cohort's work and I loved getting the opportunity to share my work. I got such great feedback from everyone. I discovered how much I actually like reading.

-started developing close friendships with two people in my program in particular. Our weekly coffee dates live on!

-the first two poems I workshopped were accepted and published!

-taking a literary journal editing class and getting a behind the scenes look at how Best New Poets is put together at the printing press.

Spring Semester

-workshop at Rita Dove's house. Weekly one-on-one's with Rita. Rita's thorough feedback. In the last meeting she kicked her feet up on her desk and kept saying, "This is so fun!" lol I mention this because people might assume that celebrity poets can't teach and won't be accessible. She is not that poet. I believe we actually formed relationships with her that will last.

-The Virginia Festival of the Book. Falling in love with Kevin Young and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon's poetry after their readings was a welcome surprise. I can already see the effects on my own writing.

-wrote and revised the longest paper I've ever written for a graduate level lit class.

-decided for sure that I'm not going to pursue a CW PhD at this time. Now I can execute my post-mfa plan of attack on my future with more focus.

I know I'm leaving a ton of stuff out. I'm happy to be here. Happy to be in an MFA program. I promise to do a post on tips for surviving grad school as a single parent. There are a few of us out there! I can't believe the plan I had when I went back for my undergrad degree at 29 yrs old came together more perfectly than I dreamed it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Submissions and Successes!

I know via Facebook and Twitter that many contributors have had publication successes over this past year. So let's get a good list going in the comments. This will be a good way for us to not only share our successes, but for others to get some ideas, inspiration, and places to submit.

Also, C.D. Smith, the editor of Fire Point: A Journal of MFA Prose and Poetry wants everyone to check them out. Submit!

Raina tweeted that the deadline for Best New Poets is approaching on 5/20. The reading fee is only $3.50 per two poems. You can't beat that for possible publication in a book.

I'll be doing my first year wrap-up soon! And fixing up the contributor's list. I don't have an update on my progress on world peace.

Post your pubs in the comments!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

First Year Wrap-Up (GMU)

by Jennifer Brown

With the exception of one workshop—and I’m not “up”—I’ve completed year one of my MFA program. And what springs to mind is this: Thank god it is a three-year program! If it were two years, I’d be moving on to my thesis and thinking about graduating, and I’m not even close to ready for that. I feel like I’ve just now become adjusted, just now learned how to read closely enough to participate fully in class, just now learned some of the basics of writing decent fiction. I still feel very much like a beginner and I am glad I’ll have an extra year to work on technique before I move on to the novel that will be my thesis.

The most important thing that has happened this year is that I’ve realized how bad I am. You can’t spend large amounts of time every week devoted to reading the likes of Hemingway and Faulkner and come away thinking you are a “good” writer. You just can’t. But the great thing about the realization that you aren’t any good yet is that you can move on from there—you can get your bearings and learn and improve and even reach for the stars. Knowing how far you have to go is knowledge—and that is a great thing.

As far as my writing is concerned, it has improved 100 percent, and I’ve learned more in one year than I had hoped to learn over the course of the whole program. I’m still struggling terribly with the idea of story, but I’m finding my “voice,” and liking it. I’m enjoying the creation of elegant sentences and working with the great art of description as much as I’ve ever enjoyed anything. I’m confident that getting a handle on how to tell a story will come with practice and lots of reading. I am to write a novella this summer and I’m both excited about it and terrified. But at least I feel I have the tools to do it.

The decision to go through an MFA program was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Finishing my first year of MFA

You don't want to look at a picture of me. You want to start celebrating, as I know many of you are in the same boat as me! HALFWAY THROUGH THE MFA! WOOT!

I wrote up a reflection on the past year over at You can click HERE! I still feel like there's a lot of stuff I didn't even get a chance to address, so I hope to write a couple more of these in the next few weeks as I continue to process everything.

If you're not done with the semester yet, good luck with all your final projects!

Who do you write for?

By Casey Tolfree

Sorry I've been absent for much of the semester. It's been pretty hectic. Truthfully though, there hasn't really been much to say. I've just been working and writing for the past few weeks. AWP was awesome. I got my thesis advisor this week. Everything suddenly became real. I have a hard deadline. It's actually inspired me to spend a lot more time at my computer.

When I woke up this morning I had a bunch of my classmates, who are just posting their final blogs for our practicum class. We had to review writing blogs/author blogs and then do peer reviews of each other's blog. One of my classmates reviewed my blog, Lifex2. I can't really tell how he felt about it, but either way one thing he said really made me start thinking about just who we are writing for as bloggers, novelists, poets, anything.

He said, I write as if I already have an audience. (Look at my followers list... I don't lol). It got me thinking How else would I write? If I write like I am trying to convince people to read my blog or as if no one else is reading I think the writing, insights, everything would be much worse. Similar to how I view my fiction, I write my blog for that one person. I don't know who she is, but I write for the one person who will find my blog or read my novel and whose life will be effected by my words. That's it. Success would be great, but I'm not writing to be a superstar. I write because I have to. It's an inherent part of me. It's that simple.

As for my blog, I try to keep it fun. It grows with me. My practicum brought back a lot of journalism I thought I had to leave at the door when I joined the MFA program. It was fun. I enjoyed transitioning my blog from a forum of work to antidotes and reviews. It let me use a skill set I have a lot of expertise in.

I posted reviews of my blog one day. It was a riot trying to create the fanfare you see on the back of a book. I had fun. Writing is supposed to be fun. Sometimes I think we forget that. We get so wrapped up in grades and what's right and what works that we forget to just sit back and have fun.

Who do you write for? How do you write? And why do you write? I have this assignment for next week where we have to observe how we write as we are writing. It's like meta-squared. Try it... see what you come up with. You might surprise yourself.
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