Monday, August 23, 2010

And It Begins All Over Again

Year Two of my MFA program at Penn State started today. Poetry workshop bright and early at 9:05 Monday morning. A lovely group of seven MFAs, one PhD lit student, and one MA lit student. And the talented, smart, and helpful Julia Kasdorf at the helm. Julia was the MFA director when I applied to the program, she called me with my acceptance, I met her at recruitment weekend, etc; then she was on sabbatical last year. The older students had talked about how great she was in workshop, and after one day, I think they’re right. We didn’t actually workshop today, but we discussed our ideas and goals in terms of “voice” (the general theme of the workshop this semester), we each read a poem we’d written over the summer, and we discussed the reading we’d done for today (selections from Frank Bidart’s collected poems). It’s a nice group of people, and the vibe is very positive. ‘Twas a perfect way to begin the semester!

I’m undecided right now on the other class I’ll be taking this semester. Since this is a two year program now, and I’ll be working on my thesis, I’m registered for thesis credits which means I only need two “real” classes. Right now I’m registered for both a lit seminar on Shakespearean tragedies and a lit course on the 1930s which promises to be heavily political/cultural studies-ish. I’m masochistically considering staying in both of them, but I think I’ll end up dropping one.

I’m teaching an Intro to Creative Writing class, which I’m thrilled about. We meet for the first time tomorrow at 8:00am. I posted an overview of how the course is set up in a comment to JayTee’s post on teaching so I won’t reiterate it all here, but it’s basically a mixture of instruction and practice in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction (i.e. lecture/discussion, lots of writing exercises, one workshop per genre).

What else? Oh yeah, that whole thesis thing…. It is so strange to me that a year ago I hadn’t even begun my MFA program, and now I am halfway finished. While it would be nice to have a third year, I think the two year program is for the best (I don’t think I could take another year in Central Pennsylvania without serious detriment to my sanity). It’s crazy to think about having a book manuscript done by May, but it’s exciting as well. I turned in about 35 pages of poems to my thesis advisor at the end of spring semester, got her comments back over the summer, and then proceeded to not write very much at all…. In my defense, I did a lot of reading, and I did do some writing; but I traveled a fair amount (spent two wonderful weeks in California – half in San Francisco, where my new picture was taken, and half in Berkeley – and also spent a couple of long weekends back in Columbus), I also taught a summer class, and I took an intensive Spanish class, so for six weeks I was on campus eight hours a day, five days a week. Not too conducive to getting a lot of writing done.

However, I feel like I have a solid idea for my manuscript and good direction for the revisions on what I’ve already given my advisor so I only need another 15 pages or so. Totally doable, right?

So, for those of you who are starting, or preparing to start Year Two, how do you feel? I’m a lot more comfortable than I was a year ago, but also feeling an increased pressure to “perform”, i.e. publish, get into a PhD program, get a job, or something.

Good luck to everyone this fall, at whatever stage you currently find yourselves!


  1. hey Emily!! I hope that you're a morning person w/ all of those bright & early classes. (: Best of luck as you begin your fall semester and start to solidify some concepts for your thesis. I'd love to hear any advice on stringing together a manuscript! I not ready to go back to school. I'm still at home, laying on beaches and soaking up the sun while I can. eeks!

  2. Funny you should mention the morning thing because I am totally NOT a morning person! My Spanish class this summer met from 8:00-12:25 every day so I kind of got used to it, but I think teaching may be a very different (and more exhausting) experience in the mornings.

    We talked a lot in my workshop last fall about arranging manuscripts, and there are many different approaches. I'd be curious to hear what other people are doing as well. Are there any other poets here going into their thesis years?

    In terms of my organization, I had a general idea of theme and then just looked at how different poems related to each other - common images, common language, conflicting ideas or cumulative ideas - and ended up making a tentative three part manuscript. One of our visiting writers last year talked about looking at first lines and last lines and matching things up that way. It certainly yields some interesting results and juxtapositions. In my chapbook manuscript from last fall (most of which is also going into the thesis), there are two parts, each one arranged in a seasonal, though not strictly chronological, way. But that didn't work for the larger piece so I just looked for other connections. I know there are some gaps and I'm really trying to write "into" those this fall.

  3. A two year program works best for me. I'm ready to get out of Central Virginia! It seems like my thesis just came out of nowhere. I have like 35 pages! I'm ready for my next step. Not so much feeling pressure to get a job or continue my education, I'm eager to attack some other writing opportunities post-mfa while I'm editing and sending out my manuscript. I'm ready to go!

  4. It sounds like you've got a good year ahead of you, and though I'm happy with 3 years, there are certainly things I'm itching to do once I've got the time. Like, do you have enough Spanish to start translating (I took Old English translation and it was the bomb)?

    And I dunno about filling in those holes in the manuscript--I do that, too, but I worry that it makes the edges a little too smooth. Your thoughts?

  5. Just now seeing the comments after mine....

    JayTee, that is exciting! I'm happy for you :)

    Josh, I would say that I could translate Spanish but it would be very labor-intensive at this point for me. I'm hoping to audit a more advanced class this spring because it's something I'd like to do at some point. And in terms of filling in holes/making smooth edges, I know what you mean. Maybe filling in holes isn't exactly the best description... Once I put that preliminary ms together, I thought of things that should be part of it, but there will certainly be (deliberate) gaps left.

  6. Ah, gotcha. Deliberate gaps makes sense. Good luck with the Spanish!

    Lucky that you can pursue it more an advanced level. Although, you might even want to try one or two fun labor-intensive translations--you might find out something weird about your own writing, just with the effort...(plus it's surprisingly cool!). And it doesn't take too long, either. (Thank goodness for not trying to translate novels!)


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