Friday, September 24, 2010

The Journal, Now with Online Submissions

Hello all,

I am writing this brief post to inform you that the literary journal I edit for, The Journal, has recently switched over to online submissions, joining a growing trend in literary magazines that encourages a greater quantity of submissions and makes the process of submitting more organized and easier for the submitters. Anyway, I invite you guys, and anyone reading this blog, to submit to The Journal electronically!

Find our submission manager here. Good luck to all the returning second years and brand new first years on this blog! Hope it's a great year for us all :-)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A degree in writing

Sometimes I think that the most immediate benefit of the graduate workshop isn't becoming a better writer, but becoming a better reader.

I believe this is mostly from forcing yourself to understand other people's work, to understand what's working in other people's work. Perhaps the poem isn't even doing something you haven't seen before, you just thought it was uninteresting, or not useful (and you were wrong).

Do other people share this view of the graduate workshop, i.e. becoming an even better reader than you are becoming a writer?

A corollary: a poet I know likes to ask people whether they are readers first or writers first, and he thinks that if you say writer first then you're not going to become as good a writer as you otherwise would. I tend to disagree. Thoughts?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Things I like, and some things I don't.

I love my MFA program. I am really very happy with my professors, my fellow classmates, and the atmosphere of the program in general. I love doing the work, the readings, the writing--being at UNH has shown me that yes, this is absolutely the right path for me. Even though I didn't really have much to say in workshop this past week, I definitely am going to make up for that next week, because I'll be able to read my classmates' work ahead of time and prepare good, well-thought out responses. I love being immersed in the "writing culture" and getting to know other people who actually love writing as much as I do.

As much as I love the program, the atmosphere, and everything with my MFA program, I am definitely having a really hard time adjusting to the area of the country I've chosen to move to. Somersworth, NH is really in the middle of nowhere and totally rural. It takes a lot of adjustment to get used to a small town after living two years in a small city. I miss the diverse foods, the option to go out somewhere after midnight and that something will be open. I miss people walking around on functioning sidewalks, and I really miss falling asleep to the constant whirr of highway traffic. I think I feel more free, more open, and more confident when I am in a city. The rural life has left me feeling restricted, trapped and kind of sad. What kills me the most is that I knew I would hate it before I moved here. I keep trying to find the good: there's a beach a half-hour away, the mountains are an hour away, Boston is an hour and a half away, but these things never seem like enough.

Which brings me to another thing I'm having trouble with: I'm really poor. I noticed this when I arrived in workshop and I didn't have my pages stapled. I don't know where I put my stapler in the move, and I've looked for it everywhere. The stapler may have fallen onto the highway during the move, but I cannot find it. Also, I showed up in my novel-writing class with an assignment printed in blue ink because I'd forgotten to put black printer ink on the list of back-to-school items. People might have to get used to it for a while, because I can't afford more black ink.

But, I am really happy with my work, my classmates' work, and I am totally dedicated to the UNH program. I am willing to suffer through the awful rural aspects of the small-town for three years because I think the MFA program at UNH is pretty awesome. I think that says something about the program and how happy and lucky I feel to be a part of something that, in my opinion, totally rocks dude. I'm just curious though: how do you feel about the place that you moved to for the MFA? Does it really matter, and should it matter?

These Are the Gators in My Neighborhood

from Rebecca Bauman, University of Florida

  • I'm ridiculously impressed by my peers -- not just their talent, mind you, but their intelligence and maturity and wit and brilliant, glowing skin. This is the first time I've been in a writing community and not wanted to kill someone right out of the gate. Maybe kill isn't the right word. I think punch in the feckin' face might work. But not these chicas (which we mostly are -- only two guys in the class of 2013). Classy bunch, here. Likable and warm and dry. Thank God. I mean, THANK GOD. This sense of camaraderie is priceless.

  • Campus is gorgeous. I'm very familiar with Northern Florida, and being around all this green and all these critters and all this water is exactly what I wanted. My apartment is pretty much in the woods -- I'm like Ted Kaczynski now. And there are gators in a nearby pond and all kinds of big birds and bugs and armadillos and I swear I saw a bear last night, but my boyfriend said that it was just a really fat raccoon.

  • Classes can be frustrating. I'm only taking two -- a seminar in Jane Austen and a poetry workshop that features nothing but crazy-ass, crack-dealer-whacko prompts that ask each poet to produce Sestina-level frustrate-work. It's a challenge and few of us produce anything we can be proud of ... they're all just exercises, and the products of these exercises are similar to the products of crossword puzzles; one might feel satisfaction, but do we really need to workshop this stuff? Still, I admit: The training is really helpful. Suck it up, Bauman. (NOTE: We have only one faculty poet on campus right now. One is on sabbatical and the other is stuck in Germany with major visa issues that endanger his work at this very American university. Anxiety all around.)

  • Teaching brings nothing but utmost ambivalence. When I'm helpful and feel competent, I'm over the moon. When it's clear I'm lost and bored even with myself, I feel like I might as well be playing handball against a shower curtain. I don't want these students to feel like they've been dicked out of a hard-earned education. Honestly, the moments I find most frustrating aren't in those lessons that ask me to teach ideas and concepts and techniques I'm totally unfamiliar with, but in those lessons that ask me to teach things that have been totally self-evident to me for years. Teaching this level of writing is like teaching a bowel movement; I don't know how to explain what you're supposed to do, because I've always just kinda done it. And, again, I worry about letting my students down, I worry about scamming them. I want this to be useful, I want to make them feel capable and excited ... but I'm just a one-trick-pony in many ways. I can do my one little dance really well, but the rest is just me flopping around on the floor, drooling and grunting. And it must be terrifying to watch.

  • I really miss working with animals. I feel like something is missing from my life. There's an amazing horse shelter/retirement farm in town, but it's only open 4 hours a week, Saturday mornings. I need my medicine -- someone bring me a wounded 'possum to heal, a squirrel to foster, a goat to feed! I need a sense of purpose beyond light verse and screwing up my students' understanding of active and passive voice.

  • I still feel ridiculously fortunate to be here. Every day. And it is about luck, though people will argue: "You deserve this; you've earned this." Truth is, if I hadn't been born a relatively healthy, white, middle-class American, I might not have had the chance to reach my "potential." I have no delusions; I am lucky to be here. It's less of a meritocracy than we'd like to believe. But I'm beyond grateful, and I hope to suck every last bit of marrow from this crapshoot opportunity.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Can we call it Autumn yet?

Are we really into the third week of classes?! (For some at least).

That's a lot to wrap my head around. A week ago I probably would've said it's felt like I've been here months already. Now, well, the time seems to be flying.

I've settled into the routine I need to be most productive. Second year students have given me all sorts of great advice--including, the value of time spent away from your writing. How you should never feel guilty for watching a movie or walking around town or anything like that because sometimes, to get the clarity you need for a poem, you need to let your mind go elsewhere for a time. I'm sure most students on here can relate to the anxiety of a program's pressure. More often than not, I write drafts of poems in my head. I may jot down a phrase or image in a notebook, but when I sit down to write I feel like the first draft of my poem is partially written. Here, with workshops every Thursday and new poems due at least biweekly, I don't feel like I can have that creative ease as much anymore. Though, this pressure isn't all bad. Like I said, my routine is certainly more productive.

In my verse class yesterday, we talked about writing and habit. It seemed the consensus was that prosers respond more to routine (ie: writing at 11am every day for at least two hours) versus poets who seem to write more when "inspiration strikes," (oh, cliches). For right now, I'd consider myself somewhere in the middle. If I'm going to write, I need to carve out time to do so. But I also don't use that time the same way everyday. As long as I'm writing, editing, or at the very least reading everyday--I'm doing what I came here to do.

For those of you who have already had workshop--what did you think? How are the workshop structured? First years only? Upper classmen with lower? What kind of pieces are you submitting--anything new written over the summer or something you've had tucked away for a time?

Glad to hear everyone had relatively uneventful move-ins! Sorry my posts have been sans exciting photos thus far. For now, a picture of the German Shepherd puppies that live next door. Holy adorable!! I'll be volunteering at the Bookmarks Book Festival in Winston-Salem this Saturday. Should have some pics to share after that. Billy Collins will be in attendance, too. Always a treat to hear poetry read aloud [:

Happy Hump Day, all! I'm going out to pick up some Pumpkin Spice coffee at the grocers today. I don't care if it's 89 degrees outside, I'm from New England and September = candy apples, pumpkin spice and foliage.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Starting the MFA

by Laura

This is a picture of my little writing corner in my new apartment. I love it. I don't even care that it is actually in a storage room and there is an oh-so-glamorous assortment of stacked boxes, bags, bins, and random stuff a few feet away from my desk. I like the view out the window: the roof of the elementary school across the street, and beyond that, the tree-filled hills with white houses and chimneys peeking through. I like the art that I put up (and by art, I mean greeting-card versions of artworks that I like), the two little stuffed-animal birds on my desk, and the lamp that my mom got for me from the Christmas Tree Shop. And because I share the apartment with my boyfriend and three roommates, I like that this corner is private and mine.

So far my new MFA life is going well. I had orientation at Emerson yesterday and I'm starting classes on Tuesday. The best thing that's happened so far is that I have managed to find two part-time jobs that I think I'm going to like a lot (I'll be working as a writing tutor and editorial assistant, both on-campus). I'm very excited that I will actually be able to pay my rent, and will maybe even have some money left over for saving/adventures/buying lots of pumpkin spice lattes at the Starbucks down the street from the building where I have class...

I am nervous and excited about starting classes. I'm taking a poetry workshop and a literature seminar on modern poetry. I have all the usual worries about everyone else being a better writer and reader than me. Also, I regret to say that I chickened out of volunteering to be one of the first people to submit a poem for workshop. Hopefully I can make up for that by being braver after the first class.

Overall, though, I'm feeling really happy to be where I am, starting something new and exciting. Tonight there is a lovely almost-autumn breeze coming in through my writing room window. My boyfriend and I are about to drink apple cider and watch a movie, then I'll probably continue pre-reading one of my school books that I bought the other day. I'll spend the next couple of days relaxing and getting mentally ready to start classes, and hopefully I will begin this whole MFA adventure with more excitement than nervousness. Judging by how awesomely things have been going so far in my new life in (well, near) Boston, I think that all will be well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


By Chrissy Widmayer

Today, two of my poems went live on flashquake. It's my first publication, and I'm super jazzed. I sent out these two poems in a simultaneous submission to a number of places, and I never thought they'd get in anywhere. Now, of course, they're up on flashquake, and I have to go through the weird experience of removing them for consideration from all the other places. Anyone have suggestions on the most polite wording for that email? It's such a crazy situation to be in.

Also, the editors of flashquake are announcing that this is their last issue with the current staff. The lit mag might pass to others (and if anyone here wants it, I can get you in touch with the current staff), but this is the last issue of flashquake as we know it. I don't know how to feel about that as someone featured in this issue, but it's pretty sad overall. flashquake is a great little online mag for flash works.

Getting published right at the beginning of my MFA program is an extremely exciting thing for me. I feel like it sets the tone for this whole experience. I'm really pleased that this came through, and I can only hope that this bodes well for future success! I literally started crying when I found out, and then cried on the phone when I told my mother. She, of course, thought something terrible had happened as I choked out the sentence. But this is beyond exciting. I just had to share it with you all as soon as the link was live!

First Week: Complete

Well, I did it. I made it through my first week of classes at UNH. Of course, my first week consisted of MTW classes, but I'm really happy with myself, with the classes I've chosen to take, and also with my classmates.

My first workshop class was on Tuesday, and I'm really excited about it. Our first assignment was to write a three-page, mostly complete short, that had to somehow involve death and two geographical locations. I have started this assignment five times now, but I can't seem to find anything with which I am satisfied. Some pieces I don't like because I don't think they fit appropriately with the assignment, some I don't like because I'm having a hard time truly seeing the characters, and one I don't like because it's boring and I don't want to keep working on it. So that's how my workshop class is going so far.

Yesterday, I had my first "Writing the Novel," class, which I'm really looking forward to. Every two weeks, we have to produce an outline of the major events of the novel. After that, we have to take that outline and plug our own events into the outline, and outline our own ideas for a similar novel. Then, we write the first few pages of our own novel that we just outlined. It is supposed to get us used to thinking about causality in the novel, like, "this event on page 3 caused this event on page 6," and it is going to really help me get focused as a writer.

But enough about classes. I am living in Somersworth, NH--about 15 minutes away from the UNH campus in Durham. I quickly found a full-time job as a Starbucks Barista in a town 30 minutes away from Somersworth, but 10 minutes away from the beach in Hampton, NH. I'm surprised at how much I enjoy shlepping expensive coffee to rich New Englanders. My husband started work just yesterday, much to my dismay and chagrin, and we're really, really poor. I am getting used to eating Ramen again.

So that's been my MFA experience so far. I am looking forward to the rest of the semester, I am happy to finally be studying what I want, and I finally feel like I belong somewhere. Yay yay for the MFA!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm in love...

...with teaching poetry. And I'm afraid it's going to break my heart.

Right now, we're obviously in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. I'm excited to show up for class twice a week. I lay in bed replaying the class discussions and the students' reactions to the poems, especially those lightbulb moments. Or when they speak passionately about a particular image or sound in a poem from the reading.

But, my insecurities are starting to creep in. Instead of being able to completely enjoy this time that I've been given to lead a poetry class, I catch myself, at times, fearing having to graduate and having to start the climb back to teaching poetry all over again. I'm trying not to consider it a breakup. More like a long distance relationship that I've got 2 semesters to prepare for before I have to go off on my own and work on myself via book publications before we can be together again. I might have to see other classes (comp), may have to teach free community workshops in the mean time. All with the hopes of one day being reunited with what I realize now is my true love...teaching poetry.

I knew when I started typing this post that I would go too far with this analogy lol. But that doesn't make this any less true; doesn't make it hurt any less that the competition for creative writing professorships is so fierce. I didn't expect to love teaching this much.


How's teaching going for all of you?
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