Monday, November 30, 2009

Signs of Application Season

So this is going to be a short post, because, amazingly, it's the final week of the term before exams / portfolios are due. I've got work to do!

I had to take a moment though to reflect on this time last year -- a reflection prompted by the terrifying sight of file boxes in the conference room of the Alder Building (U Oregon Creative Writing HQ) labeled "MFA APPLICATIONS." These four, terrifying boxes prompted in me a quick memory of the preparation, the worry, the sweat, the heartache and uncertainty surrounding application season for me last year.

Seeing them, I also felt a bit of awe at how much work goes into choosing each class (two student aids have been assisting our department business manager with organizing / preparing for the influx of materials...) Last, I felt the warm flush of gratitude -- that last year I was one of the ones who made it in, that despite the hard work and occasional frustrations that have cropped up this first term, I'm so happy to be a poet in U Oregon's Program. I'm exhausted. But I love my teaching placement. I have 17 new poems (in ten weeks), new amazing people in my life to share this strange journey with, and most importantly - for me, I'm beginning to feel my soul thrive. My writing's on track; I'm chasing elusive happiness. I made it out of the application box and all the chaos was worth it.

First years, I hope you're able to look back with awe, too. Applicants, best of luck to each of you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Obligatory application season post

Any applicants out there considering applying to the University of Houston for either the MFA or PhD track, I just thought I would put my e-mail out here in case you have any questions (jsgottliebmiller at gmail dot com).

I especially recommend our program if you are interested in wonderfully stimulating academic coursework, having a fantastic dual MFA-PhD cohort, great funding, and an awesome post-graduate success rate (in job placement, fellowships and books).

I could go on and on and it would be really annoying and way too long, so really, just feel free to e-mail me.

No offense intended to anyone on this blog with the short program boosterism--I think everyone here could talk for hours on end about the strengths of their programs, and all with good reason.

Good luck to everyone in your applications!

PS. I hope there are actual non first-years reading this blog! Again, apologies to all of the first-years who aren't applying to anything because they are already in programs they love.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Google Wave

by Christopher Cocca

Do you any of you have a Google Wave account? If so, how do you envision using this tool for workshopping? Are any contributors to this blog interested in workshopping pieces over Google Wave during the upcoming semester break?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Are You Thankful For?

by Christopher Cocca

Nathan Bransford has nice Thanksgiving meme up at his blog today: What are you thankful for in the writing/publishing world?

Nathan is an agent at Curtis Brown and a soon-to-be published author himself. His blog and twitter feed are worth following.

Call for Submissions (Poetry): Love Rise Up Anthology

Here's a solicitation letter from Steve Fellner to all of us unpublished and emerging poets out there:



Because a number of potential contributors have asked for more time, we thought it was only fair to extend the deadline until after the holidays.

Phil Young and I have been asked to co-edit an anthology for Benu Press; its working title is Love Rise Up.

We both have been invested in the literary world for some time. I wrote and published a book of poems entitled Blind Date with Cavafy (Marsh Hawk Press, 2007) and a memoir entitled All Screwed Up (Benu Press, 2009); Phil has published in literary magazines such as Antioch Review.

The editor who commissioned this project asked that we focus on contemporary poets and poems that succeed on the following levels:

1.) The poem deals with social justice, not simply a social issue. In other words there has to be some action or suggestion of resistance or dealing with a social issue, not just having a social issue somewhere in the background.

2.) The poem offers an element of hope. This hope can be somewhat ambiguous, but at least some level of hope has to be detectable to the average reader. Think “Daybreak in Alabama” by Langston Hughes.

3.) The poem is an “accessible narrative or lyric that contains elements of genuine drama or comedy.”

4.) If the poem were a movie, it would have to receive somewhere between a G and PG-13 rating.

We would really like to include a poem of yours in Love Rise Up. If interested, please send us a poem(s) for us to look at as a Word document. We would like it emailed it to us at or

How do you balance your ruthlessness?

Composition theorist Peter Elbow has this theory about pedagogy: that helping students write is about liking their writing. Actively liking it. He points out that most of us are best able to make progress in our own writing when we start from a point of liking what we are doing.

At the same time, I've noticed that in some of my more successful poems I've been able to make giant changes from the original draft, changes that came from places the original draft did not even indicate. (One fun project is taking poems that don't seem to have similarities and seeing what they do when formed together--but that's a digression). One of the ways I do this is by keeping a copious pile of notes and constantly applying them, another is by consciously taking the risks that aren't yet working if I think there's something there, past those failures. Another still is in cutting everything that doesn't for sure belong in the poem.

So I like my poems, but when I'm really ruthless with them, I get to a point sometimes where no matter where I take the poem it's a failure (even if it's a pretty failure), and at those times I've tried to be even more ruthless--to discard the poem until a much later date.

Today was one of those days when I went mining old drafts for notes, and found some poems were in better shape than I thought (or only needed a few shots in the arm), and I realized that I liked these poems again. I spent a good amount of time fixing these up and then I realized, they're still not very good, I'm just being more honest with myself about the fact that I do like them, even though they are not really successful.

I am of course assuming that most poets aren't writing with an eye to future publications (seeing as how there's no money in it), but that doesn't mean we're not interested in how people receive our work (even if its not so many people). Fictioners, you might have a slightly different view, although I doubt its philosophically removed...

But what I'm really wondering about is: how do you balance your liking and your ruthlessness?

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Are You Reading?

by Jennifer Brown

Writers read.  A lot.  At least they should.  And they learn from it. 

My semester has been about reading at least as much as it has been about writing.  I’ve read (or reread) Countless short stories by the likes of Lorrie Moore, Flannery O’Connor, Tim O’Brien and Stuart Dybek; The Odyssey; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Hamlet; Eliot’s Wasteland and The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock; The Crucible; Huck Finn; Tom Sawyer; Roughing It; Life on the Mississippi; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; Pudd’nhead Wilson; The Conjure Woman; Moby Dick; Country of the Pointed Firs; St. Mawr; Hemingway Stories; Faulkner Stories; Death Comes for the Archbishop; Under the Volcano; East of Eden; Wolf Willow; The Sheltering Sky; Light Years; Far Tortuga; Legends of the Fall; The Crossing; and a lot of Chekov.  

That is quite a list.  And I’ve learned from all of it and grateful for having been introduced to it all. 

But what I really want to tell you about is this:  This week I have fallen in love with Ambrose Bierce. I think my writing life has changed forever.  A friend of mine sent me a link to a story of his called “Chickamauga,” and I will never be the same.  When I proclaimed my love for it, she said “It’s so you” and I was overjoyed—because I hope it is.  Oh, how I hope it is. I sit here now next to a copy of The Complete Stories of Ambrose Bierce. 

Y’all know how it is right? When you find that special writer, the one that really speaks to you and you just fall hard?  This has happened to me before, with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Faulkner, John Irving, Salmon Rushdie, and most recently with Cormac McCarthy.  But this Ambrose Bierce thing—this is serious!

So what have you read this semester, and have you fallen in love with any writer in particular?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Links of Interest

Hey all,

Nancy Rawlinson (of Embracing the Suck fame lol) compiled a list of links that MFA students and applicants would find pretty useful. Even with all the googling I've done to find MFA info, there were still links I'd never been to. Definitely worth a look-see. Oh, and I just noticed we're linked too!

Check it out!

Thanks Nancy!

Monday, November 16, 2009

What I Didn't Know About My Program....

by Jonterri Gadson

...or what I thought I knew and now realize I was wrong.

1. You can take cross-genre workshops. It's Spring registration time and I've thought all along that it wouldn't be possible to take a fiction workshop. Well, I was wrong. They offer workshops apart from the regular MFA workshops that we can take outside of our genre. Only in poetry & fiction because that's all that's offered here at UVA.

2. Because of the fellowship, should you desire federal student loans for any reason, you will not be able to get them. So it's wonderful to receive so much aid and all of that but it hurt to find out that I couldn't get additional loan support to offset my moving costs as I expected. Unless I took out a private loan (I chose not to). This is something I think all future applicants should be aware of, just in case. Sometimes your funding can put you so close to the school's expected cost of attendance (which is what they base your federal financial aid off of) that you will not qualify for federal aid.

3. There's not really much pressure to write. I felt like part of the reason I wanted to go to an MFA program was so someone would be breathing down my neck for a poem each week. Yeah, that's not so much happening. Turning in a poem to workshop is totally optional. So the discipline still has to be there which I'm okay with. Plus, with additional unexpected stress outside of the program, I might have cracked under this type of pressure this semester. So, everything worked toward the good.

4. I wouldn't have time to spend with classmates. Uh, yeah. Not true. There's at least one day every week that I see people from the program outside of workshop and that's nice. Having a weekly MFA reading at a bar helps a lot with that. I don't know a ton of single parents who feel like their social lives aren't lacking, so this is kinda big.

The only big question that remains unanswered is who will be the new hire to replace Charles Wright.

What about you guys-- any surprises, wrongs righted, myths demythified about your programs?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Strange seeds

Anyone taking any literature classes that are expanding your writing in surprising ways?

I've been taking an Old English literature and translation class, and while the history/culture is fascinating, as are the crazy old poems, I've mostly been affected by this new way of looking at sentence structure, grammar laws and--really cool (I'm a dork)--word compounding. How strange where some words have come from, and how easy it is to make fabulous new meanings just by putting words together. Contemporary poet Chelsey Minnis does this, actually in one poem, with the fabulous "cry-hustling" (awesome poem, by the way, out of "Poemland." Thanks to Karie B. for bringing it in to share with the workshop).

It's a fun exercise, and can be applied easily (my decoy-heart being a contemporary one, grief-before-dawn being an Old English one).

Anyway, fun with language!

What kind of weird academic things have been affecting your writing, folks?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Literary vs. Commercial

By Casey Tolfree

How do you differentiate between literary and commercial fiction and what authors do you consider literary?


By Casey Tolfree

So, awhile back one of you asked me what Adelphi's stance on commercial fiction is. I didn't have an answer then but I have one now. As I was so kindly informed yesterday in a meeting with my professor, genre fiction is just unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the program. She actually suggested that I not stay in the program if I was unwilling to write literary fiction. I apparently use cliches unapologeticly. I thought we were never supposed to apologize for our writing.

Anyway, I told her that it's not that I'm not willing to write literary fiction but that I am not going to go back to my old stories and try to change them to make them literary. I would start new work for the program that fit the bill. I can do that. I can use big words and flowery sentences I just prefer not to.

So, yeah, that's Adelphi's stance on commercial fiction.

Another topic that came up - that apparently has been brought to the director of the program's attention is my "work life". They are concerned that I work two jobs. Do these people think I work two jobs for my health? I work two jobs because I need to pay my bills. I need to have health insurance. I'm not working at least 50 hours a week and going to school just for the fun of it. Obviously if I am working two jobs I need to. I'm trying to keep my cool but it's getting harder and harder. This professor is meddling in stuff that has nothing to do with her and it is unacceptable. I am in class, I participate, I do my work on time.... that's what should matter to her. How I live my life outside the program is none of her business.

Writing is supposed to be fun. This lady is killing any fun I got out of writing. I write well, I have great command of prose but it's unacceptable, it's not good enough. How do you tell a person that?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Better Late than Never

So I am one of the last people to get my copy of Poets & Writers Magazine. Of course, the first thing I do when I get it is flip to the Top Fifty MFA Rankings for 2010. Georgia College & State University is not on it…and I don’t care ONE BIT.

My thoughts on the list over at Here's the linky.

Spring Classes!

By Casey Tolfree

I can't believe I'm registering for semester two! So, I'm a little sad because I can't take one of the classes I wanted because of scheduling (I have to have class only twice a week).

So I'm taking my fiction workshop with Victor LaValle, our visiting professor at Adelphi. I wanted to take the novel development class with my current workshop professor, Vince Passaro but I can't because that would mean having class three nights, so I'm taking a dramatic writing development class on African American women playwrights. It should be interesting. It's taught by the end of our English department.

Then there is the practicum, which is required the spring of the first year. We have class Friday in the city and meet with professionals for an hour. Hopefully I can get hooked up with a J-O-B. lol.

That's all for now because I have mucho writing to do.

So long, farewell

by Whitney Gray

Seth Abramson is stepping out of the MFA-spotlight. In a post over at the MFA Blog, Seth writes:

With Thanks

I appreciate how supportive everyone's been over the past three years. I've decided to end my work on MFA programs. That means a number of things, including removing myself as an administrator (or having any special posting privileges whatsoever) for this blog. It's Tom's blog, in any case, and I know he'll continue to offer this blog as a service to all of you, so there shouldn't be any significant effect to this. I wish all of you the very best in the future. I apologize for the briefness of this message; I imagine anything I would have said I've said elsewhere here, or simply elsewhere, and better. I hope I've helped some of you, at least a little, over the years. And I hope I get to meet some of you in the months and years ahead. Be well everyone.

I, for one, found the MFA Blog to be very helpful. I turned to Seth's site (The Suburban Ecstasies) often last year during application season. I was a big fan/tortured soul of the notifications page (and as I went to link to it, I see that Seth's site is completely gone!). I can't say I blame him for leaving the online world of anonymity and haterade. I'm sad to see him go, as he and his resources were very helpful to me last season.

Semester's coming to an end!

by Whitney Gray

I have 4 weeks left in my semester and I am anxiously awaiting Thanksgiving. What about you? How has your workload been thus far?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spring Classes

by Christopher Cocca

Found out today what my spring classes will be and thought I would share.

Workshop: Jeffrey Renard Allen
Lit Seminar: Robert Antoni (a close look at writing in vernaculars).

Looking forward to it. We had so many good courses to choose from, and I'm very pleased with these.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reading Styles

by Jonterri Gadson

A couple of posts ago, Joshua started a good discussion about how our writing has changed since being in an MFA. Well, I've noticed a significant change in my reading as well. Doing close readings of my classmates work that is extremely different than mine has given me a new appreciation for different types of poems. There are about 3 people in my workshop of 10 people that I would consider to be doing more experimental/innovative type of work. Initially, I was intimidated and didn't think I could offer any useful feedback because I tended to turn the page when I came across those types of pieces in journals because they would make my brain ache (just being honest. Hoping to show some sort of progression here lol). Now, I'm getting it, understanding different ways that a poem can achieve clarity other than through clarity of meaning. I'm wanting to incorporate some of their techniques in my own work, hoping to get away from the totally linear thinking that's been plaguing my work since I got to the program.

How is reading the other writers in your program affecting your work?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Memorizing Poems & Stuff!

I know it's been a while, and I really did mean to post on here from the beginning of the semester about my poetry workshopping experiences, but that is something I would be more comfortable discussing via email, if you are interested. In terms of my other classes, I'm taking a Teaching Comp. & Lit course (sort of a revamp of the exact same class I took during my MA work) and thesis hours--the one on one thesis hours spent with Martin Lammon are by far the moments when I feel like I REALLY belong here in this program.

Still, as a workshop related thing, I am required to memorize and recite two poems for the course. Here's the linky to my post on this: Memorization followup

I look forward to seeing your thoughts on this requirement.

(Oh, and hope you all had a happy halloween weekend!)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Missing Class?

By Casey Tolfree

Hey guys, have any of you had to miss a class for any reason?

I e-mailed my teacher to ask if it would be okay for me to miss class next week because I have to cover an event for the paper I work for and she totally flipped out on me. She told me that my priorities were wrong. Shouldn't work be a top priority? It's what allows me to go to class.

I don't know but it was completely strange and infuriating. She basically said my job was unimportant and made me justify my reason for missing class and explain why it was important.

I thought as a grad student we were treated like adults? Why should I even have to explain to my professor why I need to miss class. If I'm an adult I shouldn't need to justify my actions, should I?

Has this happened to any of you because I was so confused and annoyed this morning by her.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Old methods and new methods

I hope everyone has been having success producing new work this first semester.

I don't know how many have run into a problem I just realized I was having, so I'm throwing this question out there:

Did y'all keep using the same writing methods that brought you to an MFA? Or has the focus been on finding new ways of poeming?

I just realized that with most of my new work I've been starting from scratch, and I have always been much more successful when keeping a copious notepad and repeatedly referring to those old notes for new inspirations within a poem. It keeps the poem from being too simple or didactic or static (a few problems I sometimes run into). It also makes it easier to find oppositions and other tensions without consciously manufacturing them.

It seems strange that I would forget my old methods now (kind of like, to use a tired old cliche, throwing the baby out with the bath water).

Just wondering if y'all have run into similar problems...
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