Monday, December 28, 2009

Wrapping Up My First Quarter at OSU

I meant to write this ages ago, but since it is still a little more than a week before the next quarter, I don't feel like a complete lame-o writing my wrap up now. So let's see, where to start, where to start...

I enjoyed workshop for the most part...We had a class of thirteen, including one fiction writer moonlighting as a poet, and it was for the most part very free form: no assignments, no mandated types of poems, etc. Basically we were told write what we wanted to write. Kathy Fagan, who ran the workshop in the fall, was very accommodating and friendly, and always let me come to her office to freak out, complain, or just palpitate wildly, which I was glad for. The workshop was actually a little more genial than I'm used to, and there were times where I was people bared their teeth a little more, but I did find the support encouraging just as I found several good, productive readers of my work who were unafraid or unwilling to tell me where I needed improvement. Next quarter will be different, I'm certain, but fall was nice and the workshop was a good place for adjustment. I wrote maybe three poems I still currently like, so that's something. We'll see how it goes from here.

The reading series we have at OSU is pretty awesome. We have three really, a visiting writer series, a student-faculty reading series, featuring second years reading with the faculty, and Mother Tongue, a much less formal student-run reading series held at the bottom of a rather overpriced bar. We had Linda Bierds come and dazzle us with her work (we read her Selected Poems in workshop) as well as a host of others including Amit Majmudar and Dan Anderson. The student-faculty readings were great because I was introduced to Andrew Hudgins' work (I hadn't really read him before) and got to here the second year's work which, in the case of the prose writers, I wouldn't have heard much of otherwise. Mother Tongue was always a blast because of the hilarious introductions and light atmosphere that characterize the events.

Additionally we held Writer's Harvest where we beat out the MA's and PhD's in a canned food drive for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. At the event some fellow writers performed stand-up, sang music in tandem with faculty, raffled off dinners to be made by fellow MFA'ers and all kinds of other fun stuff. It was a gala event in my estimation.

I also read slush for The Journal and for the OSU Wheeler Poetry Prize, which publishes the winning manuscript. It was an eye-opening experience and an unplanned confidence booster considering how much bad poetry came through my desk while I was deciding what to send forward to Andrew (who was the judge this year). I read 50 manuscripts with a partner, and we had a few standouts, but most of them were varying degrees of awful. Yes it's all subjective, but if you have your physician writing the forward to your book of poetry, and he ends the two page preface by saying "hello," you probably need to reevaluate things a bit. Slush reading was much the same, some good stuff, a lot of bad stuff. I tend to think I have a broad range in my tastes, but I surprised myself with how much I was left wanting more from the stuff I read.

The other class I took (GTA's only need to take 9 credit hours and most grad lit/workshop classes are 5 each) was a graduate level intro to film theory and film criticism. I just loved this class. I felt prepared since the required critical theory class I took at UCLA for my major was a special topics class taught by the dean of the film school, maddeningly subtitled The Regime of the Visual and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion. Many of the texts I read for that class (Eisenstein, Saussure, Mulvey) reappeared in my film class, and many of the films we analyzed were ones I hadn't really seen before. It was a lot of work (two short papers, one 15 page final paper) but I found it more enjoyable than vexing. In a way, it confirmed the suspicion I've had that a critical path of study could work me too if I go down that road at some later date. Now I am happy just being an erstwhile MFA taking glee in the fact that he wrote his final film paper on WALL-E.

Teaching was by far the most exhausting and difficult part of my adjustment, but now I feel more than prepared to tackle it next quarter. I've gone through the curriculum now and have a stronger handle on it, and I know some of my weaknesses as a teacher and feel I can account for them. Aside from one minor kerfuffle with a student, last quarter I had a wonderful, patient, and understanding group of students, and I do think they learned from me. However I think I may have been to colloquial with them from the outset, and not as much of a taskmaster and school marm as I should have been. I had a good relationship with a number of my students but I am not sure I had as much respect as I would have liked. My theme next quarter will be more conducive to handling things a little more professionally, but at the same time, part of my persona is being relaxed and somewhat casual. It's a balancing act. Hopefully I can keep on the wire the entire next quarter and not err to far on one side or the other.

Well there you have it. My life as an MFA'er this past fall. Stay tuned for more details!


  1. Love hearing your recap especially how you came to terms with the teaching part. :)

  2. Hey Tory! Glad things turned out okay and that you were up for the challenge. Best of luck to you in the next quarter/semester!

  3. Love it! I love your honesty. I wish you the best going into the next quarter. The reading series (plural, "serieses" should be a word lol) sound great! I teach next year and I really hope my sense of humor will be able to fit into the class appropriately. You're right though, sounds like a balancing act.

  4. Hi, Tory! First of all, I must say, congrats on OSU's Rosebowl victory. I was pretty hyped up, having been surrounded w/ OSU fans my entire life (my twin sis got her masters there). Congrats also on finishing your first quarter. I hope your workshop continues to be a productive environment; I know how you feel about people sugar-coating their criticism. It's not helpful.


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