Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On taking advice

Having studied with just about a small army of excellent teachers, I've been told my poems need to be a lot of different things: less clever, less explain-y, more rhetorically grounded, more out-rushingly imaginative, more direct, more musically cognizant, more traditionally moral, less ambitious, more ambitious, funnier, sadder, etc. etc. and etc. among many, many more pieces of advice. Almost all of them have been useful in some way or another, even if only to knowingly reject.

Teachers have cut apart poems and moved lines around, or simply cut lines, or cut everything but one line and told me to start over.

And the thing is, I generally have taken teachers' advice. Not all of it, and not every time--but often enough that I stopped myself recently and asked about one poem: this is good, but am I the reason for that?

It seems that the MFA is a time specifically designed for learning what advice to take and what advice to reject, but there are few strictures about how much is too much. After all, if one of the young artist's first concerns is finding a voice, and then no one wants to compromise his or her "voice," taking advice might be a matter of trying to understand what that voice is. But most of us are young enough that, even if we already thought we knew or are discovering what the voice is, it's still mutating, even if only a little at a time.

Which leads to my questions. One: how much advice is too much advice? Two: is advice better served focusing on the individual poems/stories or the writer in general?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Grad School Nomads

Hello everyone! I hope your semesters are wrapping up well!

I just posted an entry on my personal blog about Grad School Nomads. Check it out!

Have safe and happy holidays! And for the grad school nomads out there, drive/fly safely! :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is workshop for?

Here's my dirty little workshop secret: I sometimes workshop poems that may be (*gasp*) mediocre (well, maybe not mediocre--maybe only a little good). My theory is that if I only workshop my best poems, looking at those poems will be a waste of everybody's time, but if I workshop my almost-there poems most of those mediocre or maybe good poems will improve substantially.

It's also easier to make radical changes, I've found, to work that's either really fresh or been around long enough to know it needs improvement (and if it's been around that long, it's probably got more problems than I want to deal with).

This is a great strategy if my goal for workshop is to improve individual poems and identify early stumbling blocks common in my work.

Here's the philosophical conundrum: The best part of workshop is looking at all the awesome things everyone else is doing--so if everyone else is turning in awesome work that is doing awesome things, am I being selfish by not turning in as-awesome work that is not doing as-awesome things? Two caveats:

Sometimes it's boring to workshop already mostly finished really good work.

And sometimes the work we thought was really good and mostly finished it turns out might have still been really good, but still needs a lot of work. Sometimes workshopping really good poems can help you turn them amazing.

Maybe each workshop has different standards and expectations for the kind of work being brought in, but do y'all have any opinions in general on what the workshop is for?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Application season

Once again it's application season(!)

I wrote a longer post last time, this year I think I'll just hit the major attractions for the University of Houston:

(and hey, maybe some prospective students are already on this blog, considering the PhD...)

Speaking of which, most importantly, there is the dual nature of the PhD/MFA program, where students take classes together.

Houston is also the very rare affordable large city, supporting a wonderful array of reading series, museums, and other weird art events.

Fiction faculty: Robert Boswell, Antonya Nelson, Chitra Divakaruni, Mat Johnson, Alex Parsons.

Poetry faculty: Tony Hoagland, Nick Flynn, Martha Serpas, Ange Mlinko and Kevin Prufer.

Most attractively for some, we do have a history of fellowship success--last year alone including a Ruth Lilly fellow, a Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at Wisconsin, a Parks fellow at Rice, and an NEA literature fellow (we just added seven more of those NEA fellowships this year--two current doctoral candidates and five alumni).

There are many, many good MFA programs out there, and certainly a number of good PhD programs as well. If the above at all encourages your interest in Houston, feel free to check us out at www.uh.edu/cwp or send me an e-mail at jsgottliebmiller (at) gmail (dot) com.

PS. Hope everyone had a happy turkey day.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Here's a hypothetical question that comes up in workshops, talking to professors about who you're going to study with, and occasionally among poets when they've had a little too much to drink (so, always?): Yes, that poet is great, but will anyone be talking about her/him in 100 years? Is that poet a (*gasp*) minor poet?

I think the question has its problems--yes I think most of us write in part to be remembered, but I think most of us want to be remembered only by readers who were uniquely moved by what we have written. Also, historical circumstance seems to be an arbitrary measure of a poet's quality (or critical taste).

And yet, let's say you are a minor poet. You do what you do and you do it quite well. You're always getting better. Would you evolve to reach more people, or would you see that kind of evolution as unnatural, and having nothing to do with your writings' needs or interests?

In other words, would you "try" to be a major poet?

(And I think novelist or short-story writer could be substituted for poet, above...)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Advice for MFA Applicants

by Jennifer Brown

Hello everyone! I see that MFA application season is heating up once again. I have put together a few "if only I knew then what I know now" thoughts about fiction writing samples on my personal blog HERE.

Good luck everyone!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halfway through the first quarter.

Hey fellow MFA students! I haven't posted in a while, so just as a reminder, I'm Lindsay and I'm a first year in nonfiction at Ohio State. I'm about halfway through my first quarter of courses, teaching, etc. and I thought maybe it was time for an update.

I've spent the past few weeks wondering when I'm going to wake up and realize that I completely imagined all of the amazing things that have happened since I've gotten here. I feel so incredibly lucky to be where I am. My courses are amazing -- I'm taking a nonfiction workshop with Lee Martin (!) and I honestly leave every Monday evening feeling like a better writer than when I walked in. I have to take nine credits per quarter as a TA, so I'm also taking a literature course, which is also going really well, although I have to do my first ever annotated bibliography for next Wednesday and I'm kind of starting to freak out.

Writing is going really well. I hit a few road blocks when I first got here -- performance anxiety, I think. I was having a lot of trouble putting words on the page, but I turned in my first essay last week and we're discussing it in class tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to it, but I'm also really anxious about it. (What if everyone hates it? What if it's not good enough? You know, the usual.) I'm going to start sending out to literary magazines soon, I think, and I'm planning to submit to Creative Nonfiction's MFA Program-Off, depending on how revisions go between now and the deadline.

I feel like I'm even learning these amazing things outside the classroom. We have three incredible reading series -- the student/faculty series where second years read with creative writing faculty, Mother Tongue where the MFAs read their current work a few times each year, and our visiting writer series that brings incredibly talented people to campus. It seems like there's something going on almost every Thursday night, and every time, I feel like I learn something valuable. And it's also just a lot of fun.

And then there's teaching. I sometimes feel like I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing, but I really love being in front of a classroom. I'm excited to teach something other than comp sometime in the future -- creative writing, a literature-based composition course, a second year writing course, etc. The multitude of teaching opportunities is one of the things I love most about OSU. And the training we get is honestly unmatched.

Aside from the academic side of things -- teaching, writing, classes -- things are still amazing. The people in this program are some of the best people I've met in my life. I feel like I've known these people forever. They're incredibly talented, kind, funny, and generous; I'm especially blessed to be part of an amazing cohort of first year nonfiction writers who are talented in ways I never would have imagined and yet are not the least bit cutthroat about it. I couldn't ask for better colleagues. And on top of everything, they're fun. We go out for happy hours, pizza, karaoke; today a group of us went to a "Fall Fun Fest," complete with a hayride, a corn maze, and pumpkin picking.

And Columbus? Columbus. I'm a small town girl at heart and always will be -- I miss cornfields and traffic lights that blink after 10pm like you wouldn't believe -- but Columbus has a special place in my heart already. It's an incredible city and I've yet to be disappointed by its offerings. (Even the rumor of its lack of decent Mexican food has been debunked, now that I've discovered the multitude of Taco Trucks stationed around the city.)

So, basically, my fears from this summer were completely unfounded, and I'm so grateful to have this opportunity. Sometimes I really can't believe it's real.

On a semi-unrelated note, is anyone going to NonfictioNow? I'll be there, as well as three of my fellow OSU nonfiction writers. Let me know if you'll be there -- I'd love to meet any and all of you in person!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On ruthlessness

I don't think about ruthlessness that often. I don't particularly like the idea that the MFA is just time to write (I prefer to think of it as time to hone skills), and yet still, being in an intellectually stimulating environment, surrounded by writers--it's kind of hard not to write a lot. Sometimes even, perhaps, too much.

The problem isn't culling the good work from the bad, it's figuring out which good work is good enough (i.e. worth other people reading).

I didn't realize how lackadaisical I'd become in sorting this out until I got the workshop comment that a piece was uncontrolled. I wondered what that meant. Uncontrolled. Did that mean purpose-less or audience-less or uninteresting, perhaps even unreadable? Would someone look at that poem, read a line and move on? Or even worse, read the whole poem and then think "that was a waste of time."

For the past three days I've been revising new poems maniacally, and also taking a sixteenth look at other work I'd considered finished.

My question, then, is whether other people feel the need to be ruthless with poems otherwise, perhaps for too long, handled with kid gloves? Can you induce ruthlessness? Would you want to? Or prefer to nurture a piece until, naturally, you can't stand it not being good enough anymore--and it either gets there or gets trashed for parts?

Or are you already ruthless?

MFA DAY at Adelphi

So I don't know how many of you reading this are in the New York area, but Adelphi University is having its 1st Annual MFA DAY. It is being held Friday, Oct. 15th beginning at 9 a.m.

The day consists of an introduction by Program Chair Jacqueline Jones LaMon, followed by workshop sessions by genre. There is a Faculty reading and a Q&A with students in the afternoon.

Registration is FREE!!!

Here is the link if you are interested:

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?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hello again!

Just wanted to pop in really quick to say hi. I hope you all had a great summer and are all doing well, whether you've already started the semester or are starting in the next few weeks.

I've got a brief two-weeks into the semester kind of update over at rachelmarsom.com. Enjoy!

Click here!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back to School

By Jennifer Brown

Hi all. How was your summer? Did you get a lot of writing done? Here it is, back to school time, and I haven’t accomplished even near what I intended to this summer. Did do some work though. I’ve posted about it on my personal blog HERE.

Have a good fall semester, everyone! And keep us all posted!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pre-MFA thoughts, fears, excitement, etc.

Lindsay Hansen, The Ohio State University '13 (Nonfiction)

I moved into my apartment in Columbus a little over a week ago and I am very quickly falling in love with this city. It's the biggest city in which I've spent any significant length of time. So it's definitely taking some getting used to. I'm not at all prepared to read bus schedules, or to drive in rush hour traffic, or to take almost half an hour to drive three miles. Still, I love it. Despite being in the middle of Ohio, I've already seen more queer culture here than I ever saw in western New York -- my friends and I stumbled upon a drag show in the middle of the street in the Short North last weekend, for example. It was definitely cool, and made me feel a lot better about Columbus -- just the fact that things like that happen here. That's a good thing.

Unfortunately, I have another month of worrying/impatiently waiting before school officially starts. We're on a quarter system, so I don't start classes until September 22nd, and I don't actually teach a class until the 23rd. So it's going to be another really long foru weeks. That said, Ohio State is great about training the Graduate Teaching Associates, so we start a two-week long training on Monday morning. I'm terrified about teaching -- I do not feel qualified, at all -- but I feel a lot better about it when I realize I have so much time to prepare. (But then, also, is it that much time? It feels like forever, but those two weeks are going to fly...)

But anyway, that brings me to my first goal of my first quarter as an MFA student: Don't make a fool out of myself in the classroom, especially when I'm teaching. I'll be sure to let you all know how that works out.

And, although the teaching is really what I'm most worried about, the thought of my classes is filling me with a semi-healthy level of anxiety, too. As a GTA I'm only obligated to take two classes per quarter (which I am SO happy about...), so I'm taking a creative nonfiction workshop with Lee Martin (!), who seems like one of the nicest people I've ever met, and yet, I am still intimidated, and Introduction to Graduate Study in U.S. Ethnic Literature and Culture, which has an emphasis on Asian-American literature this quarter. I'm really excited about that class, too, but also a little apprehensive, because while I'm unsure about my abilities in graduate level creative writing classes, I'm relatively confident that I'm not at all prepared for a graduate-level literature course. Still, I can't wait to start. Three years of writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading. This is exactly what I've wanted, and I can't believe I'm actually doing it.

Blah blah blah rankings blah blah blah

The new MFA rankings are up: http://www.pw.org/files/2011rankings_0.pdf

The methodology for these rankings has been argued here (and elsewhere) exhaustively. There are applicants this ranking will help. Great.

My own thoughts (not attacks on or defenses of the methodology, just thoughts), with my major caveat at the end:

To me, the overall ranking is less useful than the genre ranking, since you do all of the work that you care about (and in some programs, all of your work) within your genre. Separate rankings for poetry, fiction and non-fiction (not just listings, but actually separating these out) makes sense to me--but that would be less confrontational/awesome (in the full sense of that word), and P and W probably prefers the monolithic listing.

Many of these programs have singular attributes that make them super-interesting and are hard(er) to graph. For Iowa, it's the brand name, for Wisconsin, it's the single-genre cohorts, for UT Austin, it's the second-genre focus. Mind you, these aren't the only interesting things about these from everything I've heard wonderful programs. At University of Houston, it's the joint MFA-PhD mix (possibly one of only two in the country--I don't know if UNLV has their MFAs and creative writing PhDs take classes together, as we do), which is awesome.

Look, applicants (for the most part) are probably doing the work they should be doing to figure out where they want to apply to schools. And whatever, they're going to be fine, anyway. But I don't bring up the PhDs just to cheer-lead Houston, I bring them up because they help demonstrate the one funny thing about the rankings that has nothing to do with the applicants, and everything to do with the programs. That is, programs don't care so much about where their students are applying. Programs care, generally, about one thing: the writing sample.

Let me put it another way: 50 people apply to Iowa and 50 to University of Illinois in Urbana (picked at random--from everything I've heard, a good school). Those schools might accept entirely different cohorts. I bring up the PhDs because we have a number at UH who are graduates of prestigious programs (Iowa, UT-Austin, NYU) who get accepted to Houston just the same as the MFAs (and we use a blind approach, by going through manuscripts without attention to previous degrees--which just sorts out where you are on the degree track once you're here). There are also new PhDs who went to less-prestigious programs, and ended up in the same place. The teachers just picked who they want to work with.

I guess it's a small point to make, to say there are damn fine students in every MFA program, but I think it's worth reminding...

Monday, August 23, 2010

MFA starting line / Moving induced exhaustion

Day 01 out of ...well, many more.

I've been down in Greensboro now for a week and some change. Moving and organizing took 100% of my time and energy until this afternoon. There were moments when I forgot that I was actually starting graduate school this week. It became so much about moving that I nearly forgot what the heck I'm doing here. Phew, glad that's over.

Dropped the beau off at the airport today. Felt like a fool crying in public but everyone does it. Part of a new adventure, yes? It definitely helped that I had plenty of errands to run on campus so I couldn't come home and bury myself under the covers (though I was tempted). I will say one thing: long distance relationships aren't what they used to be. Between cell phones, e-mails, texts, skype, AIM and letter writing, feeling close and connected with my boyfriend won't be as tough as I convinced myself in some ways. Certainly won't make up for living together but.. we can't win 'em all.

Also, today was my first day of classes. Hurrah! Kicked off at 6pm. Not too shabby for a Monday, eh? haha It was sorta fun glancing around the room, seeing such new faces and trying to figure each person out. Just a little bit anyway. The class runs for 3 hours usually. Thankfully the professor was merciful and let us go early. Yay, perks of the first day! I'm eager to get into my poetry classes, one of which is tomorrow. I'm also getting tossed headlong into my assistantship this week. Lots of changes but with so much going on I'm hoping I don't notice a) how big my apartment is for one person and b) start missing loved ones as a result. Not gunna happen but I can try.

I'm gunna check in later this week once I've got more classes and assignments under my belt. I think it'll be fun to share any pertinent or just plain entertaining articles I read from class with ya'll smart people! Wishing everyone who has started, or is gearing up for the semester, the very best! Hope the sun is shining where you are and your hands are ready to get dirtied with some serious writing.


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!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Putting on My Teaching Face

(not just a teaching face, but a myspace appropriate bathroom shot as well! 2 birds, one stone.)

Hey all!

Yay for us being 2nd years and for the new 1st years on the blog! And also to the post-mfa'ers and mfa'ers to be in the comments! Now that I've exceeded my exclamation point quota...

I just finished writing my first syllabus ever. It ended up being 6 pages long. It's for the intro to poetry creative writing course I start teaching on Tuesday. At UVA, we teach the 2nd year so I was watching anxiously while others took the lead in their first classes last year and now it's my turn. Here's my textbooks:

In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit
Late Wife by Claudia Emerson
Poetry: A Pocket Anthology (Penguin Academics) (6th Edition) by R. S. Gwynn Paperback

My approach to preparing this class was to basically try to mimick the way I was taught. My students will be required to memorize 2 lines of poetry from the readings each week, they'll turn in a poem a week (but only workshop four poems), there will be in-class writing exercises each week, and tons of exposure to poets and poems.

So what's your approach to class prep?

Moving (in more ways than one)

By Chrissy Widmayer

I made the drive out to Fairfax today. I arrived mid-evening just before the sun went down. It's a ten hour drive from Michigan, and I was bedraggled. I somehow missed the exciting moment when I crossed over into Virginia, but nothing will match the feeling of relief I felt the moment I saw the "Welcome to the City of Fairfax" sign. The sun was low in the sky and filtering through the trees, casting it in (no kidding) a halo of light. A mixture of relief and excitement crashed through me, along with a feeling of purpose and sureness. This was the moment I've been hurling towards for the past year.

Now, I lie on an air mattress on the floor of my dark bedroom in my new, mostly empty, townhouse. It's not dark because it's night (though it is) or because I'm getting ready for bed (though I am), but because our power is not on. Due to the flurry of moving, and a number of other circumstances out of our control, we couldn't get our electricity turned on until tomorrow. Luckily, I have a friend who lives next door who let me steal his internet, use his microwave, and hang out in his air conditioning until I decided it was time for bed. We then, rather humorously, inflated my air mattress using his electricity and carried it over to my house. I felt it was important I get to know this little plot of land that will be mine for the next year, even in it's most barren, empty state.

And now, of course, in the darkness and the emptiness, there is more than enough room for thoughts. Thoughts about moving, the strangeness of making a home in a new place. Thoughts of moving forward. And, lying here on my stomach, listening to the crickets out the open window, I realized that I'm ready. I'm ready for this change. I'm ready to be here, take this step, and do this thing right. For the past year, I've been unemployed, unhappy, in a stagnant state. But today, I feel in motion. Physically moving has made me feel like I'm moving intellectually, emotionally, creatively. I feel better than I have in a long time.

For the past few months, I've been full of anxiety, stress, nerves, worry. And yes, all of that is still lingering at the edge of my mind, but, for a while now, I've been waiting for the excitement to set in. Yes, I've said I was excited. I've even felt some excitement for abstract things related to my MFA experience. But today, right now, sitting in the dark and living by the light of my computer and my cell phone, I feel excited. I feel ready. All the negative emotions I've been feeling have completely dissipated. The darkness is gone. Tomorrow I'll wake up to the sun rising outside my window. There will be light (and hopefully electricity) and everything will feel new. And I, for the first time in over a year, will be happy to blink awake with the sun, get up, and start afresh. For the first time, I'm ready. I'm moving. And I can tell: I'm headed somewhere good.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pre-MFA Thoughts

by Laura

The summer is steadily coming to an end and I am about to begin my MFA program, taking with me a huge jumble of excitement and nervousness. One moment I think that it will be the most wonderful thing ever, picturing myself strolling across Boston Common with autumn leaves crinkling underfoot and my head filled with ideas and inspiration. The next moment, this idyllic image suddenly turns into a nightmarish one in which I can't think of a single thing to write, can't find a job and have to leave school, and retreat in shame to my parents' basement. I figured that it would be helpful to get all of my mixed feelings out of my head and onto the internet, in convenient bulleted lists...

First up, we have Pre-MFA Fears:
- The issue of needing good employment immediately. A variety of factors led me to accept an unfunded offer, but sometimes I wonder if this was the right decision. Don't get me wrong -- I want to work and am applying to jobs that I'm really excited about. I just hope those jobs will be equally excited about hiring me.
- My worry that everyone in the program will be smarter than me, more well-read than me, and just far more fabulous in general.
- The question of genre, more specifically, the need to choose one. Yes, I love to write poetry. I also love to write creative nonfiction, and I sometimes cautiously venture into fiction. Did I pick the right one to spend the next three years focusing on?

Ack, now I feel even more anxious. To counteract the anxiety, a more positive list:

Pre-MFA Things to be Excited About:
- Hey, I'm in an MFA program! If I could go back in time and talk to Laura circa-September 2009, then she would be ecstatic that her future self would actually be accepted to a program.
- I'm enrolled in two classes with professors who seem very awesome, and I know that I will learn a lot.
- I'm moving to Boston! (Well, near Boston.) I get to live with my lovely boyfriend, write away in my tiny corner of our tiny apartment, and explore all the beautiful places that the city has to offer (that is, after I take the train out of our rather non-stunning neighborhood).
- I actually do love to meet and talk to new people, and I'm looking forward to making friends from a wide variety of places and backgrounds.
- There are many opportunities out there for me; I just have to be willing to work for them.

I guess that what it comes down to is this: I get to start a new life and can choose whether I want to view that life as an exciting place of opportunity and growth, or a place of abject terror. I struggle with the whole positive-thinking thing, but I want to get better at it. Here's to exciting things ahead!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Keeping the muse guessing

I'm someone who prepares to be motivated. I compile notes. I read weird, hopefully illuminating books, and when I go strange places I make myself stay up late/wake up early to write poem after poem. This is a lucrative process, and I often come back from trips/vacations with four or five newly-written pieces that are better than the twenty or thirty I wrote in the months before I left. Admittedly, I probably pillaged an old draft or two, but these are often substantively new works in their finished states.

I don't think this is uncommon--most people seem to be inspired by new stimuli/information/etc. If you've had this invigorating experience, you probably also know the desperate after-effects, when you come back: there are still more poems that you are inspired to write, but you never know when this special energy is going to run out. You might even try to fake it with similar subject matter or syntax or whatever your trick is, but at some point you just can't fool the muse.

So here's what I'm wondering: how do you keep the muse going longer than it should? Any particularly effective tricks? Or is it blasphemy to even try to inspire yourself, having been so inspired?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How a Second Year (in a Three Year Program) Spends His Summer

Hello friends, Romans, countrymen! It's been a while, a good long while, since I posted here. Naturally it is because of my endless cavalcade of celebrity shindigs, film premieres and promiscuous cavorting that has caused my absence. Just kidding folks. Well, mostly. Right now I am writing this from my mother's favorite recliner in my parents' house, a house they will soon be moving out of, but probably not until after I return to Ohio. I find myself in an interesting place, not physically on this chair, but personally, professionally and emotionally. Basically I am eager to get back to Columbus and start living again.

As some of you know, my transition from West Coast rockstar to Sockeye Salmon out of water in the midwest has been occasionally rough, sometimes even depressing. This is not because of the program or even the location so much as it is rooted in the fact that, before now, I never really lived anywhere else than California (and even then I've always lived within 100 miles of where I grew up). Though there is a lot of diversity in my home state, it doesn't represent the vastness of this country, because nowhere can, so Ohio, unsurprisingly, is much different from here. Different in some ways I like, and some ways I don't like. Again, nothing earth shattering about this revelation. It simply is what it is.

Anyway when my summer began I had two main goals: 1) travel around/bask in the glory that is the Golden State and 2) write poems that were better than what I wrote last summer.

The first was important because after finding myself somewhat lost and adrift in Ohio I realized that my upbringing, heck, the specificity of the time and place and circumstances of where I grew up and lived almost all of my life, was important, nay, essential to who I am and why I do this crazy poetry thing. With that in mind, I endeavored to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for my home (generally and specifically) in order to attempt to tackle it like my new hero, Robert Hass, has for decades. Simply put, I wanted to cultivate a certain kind of California-ness in my writing, a sensibility I hope to incorporate with my other writerly interests (the male body, homoeroticism, mythology, history, perspective etc.) and I want to do it both in terms of the nature, of course, but also the people. To this end I spent some time in Northern California, essentially touring the bay area, rarely sleeping in the same place twice. I walked the rocky Santa Cruz coast at night, throbbed to the helter-skelter sounds of a gay discotheque in San Francisco, and lazed in the shade of coastal redwoods looming high in Berkeley. I drove a lot, as a passenger anyway, and as such had a lot of time to observe people and places. I met vivid characters who left marks on my memory like fingerprints. I even flirted with a hot guy across a dark room, full of mostly naked men. After my sojourn was over, I headed back down to familiar territory--Los Angeles, where I dined in Ktown, skipped along the beach in Santa Monica, brought baked goods back from Canters, saw a few good movies in single-show theaters and lost myself in the beautiful Getty center (an exhibit on Social Issues Photojournalism was particularly arresting)--before finally coming home the Mojave desert. Since I've been home I've barely ventured outside and even then only long enough to get sunburned. You need to live here to realize how little time that takes. Still, it could be worse; it could be Nevada or Arizona. Even being home, even house hunting with my mother in 110 degree heat, has opened my eyes to the sparse and simple beauty of chaparral and Joshua trees. There's a lot more to love about home than I realized.

So have I written "California poems"? Some, but not many, and they're not really that good. I once heard Bret Anthony Johnston read his fiction at UCLA and he said that he found he couldn't write about a place until he left it, until he moved on. I feel the same way. I think that the physical distance enables a certain kind of emotional objectivity, not unlike how photographing something banal tends to yield intriguing details about the thing. Those details (the way light spills into a parking garage, the way macaroni and cheese can resemble human brains in a bowl) are present, but it takes the objectivity of the camera lens to yield it clearly. So too does distance in relation to our perceptions of the thing we're distanced from, be it a loved one, a pet, a favorite sweater, a car, or even a home state. I hope that I will write more about home when I return to Ohio.

I've written a lot though, a lot of non-"California" (or is it) poetry. I've drafted about fifty poems, but the number shouldn't shock anyone. I write a lot of initial drafts and typically end up with a handful of fine poems...I don't know that any of them are great except for the two being published. As we all know, published = greatest (well not really, but it sort of feels that way, doesn't it?) At any rate, I've been sporadically productive, as I'm want to, and I've started exchanging drafts with a fellow second year via these series of tubes we all hold so near and dear to our postmodern (post to the third power?) existence. I for one welcome our future robot overlords. Let them be merry and fertile. I think I've accomplished my second mission of writing better poems than I wrote last summer because I feel I am a much better and more grounded writer. I have a sense of what is important to me, what I do well, and what I need work on. This is exactly what I was hoping the program would do for me. OSU has three amazing poet-teachers and I am so humbled to have received their encouragement, criticism, praise and often humorous scorn. It's heartening to see my own progression. It gives me a sense of direction, as in I am going somewhere even if it zigzagged, spiraling down, or randomly jabbing.

I'm excited to return to Columbus because I feel like I'm going to really run as soon as I hit the ground. I am taking an Asian-American lit class (a pet hobby/potential parallel career interest of mine) and I have half a dozen novels to (hopefully) read before class starts in September. I have lessons to plan for my poetry writing class (which I am super jazzed about teaching! Those kids are going to have a lot of fun with me! Fun and LEARNING!) I have new MFAs to non-romantically romance! New Ph.D's to form an uneasy though gradually more comfortable and enriching playfully combative relationship with! I have a GradQueer organization to co-run! Poems to send out to journals (that have actually expressed interest to see such things from me!) New apartments to move into (well, just one)! So much to do! And it all starts when I head back to the home of Jeni's Ice Cream and the most unthreatening gaybars in the country (probably). I'm so glad (and fortunate really) to be in a three year program because with the introductory year behind me and the thesis year looming ahead, the second year should be a party...a writing party! Full of seriousness and purpose and personalized rejection letters and late night coffee jaunts and new recipes and pledges to go to the gym that may or may not hold and...and...and...well I'm glad to be at OSU.

Here are some recommendations on poetry: Robert Hass's The Apple Trees at Olema, Carolyn Forche's The Country Between Us, Larry Levis's Winter Stars, Alan Shapiro's The Dead Are Alive and Busy, Rae Armantrout's Versed, Timothy Liu's Say Goodnight and Ralph Angel's Anxious Latitudes. All are quite good in my estimation.

And for the applicants...don't let the process harangue you this early in the game. Be sure to be writing now since most applications won't go live for another couple of months. It's time to draft, draft, and redraft everything. A year from now if you're in a program you'll realize the humor of this since you, like me, will probably be doing the exact same thing though (hopefully) with better results.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Intro: Chrissy Widmayer, George Mason University (Class of 2013)

Hello! My name is Chrissy Widmayer (not to be confused with the original Chrissy here on MFA Chronicles) and I'll be studying nonfiction in George Mason University's MFA program starting this fall.

I'm a 23-year-old from the beautiful state of Michigan where I've lived my entire life, except for the six months I spent studying Spanish and international relations in Quito, Ecuador during undergrad. Like many people, I left undergrad with a degree and a passion. Though I majored in political science at Kalamazoo College, I came away with a need to tell stories. Having studied documentary filmmaking as well as poetry, playwriting, screenwriting and creative nonfiction, it was merely a choice of which direction to take. Luckily, George Mason's program requires cross-genre studies, which suits me just fine.

I was thrust into the MFA online community during my extremely anxious application season. I applied ten places in two genres (poetry and nonfiction), and was horribly impatient to find out where I'd end up. After a summer spent in Chicago interning for PBS, I was forced to move back in with my parents. Southeast Michigan is known for it's unbearably high unemployment rate, and I remained unemployed and unhappy until I applied for my MFA. This community kept me breathing and positive as rejections rolled in. They cheered me on as I got accepted at California College of the Arts and Emerson, and got wait-listed at George Mason. I made friends online who became friends in real life (like fellow MFA Chronicler, Laura). Everyone in the MFA online community supported me, rejoiced with me, cried with me, watched the Olympics with me, and helped me get through it all. It was on April 15th, when I had to accept or decline my spot at Emerson, that I got off the wait-list with similar funding at George Mason. The decision was gruesome and difficult, but with the help and support of my MFA friends, I am completely certain I ended up choosing the right place for me. After a year of unemployment and odd jobs (I've worked as a substitute teacher, a video editor, and a standardized test scorer), I'm looking forward to starting school again just a couple of weeks.

My writing focuses mostly on womanhood and living life as a fat woman. I write a blog about body and size acceptance, and talk about everything from politics and feminism, to fashion and Harry Potter. I am avid Harry Potter fan (superfan, you might say), and I love movies, music and board games. My favorite place in the world to be is on the shores of Lake Michigan. I hate mushrooms and love peppermint ice cream. I adore elephants, ducks, and cutesy-sounding words that have double letters in them (i.e. bubbles, giggle, fluffy). I'm always laughing, and often have a hard time explaining why I'm laughing to my friends and family. In October, I'll be an aunt for the first time, when my older sister has a baby. Both she and my older brother live within twenty minutes from my parents, so it will be extremely difficult for me to move away.

I'm looking forward to posting here and getting to know all of you. I can't believe the beginning of my MFA life is drawing so near! I'm certain I'll have much more to post in the coming weeks as the start of the program looms. I can't wait to start posting!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Revving up for my thesis year

By Casey Tolfree

I feel like the worst blogger ever. I had so much fun blogging both here on MFA Chronicles and on my own blog last spring and then summer happened and my blogging days went on vacation. Sadder still is that there was plenty to write about.

For all the newcomers to this blog, I am about to start my second and final year of my MFA program at Adelphi University.

I spent the summer writing my thesis and reading a lot of books I'd never heard of, but really enjoyed (for the most part).

I was concerned at first that I had only the three and a half months of summer to write my thesis. Writing for me is a long process and sometimes it will be days before I can find my characters again. Fortunately, the story I'm writing has captured me and I have been pretty much writing it or thinking about writing it every day.

When I met with my advisor Vince Passaro at the end of the semester, my goal was to be at page 100 by August. It's August 8th I'm on page 112. I made a goal with myself that to reach page 100 I would simply write one page a day... and I did for the next few months. It worked. Page 100 hit right at the end of the beginning of my novel. The part I had actually outlined in detail in my head. Of course the next 12 pages were much harder to come by, they are less planned and as I try to send my narrator further on her journey I need to make sure I cover all my bases. Andi's life is complicated, even for me the person who knows her best.

Aside from writing like I said I've been reading. I was assigned to read John Updike, Couples and The Maples Stories. Both books just amazed me. Updike's writing was something I could only hope to one day even get close to.

I wound up reading a total of 11 books this summer and will hopefully increase that to 12 by September 1. The authors I read, Updike, Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, Edith Wharton, Colsen Whitehead just to name a few that I really enjoyed. I didn't think I could successfully read that many books and get my novel over 100 pages and yet somehow I did. I give all the credit to the train rides.

I interned in Manhattan this summer at a literary agency. It was so much fun. I am going to miss going once school starts. I met a good group of people and found something I'd really like to do with my life.
The train ride into the city is 47 minutes each way, so I brought my library books and I read twice a week on the train. I think I finished a book a week that way. Couples came on vacation with me, 10 hour car ride, both ways.

Overall, I guess the point of this blog is that even though in an MFA program you are supposed to immerse yourself in the writing. It was stepping outside the writing and doing other things that allowed me to write. If I'm forced to sit and stare all day at screen, nothing of merit will come. Knowing I had to write only a page a day that helped me be successful. Learning how the publishing world worked, made me see things in my own work that needed to change to be published.

I'm excited to go back to school, to see my friends and classmates. I've grown this summer as has my writing; I want to see where their summers led them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

For Your Consideration ...

Hello. My name is Rebecca Bauman and I’d like to introduce myself by way of a popular Internet meme.



1. I’m a first-year MFA student at the University of Florida and carry an emphasis in poetry-writing.

2. I recently graduated from Pittsburg State University (Kansas) with a B.A. in English and a minor certificate in Women's Studies (the latter being the product of an absolutely rewarding and, in turn, ultimately frustrating academic and sociological experience).

3a. I was born in Texas, but my parents' divorce and respective occupations (she was a social worker, he a journalist) kept me moving around the country during childhood and adolescence.

3b. I've lived most of my life in St. Louis (MO), St. Augustine (FL) and Tallahassee (FL). After high school I spent the bulk of my time drifting between flophouses and hostels in New York City and hanging out in the backs of comedy clubs. I could also often be found at the walrus exhibit at the New York Aquarium.

4. I ultimately wound up in Southeast Kansas at the age of 21 after falling in love with and following home an 18-year-old pot-dealer whom I believed to be a dead-ringer for a young Nicolas Cage.

5a. While attending school in Kansas, I worked as an animal caretaker at a wildlife education and outreach facility, specializing in the care of the program's mammals (prairie dogs, hedgehogs, opossums, etc.) and large birds (hawks, owls, vultures and even a Catalina macaw).

5b. I also volunteered at the local Humane Society -- work which tainted my faith in humanity and left me sobbing in the bathtub at the end of most days.

5c. I now keep three dogs of varying sizes, all rescues from the pools of strays I encountered, fostered and (for the most part) re-homed while living in Kansas. (When leaving Pittsburg, I felt very much like I was rowing away from a sinking Titanic and had but those three berths in my lifeboat.)

5d. I carry a lot of white/American/middle class/Homo sapien guilt.

6. I held a number of creative content positions at PSU's campus newspaper -- work which eventually yielded an editorial fellowship with Esquire magazine in 2007.

7. Seeking my MFA (in poetry of all things) was a last minute decision -- one I didn’t and in all likelihood don’t consider the least bit practical. But, by the end of my undergraduate work, I had all these poems written and I was practically thinking in verse.

8. My background is rooted in journalism and non fiction, and I'd always assumed that if I were to pursue writing as a vocation, it would be along those lines.

9. In my mind, poetry is one of the most effective and affective forms of writing … and one of the most unwieldy (thus my insistence that I take further training). I see it very much like stand-up comedy: When poetry is good, it’s just Absolutely Amazing, Powerful-Powerful Stuff. And when it’s bad, it’s nothing less than painful -- pathetic, physically uncomfortable to experience. And so I’m terrified of producing terrible work.

10. I have never successfully maintained a blog. Lord knows I've tried ... but I'm extremely self-conscious and suffer an awful kind of impostor syndrome that leaves me ready and rarin' to bolt from public view (and, as I imagine, public critique) at the drop of a hat. It's a neurosis that certainly threatens my ability to meet the demands of a writer's existence.

11. Now that I’m in Florida, I visit the local freshwater springs and skin dive as often as I can. I also head back to St. Augustine for a look at the ocean and to wander the old streets whenever time allows.


13. I regret having wasted so much of my youth without direction, though I'm told it's quite normal. I'll be 27 next month and have never travelled abroad (though I long to see the UK and Germany and France). I feel a sense of urgency, not only as a 20-something, but as a woman; I fear I'm losing time when it comes to "cashing in" on my best years.

14. DELETED, too

15a. I have a much cheerier disposition than it might seem here and now. The truth is, I could not be more grateful to have this opportunity at this program at this time. I can only hope that the overly-anxious shades of my character can scuff away in this warm, green climate … and I can come out on the other end of my time here in Florida as a generally satisfied, well-rounded, globe-trotting woman with a phenomenal butt.

15b. I am not copy-editing this post for fear I'll never bring myself to publish it.


  • The scent of spearmint chewing gum makes me sick.
  • I'm obsessed with solid, well-written true crime.
  • Every year, I am more and more incensed by politically conservative and spiritually fundamentalist thinking. I fear becoming abrasive, overconfident and obnoxious.
  • My face looks straight in the mirror, crooked in photos.
  • I don't care what you say: I saw Hugh Laurie first, damnit.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tin House Summer Writers Workshop

by Jennifer Brown

Hi everyone. I got back from Tin House Summer Writers Workshop on Monday. It was a great experience. A whole week devoted to learning the craft of writing spent with like-minded souls. I have a long post about it on my personal blog HERE in case you are interested.

Hope everyone is having a great summer and that the writing is going well.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Writing: Cave Canem

I should change the title. It's more than that. Cave Canem provides a safe space, a home, for fellowship and poetry amongst black poets. After multiple applications, I was accepted to attend their yearly retreat at the University of Pittsburgh at the end of June this year. The format is pretty intense. The 54 poets comprised of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year poets are split into about 8 workshop groups. We were each responsible for turning in a new poem by 10 am every day to be workshopped that afternoon with a different member of the faculty which included: Cornelius Eady, Toi Dericotte, Carl Phillips, Claudia Rankine, Ed Roberson, and Colleen McElroy.

The biggest surprise for me was the amount of personal revelation/lution that would take place. Cave Canem was not just a summer writing retreat for me, it was life changing. Really. There is something magical about stepping outside of the minority experience and into an instant family. Not any old family, but a family of poets. It was like being dipped in everything I was most passionate about. I think every poet of color should get that experience. Luckily, other organizations are following the trail blazed by Cave Canem:

Kundiman: for Asian American poets.

CantoMundo: for Latina/o poets.

Get some!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Free stuff/exciting stuff!

Hey guys! First of all, hello! I've enjoyed reading everyone's summer entries. It's cool to see what your interests are and lives are outside of the MFA world.

I've been having a lot of "non-MFA" stuff happen lately-- I got engaged, and I'm getting married in August. I've been writing music reviews and interviews for my college hometown's paper, the Evansville Courier & Press, and some of that has translated to my other blog-- I got to talk to Art Alexakis from Everclear (a favorite band from my teenage years-- I still think Songs from an American Movie is my favorite narrative album of all time), and more recently, Mary Gauthier.

Mary's latest album is autobiographical-- The Foundling is about her own adoption, her search for (and later, rejection by) her birth mother, and processing all of that. It's really good, and if you listen to any kind of folk or indie music, you ought to get a copy. I've got one for free up at my website right now (which is the reason I mention any of this)-- if you want to win, just go to Katie Darby Recommends.

I've also been in contact with a lot of my favorite writers, which is partially because: I've decided to defer from the MFA program for a year. Right now, I need to get things settled in my personal life: I want to focus on building the strongest marriage I can and on figuring out what I want out of writing (since lately, I seem to be doing almost all music writing). I'm still technically enrolled at SIU, and I'll actually be teaching a comp and lit class at a local university in Indiana in the fall. I'm still part of the MFA community, but now I'm the fringe guy.

This summer has already been the most exciting one of my life, though. I wish the same to all of you. Hope your lives are going well!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer writing projects

Hey y'all,

I hope everyone is enjoying some kind of summer break, if not from employment, at least from academia. And writing! (But not in any kind of a hurried way, necessarily...)

Today I was working on two old poems, glad now that I could get a new perspective on them; they were retail poems originally (I used to work in a grocery store), and now they still are, but with a little more differentiated view of working in the service industry (waiting tables).

What struck me in working on these poems was the question of what is salvageable as an idea or a spark for new work, that may no longer be salvageable as a poem. Both of the old poems were almost two years old. Both hadn't been touched in as much time. Both I felt pretty good about when I wrote them, but soon seemed not as good as my new work.

In revising the poems, one seemed to spring to new life, and the other seems still to cling stubbornly to its origins. What's worse, I worry that my own habits atrophy in the act of revising that latter poem as is (I.E. using revising practices I have since abandoned). So I thought I'd put this question out to the blog:

At what point should a poem be given up on?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Norman Mailer Writers Colony

I've been at the Norman Mailer's Writers Colony for the past few days taking a poetry workshop with Dean Young. It's amazing. Mailer's house is right on the water in Provincetown, MA. Beautiful. Everyone is kind and smart and Dean Young is super cool. We're writing a poem a day.

Consider applying. They offer scholarships for housing and tuition.


Mailer's House

View from the back deck.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Intro: Chelsea Querner, UNC-Greensboro (class of 2012)

Woo! New faces. And their accompanying (awkward) introductions.

Hello, all! Just taking a quick minute to scoot on over and introduce myself. My name is Chelsea Querner and I will be attending UNC-Greensboro's MFA in poetry this fall. I graduated from Roger Williams U in Rhode Island last May and earned a BA in creative writing. One year in the "real world" was enough to convince me I needed to be back in school, haha. Among other reasons.

It's hard consciously trying to be interesting but here's my best effort:
- I love the power of free verse. Big fan of manipulating line breaks and the relationship between blank space and stanzas via isolating words, repetition, narrative, punctuation (lack thereof). Two thumbs up.
- My work definitely has an emphasis on the human body; its abilities to communicate without language, its inherent metaphors, and its value/threat for different speakers.
- I cannot write metered or rhyming poetry. Sincerely, when attempting it, it's as if my fingers go into temporary paralysis and I'm forced to look at a blank screen. No good. It's on my to do list for grad school.
- I'm from New England and I'm thoroughly looking forward to having a break from grueling winters, frozen car doors and potholes. The worst.
- In certain areas, some might accuse me of being a Masshole, only while driving!

I'm truly looking forward to getting to know all the incoming and of course, the established bloggers on here. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, wit and adventures. Good luck to all and enjoy your respective summers!

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