It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. That’s at least in part because I’ve been doing my writing elsewhere: namely, in my work toward a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Sierra Nevada College. I’m just embarking on my second semester, after an absolutely transformational first semester working with Lee Herrick as my mentor. I simply cannot say enough about Lee’s mentorship–his intelligence, sensitivity and generosity. He was exactly the right teacher for me at exactly the right time, and I’ll be reaping the rewards in my writing and my life for a very long time. Then I spent a magical and transcendent ten days in a workshop led by Patricia Smith, and found more transformation and growth there, aided in no small part by my stellar classmates. This semester, I’m beginning to work with Laura Wetherington, and I expect the leaps to be just as great.
There’s a lot of discussion of MFAs in writing and of MFA programs. Some people feel that they are just factories, turning out writers who all sound the same, who engage in a kind of in-crowd cronyism, and who stretch out their schooling as long as possible because there are no jobs for writers. I can’t speak to any of that. Maybe some programs do that. Sierra Nevada definitively does not.
I do know that the MFA, and especially the low-residency MFA, is only available to a fairly privileged sector of the writing world. The cost is great, and the monetary rewards are few. For me, though, the non-monetary rewards are enough. (Remind me I said that when the loans come due). I’m not doing this to get a different job. I’m not doing this to get good grades. I’m not doing it to make connections that I plan to capitalize on at some point. I’m doing it because I have to. Because something inside me is driving me to it, to push myself, to be a better writer, to be in an environment with other writers and creative people who are having significant discussions about the things I love and value most. It’s an important step in my own personal development, career development notwithstanding. And I’m doing it because I have the level of privilege and agency in the world to be able to. Can’t forget that part.
What I’m realizing is that to really “do poetry” at the depth I want to do it, the lines dividing poetry/life/self have to dissolve. I can’t keep my writing in a separate compartment anymore. That changes things. And it’s as terrifying as it is wonderful.