Last week, there was one of these MFA coffees the department occasionally has where they choose something as the theme of the discussion, this time it was something the effect of putting a first collection together. I only heard about it second hand, but apparently, instead of focusing on how to put together a cohesive body of work, basically involved the speakers, both of whom have first books (and only first books)admonishing the assembled students not to submit, enter contests, try to publish a chapbook, or put together a collection, until after they finished their degree. Certainly a bit of bait and switch here. The logic being that they should be focused on their art and not on the business of it, or any attempts to cater to publishing markets. (Insert me shouting expletives, here).
When I start numbering my arguments, you know I'm riled up:
1) Who the fuck caters their work to markets rather than finding markets that fit their work?
2)"Focused on our art"--I have always been focused on the art, but art is, if you want an audience, also a matter of business. Whether it's submitting work or just posting it somewhere yourself--it's still business, making a name, gaining respect. (If those are the things you want) If it's all art for art's sake I'd write my poems and thrown them in the fucking trash.
3)At least one of the speakers is making quite a name for himself in the local, if not the national scene...and no wonder since he has a book published by a well-known press, an Iowa/Harvard education, and a prestigious residency at the University of Chicago and probably had most things handed to him on a platter. (I'm saying this knowing that he likely deserves it, his book being rather good, but still...) The other, incidently his girlfriend, has a book recently out, and beyond the fact that she teaches here, I've never heard of her, met her, or seen her work. But somehow there are slightly elitest undertones to all this advice..the HAVES telling the HAVE NOTS what to do, smugly sitting on their successes....
4)If this is all true, I'd be really screwed, having been submitting on and off since I was 19, publishing quite a bit in the last five years or so, entering and winning contests, publishing chapbooks, putting together book manuscripts. I don't think any of this has interfered with my "art" but has actually deepened my involvement and kept me at it so vigorously.
5)Again, here it is, the ever-important MFA. I swear writing has to be the one art form where they DON't encourage you to become part of the artist/audience community until you're deemed a poet by them tapping you on the head with their magic poet-stick or whatever. No one woud tell a painter not to try and get into shows, or a pianist not to do concerts. I'm hoping this was just the opinion/bias of these two poets and not the entire dept--who actually always seem to support us submitting and entering things--at least they put announcements and fliers in our mailboxes for contests and submission calls. Arielle Greenberg even seems to encourage us pretty often to submit--but then I think she was also someone who had a gap in education between her BA and MFA and was doing alot of stuff before grad school, ie. "being a poet" long before her program deemed her one.