It occurs to me, as I’m getting ready to move things around in girl show yet again, that, yes, I will be turning the whole shebang somewhere around mid-late April. Printed on cotton paper, laid in a box, and tied with a ribbon. It finished, and me too (hopefully). Of course, we know it probably won’t really be finished, not until it’s actually published, no doubt. But at least I can move on somewhat. This whole MFA thing has been a wild ride.
That first year, I can honestly say I pretty much hated it. I’d been working pretty independently up til that point for years on my writing, and suddenly found all these voices trying to get into my head, to change my poems, which I couldn’t exactly see had a problem. I’m still not convinced they really did, considering a lot of them wound up published anyhow, most of them in the fever almanac. And there was some downright viciousness among my classmates that I managed to successfully avoid the next couple years. People who seemed to be gunning for me with every poem from day one, beyond mere criticism and suggestion, and often bordering on insult. But then things got better. My fellow incoming students got nicer, better as poets, and I gelled much more nicely with the couple of groups that came in after mine (being on the long plan, studying part-time, I’ve seen quite a few people come and go.)
On the downside, I’m still not completely sold on workshops as they’re usually conducted. My ideal one would be one where the focus was NOT on how, I, as a writer, would make your poem better, but how I, as reader, could help you understand, or confirm, the direction you’re going. Usually they just disintegrated into, at worst, ego matches or, at best, 50% of the folks telling you one thing, the other 50% the opposite. Maybe the goal is to hear those opinions and then go with your gut in the end anywhere. I saw so many people at times try to follow all the advice and end up flailing and frustrated. And, of course, I’m still bitching about all the damned papers and essays, which I’ve always done reluctantly but are a necessary evil I suppose.
In these last four years, things have, I suppose began to happen for me in this whole writing thing, and I know in some part, my MFA studies have at least something to with it. Not really in a direct way (MFA’s are a dime a dozen these days, so it’s not exactly that impressive), but more in that I’m a better/tighter/leaner/meaner poet these days. If not gleaned in workshops, then in craft & lit classes, which had me reading lots of good books and dreaming up projects, some of which eventually wound up as chapbooks. (errata and archer avenue). And just reading in general that opened my work up in a lot of ways, made me see that poetry wasn’t necessarily this one thing, but a multitude of directions and approaches. Honestly, I’m not a big second-round reviser, ie, usually I revise and revise again in the process of getting a poem to the point where I even want other eyes on it, then besides some tweaking of syntax or rhythm, I’m done with it. The revision, like someone said once, is the next poem. So even though the workshops were not always that helpful on fixing work I was finished with for the moment, it was always something to keep in mind for the next poem, and the next. And my work has changed a bit, largely from my reading. I’d still consider myself a largely traditional or mainstream poet (if not in a po-biz sense, then in an aesthetic sense) but I have moved a bit left on the scale toward innovative stuff and have learned how to appreciate work on all levels of that scale and use similar techniques to make my own work more interesting and textured.
I’m not sure about the other things an MFAs is supposed to give you. Time to write (I’ve always felt I had less time while I’ve been enrolled than I did before I started, having all those papers and assignments to do), connections ( I’m not exactly a very good networker—too quiet, to reluctant to approach people unless they approach me first), job prospects (since I don’t have any long term plans for an academic career and already have a decent job this is moot.) In the end, I chose to enroll, not only because hell, they were starting the program, I get a discount, and I just happened to be here, but to somehow improve my writing in some way. And of course that comes at a cost, though not nearly as much as my MA in Lit did. So despite the fact that this semester is KILLING me and (good god could it be over any sooner?) I’d say it’s been worth it….