Becoming the Living Poet

MFA Chronicles, More on Becoming, & Impending Internet Blackout

Posted on: August 3, 2009

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

– An Excerpt of the The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is probably my favorite poem of all time, which is odd because T.S. Elliot is far from my favorite poet. I love the sense of attendant anxiety surrounding everyday actions. Eating peaches, drinking tea, talking of Michelangelo; these are the minutia that make up our daily lives. There is joy in that and yet there is also terror because these are the existential objects we are using to fill up the well of life and when the well is full we will no longer be able to draw from it. Whether that ceasing is merely a transition to another plane of existence or a permanent deletion from the fabric of reality is an open question, but the answer hardly matters to the anxiety being spoken of in the poem.

There is a great deal happening in the next few weeks and I am trying to remind myself that there will be time.

My time in Denmark is coming to an end and it is a bittersweet transition. There is a great deal waiting for me in San Francisco. New poems, new friends, new professors. I can’t wait to start the MFA program and get to know what has always been my favorite city from the perspective of a local. The sadness comes in with the not so negligible detail that my partner will be remaining in Denmark for another year in order to finish a master’s program there. The simple fact of my partner’s proximity has been such a luxury these past two months. We lived together for three years prior to transitioning into a long distance relationship a year ago and like most things that are wonderful, but constant I took the time for granted. When my partner joins me in San Francisco at the end of this year I shall probably take it for granted again but for now every kiss, every hug, every meal shared together feels like a precious gift and one that is about to be wrended from my grasp in a few days time. It already hurts and it hasn’t even happened yet and the pain just keeps getting bigger and bigger and closer and closer. Ah well, to quote Ani Di Franco’s words in the song, ‘Buildings and Bridges: we are made to bleed and scab and heal and bleed again.

There is a great deal of joy to counter the sadness. No sooner had I begun pondering the question of how to better connect with other writers, when I was invited to begin contributing to a newly forming blog collective called, The MFA Chronicles. The MFA Chronicles is a group of first year creative writing MFAers blogging about the joys and terrors of being a creative writing graduate student. The blog collective was masterminded by Jonterri Gadson, an MFA poet attending the University of Virginia. As far as I know Jonterri who twitters as @JaytotheTee is still looking for new contributors so if you’re a first year MFA student who wants to participate be sure to drop her a line.

In my last post, Ch-Ch-Changes I asked some questions to try and get at ways that this blog could become a more effective resource for other poets. These were the questions:

Any of you have any ideas on how this blog might help poets become better poets?

What kinds of online resources are useful to poets and other creative types?

What are your favorite poetry-related websites? What kind of poetry websites do you wish existed that don’t seem to?

These are ongoing questions so if you missed the last post and have anything to say about them don’t be shy, but I was really impressed by the caliber of the answers I got in the comments. Here were some of the amazingly awesome suggestions:

-Demystifying the process of poetry in some way.

I initially took this to mean the process of submitting poetry for publication, but it could really be any aspect of poetry whether it be gathering inspiration, line breaks, type-setting, editing. There’s a ton about the process of poetry creation that often goes unsaid and we should talk about those mysteries. We can be like a magician’s convention sharing the how to’s of magic tricks. (Just realized I stole the magic trick analogy from @JaytotheTee who tweeted it just the other day, but it was such an apt one.) I like the idea of making the process of writing poetry more mindful and less mystical because when it becomes this almost spiritual, unearthly happening brought on by muses it becomes very passive. Poets who fall into that mindset then start to do things like wait for inspiration to write, when as Jack London said, You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

-Posting interviews with up and coming poets, particularly poets releasing their first book.

The more I think about this idea which involves me actually having something to say to other poets at readings other than the awkward, “so um… that one line in the first poem you read was really good… I like crustaceans too”, the more I think that interviewing up and coming poets for the blog is a fabulous idea. It gives me an excuse to have conversations with other poets that I’d want to be having anyway and it gives me a vehicle to deliver to you some clues to the most burning of all poetry question conflagrations: how do you get a poetry book published?

-Another person thought that documenting my experiences as an MFA poet would be an enjoyable read for other poets.

I worry about making this blog all about the MFA experience. Obviously the MFA experience is going to be very central to my perspectives about poetry for the next few years because I’m going to be a full-time graduate student, but I want to emphasize that I don’t believe that every poet has to get an MFA or that MFA poets are necessarily superior to non-MFA poets. Getting an MFA improves your writing when it provides you with a solid writing community, but a really good writing group and a disciplined writing practice could do the same thing. I chose to pursue the MFA route because I really like teaching poetry. I think reading and writing poetry enriches people’s lives and I want as many people as possible to start doing it, and more to the point I want to have an active role in encouraging people to read and write more poetry, thus having a piece of paper that certifies me as a poetry expert is going to be useful for me professionally. If you just want to write poetry and maybe get it published an MFA might help or it might not. I want to emphasize that when I’m talking to poets I’m not just talking to MFA poets or poets who have been published, I’m talking to everyone who has a passion for poetry and who wants to improve their craft and get their work circulating in the larger reading world.

I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post because it really got me thinking about how poets can help each other and the age old question ‘what do poets want? – a question I’ve been trying to answer since my days as poetry club president in high school and college.

It’s been so lovely talking to you that it pains me to tell you that these lovely conversations will have to be put on hold for the next two, possibly three weeks while I complete my move in San Francisco.

Until I find and move into a San Francisco apartment I’ll be on a near complete internet blackout. Feel free to still leave them if you wish, but comments will go unapproved and unanswered and tweets will go unreplied starting the morning of August 5th and continuing until further notice.

Wish me luck settling into San Francisco. We will speak again soon, hopefully in a better time and a better place.

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2 Responses to "MFA Chronicles, More on Becoming, & Impending Internet Blackout"

You said it all here: “I like the idea of making the process of writing poetry more mindful and less mystical because when it becomes this almost spiritual, unearthly happening brought on by muses it becomes very passive. Poets who fall into that mindset then start to do things like wait for inspiration to write, when as Jack London said, You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

YES! You should definitely talk about some of the poetic techniques you mentioned because I think you could help a lot of people who feel blocked simply because they don’t feel inspired. When inspiration fails, you can always rely on technique to get something on the page. Inspiration will follow.

And yes, The MFA Chronicles would love more contributors!

Happy moving!!!

Good luck getting settled in 🙂

I think it takes a while for your blog to find its voice. Mine started as an outlet for me to deal with being in grad school and working full-time and now it has evolved as a way for me to post about books I’m reading, works in progress and a variety of things.

I think of all of them you mentioned I agree with JT that techniques can be very interesting to poets and no poets. Demystifying the process of creation makes it so much more accessible.

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