2014, Archives, August 2014, The MFA Years

Roy G. Guzmán – Introduction (University of Minnesota ’17)

Five Songs to Put that MFA Dream into Overdrive

Poets are lauded in Latino communities for their vision, but very few of our members embrace or understand the ramifications of pursuing this vocation. For instance, I grew up idolizing Rubén Darío, but it wasn’t until college that I studied his work; in Miami, José Martí’s words echo in salsa songs, but his influence is disappearing with the passing of older generations. When you’re a Latino in the United States, poetry is inescapable because your reality frequently switches between anguish and hope, un-documentation and patriotism, a lack of identity or an ethnic oversaturation.

The Replacements’ “I Will Dare” is my oblique attempt at inviting the MFA dream into my life. Any step is important.

I was born in Honduras, and during my first few years in the United States I was undocumented. Through my stepfather’s Cuban refugee status, my mother and I obtained our green cards. However, all that time I wasn’t able to go to school. Mom had no choice other than to take me with her to clean houses, feed families’ babies, and avoid the authorities. My mother and stepfather always had big dreams for me despite the protracted pressure to send me off to work. “Men work como burros from a very young age,” our guests often said. “Your son should be no exception.” But my parents considered my going to school as more than just work: it was our exit out of the rough neighborhoods in which we lived.

Sky Ferreira’s “I Blame Myself” is a song about taking more responsibility for your choices. I wouldn’t have considered an MFA in poetry had I not taken a stronger position regarding the future of my writing.

I was accepted to the Honors College at Miami Dade College after high school—at the time, a community college—and then transferred to the University of Chicago. After a few years working at a law firm, I pursued an MA in comparative literature from Dartmouth College. It was at Dartmouth I wrote on Elizabeth Bishop and Octavio Paz’s observations on home, while Heidegger’s philosophy anchored my project. At Dartmouth I was also confronted with my own ethnic past—a past I often felt confused about, ashamed of my lack of knowledge about it, and afraid to investigate it in my own work.

In “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” Morrissey finds a simple way to voice my sentiments about this journey. It’s like a prayer of sorts.

The struggle of understanding where I come from has been a companion all my life, and that struggle is what I wrote about in my writing sample and statements of purpose to MFA programs. Leading up to this decision, I started reading more poetry that spoke to and challenged me. Social media became another way I interacted with generous authors and MFA students. One night I found out about the MFA Draft (on Facebook), and there I met a wonderful first year from Purdue’s MFA program who gave me lots of useful advice about organizing my writing sample and finding ways to link my poems.

At first, it was hard to find the time and resources to apply to 9 programs. I often worked as an adjunct instructor, teaching 7 to 9 classes per semester, and all the bills left me with little money to invest on applications. I had no health insurance despite facing health issues. At some point, even one of my recommenders contributed money to what she called, Roy’s Future Foundation. The process was long, a confidence test, and ultimately the road that led me to the University of Minnesota after a few rejections, acceptances, and waitlists. I applied exclusively to programs that were fully or well funded; undoubtedly, those were also quite competitive.

Kendrick Lamar’s song is like a mantra, especially when your insecurity levels are astronomical. Don’t be afraid to repeat it. I address this song to myself because I’m often the main person getting in the way of my future.

Alone, I drove from Miami to Minneapolis, making brief stops in Nashville and Chicago. It took me three days. I drove past dead deer, regions with five radio stations, around mountains that resembled sinking ships at night, and through traffic outside Atlanta. With very little sleep, I cried as I left home, left my teaching life behind, and left some amazing friends who reconstructed me from shambles.

The MFA application process was an exercise in patience, purging, and planting. I am very excited to learn more from my cohort and professors, participate in AWP in 2015, and continue growing as a writer. I hope you, too, find the strength and concentration to get through this process!

Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times” is Minneapolis’s poetry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any videos of this song online because Prince is very particular about this. Therefore, enjoy this delicious version from Chaka Khan!

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