2014, Archives, October 2014, The MFA Years

Scaling Midterm Mountain

UK Library

William T. Young Library

Yesterday in class, my modernist poetry professor glanced down at the reading he’d assigned for this weekend (Eliot) and raised his eyebrows. “Well, that’s quite a lot, isn’t it?” He shrugged and smiled. “You turned in your papers already, I suppose, so you have nothing else to do.”

We all laughed very hard, including him. The seminar combines PhD, MFA, and MA students–most people are TAs and take at least two classes. This particular class was so popular during registration that we sometimes have to scrounge for an extra chair if everyone is in attendance. We also generally have pretty amazing discussions that can last 15-20 minutes past the end of class, because everyone has something to say. In undergrad, I was used to being one of the only people in the room who always wanted to talk about stories and poems. Here, I’m surrounded by people who love the same things, whether their niche is scholarly or creative writing. Many of them are smarter and more well-read than I am, so I have a chance to listen more than I talk (although I still do some of that, too).

It’s been a little bit of a culture change. For example, we just finished our midterm paper. I started researching my topic about three weeks in advance, which in undergrad would have been pretty proactive. After two conferences with my professor and three trips to the library, I promised myself I’d start earlier on the final paper–most of the books on Yeats that I wanted to read were already checked out by a classmate, and I needed to make some significant revisions to my argument and sources. Grad school scholarly research isn’t a joke, and UK has a top-ranked PhD program with accordingly high standards. I discovered that it’s not abnormal for a couple of people to check out 15 books on the course subject, then just loan them to classmates who need them during the semester.

In my MFA program we’re only required to take two literature seminars, but we are meant to take them seriously and develop as scholars as well as creative writers. It’s a little hard at times–when I had to turn to writing an argument about Yeats rather than working on my own stories and poems, I got cranky. But I do feel I’m learning a lot. And two good things came out of the paper-writing weeks: I’m much better acquainted with the Young library (which is incredible–you can see the exterior in the picture at the top of my post. Two words for you: Reading. Tower.) and I decided to get a cat. Here are pictures of these two things:

The reading tower

University of Kentucky 21

My cat, Arrow


So the academic side of things has been heavy during October. Grading (for my TAship) has also been intense. Something awesome happened, though: I got to teach the class! I’m working with one of my MFA faculty members (he’s the primary instructor), and I had an idea that could illustrate some concepts we were teaching our creative writing students. He asked if I wanted to teach it.

The next class period, I stood in front of 150ish students and talked to them about story using Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings,” asking them to apply concepts like conflict and connection-disconnection (credit to Janet Burroway for the latter) to Atwood’s work. And it went unbelievably well. Students participated in the discussion and I felt completely exhilarated leaving the classroom. Being a secondary instructor is pretty neat–I get to respond to students’ creative writing while learning from the primary instructor, who is responsible for the class as a whole. Now I know that I enjoy teaching, too, and I wasn’t terrible at it.

My MFA cohort is slowly but surely gelling into a community. Many of my cohort members have families and outside jobs, so it wasn’t immediately an insular group–but we’re getting there. One really great day this month, in particular, a bunch of us went to faculty member Hannah Pittard’s launch party for her second novel, Reunion. It was at a local bookshop, standing-room-only, and everyone mingled afterwards. Then some of us went over to a local coffee shop for an open mic sponsored by UK’s two literary magazines.

October has been an extremely busy month between grading, teaching, paper-writing, and socializing. Sometimes it’s been hard to prioritize writing when there are so many things demanding my attention. I am really excited about the revisions I’m working on for the chapter I workshopped in September, though, and I’ll be workshopping a second chapter soon. Now that I’m through midterms, I have these wonderful, luxurious amounts of time to just write (and play with my cat).

By the way, I might start my final modernist poetry paper today…

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