2015, Archives, September 2015, The MFA Years

Week 6 Already

Image: Wally Gobetz

When my poetry cohort met up in the forest to drink beers and read political poems to each other, I couldn’t believe that this was my life. Nearly everyone I know in this city is a writer, and I spend most days at the nearby cafe working on my next poem. California and my cubicled world seem so far away.

We’re in Week 6 now. It’s been really busy, and I’ve been almost too occupied to feel homesick (almost). The poetry cohort takes two workshops per term, one on Monday and one on Thursday. This semester, the workshops are led by Robert Pinsky and Karl Kirchwey, and both, as is tradition, take place in Room 222 of the English building. Legend goes, Room 222 is where Robert Lowell taught Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, W.D. Snodgrass, and George Starbuck. This was something that had me in a measure of awe at first. But now, Room 222 feels like my cohort’s and our mentors’ space, the tiny room with squeaky desks where we chip away at the marble of our creative potential and are occasionally treated to cider and scones.

One workshop has a structured craft component, so we spend the first hour of class reading from a specially-made anthology, discussing the effects of structures and forms (such as Anglo-Saxon accentual-alliterative verse), and close-reading published poems as a group. The remaining two hours are for workshop, and we often go over time. (Not that it matters, since we all head to the pub after anyway—more on that later.) The other workshop has a more loosely structured format. We spend the majority of the three hours workshopping each other’s poems, with brief detours into relevant discussions (and sometimes tangents). For example, when my piece that day was about subversion of gender stereotypes, the professor brought in “Women” by Louise Bogan to show us a poem with similar aims.

For me, personally, the deadlines are a challenge since I’ve been out of school for some time. Two poems are due every two weeks, which is quite different from one poem each week. For my first set of two poems, the quality was pretty uneven—I spent several days working on one, and then rushed to write the second one due three days later. But I’m getting the hang of it, and trying to write poems outside my comfort zone (which is short lines, lots of ‘I,’ personal/confessional). Now is the time to experiment.

So you’d think that our cohort of 8 would tire of seeing each other twice a week. On the contrary! Every Thursday after workshop, we (everyone who can make it that night, usually 6-7 of 8) cross the street to the BU Pub and debrief over beers and an unreasonably large platter of nachos. (Side note: the campus pub is housed in a building aptly named ‘the Castle’; see photo above.) And sometimes, as previously mentioned, we show up in a forest with armfuls of poetry to read to each other. Cards Against Humanity may also be involved. I think for most of us, it’s a significant change to be surrounded by writers, and just fun to have people around to talk shop with. We’ve had energetic discussions on Billy Collins (who is a sometimes divisive conversation topic among poets), the pathetic fallacy, and goings-on/scandals of the poetry world (see: Yi-Fen Chou).  All of us have been out of school a while, ranging from 25 to 33 years old, so being back in student mode is novel and an experience we don’t take for granted.

In addition to the workshops, I’m taking Intro to Recent Critical Theory and Method, a class largely populated with English MA and PhD students. This class is completely different from the workshops—instead of producing every week, I’m doing piles of reading and thinking ahead to the two term papers. So this class lets me switch to a different mode of thinking, as well as test the waters to see if there’s a PhD in my future. (SCHOOL FOREVER.)

And as I mentioned before, I’m teaching this fall. Every BU MFA student teaches Intro to Creative Writing to undergrads. This was one of the reasons why I chose this program: it’s awesome that we don’t have to compete for the position of taking complete ownership of a creative writing class, developing the syllabus and everything. But that’s a post for the spring, which seems so far away—even though October is rapidly approaching out of nowhere. It’s Week 6 already of what, I’m extremely grateful to say, is already turning out to be a year of considerable growth.

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