Photo Credit: Alfred Stieglitz, "The Steerage" It's mid-December, which means it's high tide in application season. A year ago, we were exactly where you are now. We spent our free time navigating unintuitively designed web portals for universities, editing our statements of purpose to be personal for each program, and tallying all the money we spent… Continue reading 5 Frequently Asked Application Questions Answered By Current MFA Candidates
In March 2011, the midterm of my last semester of undergrad, I sat in my thesis advisor’s office, waiting for feedback on a recent packet of poems I had turned in. Specifically, I wanted to speak to her about a 2-page experimental poem. The piece discussed, in few uncertain terms, that I had recently been sexually assaulted. It was my first attempt at rendering this particular subject matter in my work as a poet; no one else had yet to read it. I knew, instinctively, that writing about my experience with assault would be something I had to do. I knew, also, that as a dedicated poet, it was necessary to write well and with ingenuity. I expected my advisor to offer some sort of words of support and acknowledgement, and mainly to offer advice on how to improve my draft. What actually happened is that she made it clear she did not want to discuss the elephant in the room, that she actually felt disdain toward the subject of my poem.
When I failed in my first attempt at MFA applications, my resolve to try again meant taking a critical look at myself and considering where I could improve. At first, it seemed daunting, because I had spent a lot of time on my applications. But then I began to consider not the quantity of work I had done, but methods I had used.
To realize that I was perhaps being courted by my favorite programs for the wrong reasons was strange and shocking. Then again, I had mainly applied to programs that pitched themselves as being inclusive. My application materials focused on my interest in queer poetics and feminine experiences of violence with the intent of weeding out schools that were not mutually receptive to this work. I never considered that it could have the opposite effect: that my poetry could be seen as a bullet point in a response to criticisms of hegemony within an academic writing program.