The above picture is one I snapped a few weeks ago while biking around downtown Flagstaff. Yes, biking, something I’ve only recently been able to do on the daily for the first time in just about 10 years. Before I moved out west, I was super dependent on my car. I needed it for everything. I needed it to get me just about everywhere. It stressed me out to no end having to deal with inevitable car repair bills and wondering how I was supposed to get to work to make the money to fix it. Don’t get me started on rush hour traffic and road rage. But biking downtown, I was able to go at my own pace. I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere. I could just go where I wanted for as long as I wanted and appreciate all the beauty around me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another moment in life when I can just do that to no consequence.
Classes at Columbia College Chicago are chugging along, so much so that I can see the end of the semester creeping up, and it’s terrifying. (The rapid forward motion of time seems incongruent with the stasis inside my head. Or is it stasis? Is it just being stuck in the past?) I’m taking three courses this semester: Composition Theory and Praxis (I’m getting so much background in teaching theory), Project-Based Poetics (a craft seminar), and the core of any MFA program: the workshop. This semester, the workshop is composed solely of our cohort. There are nine of us in there, all first-year students from a variety of poetic backgrounds, and we all have a different outlook on writing in general and what space poetry should occupy. Because I’m back in workshop after years of academic-free life, I’ve been trying to switch up my poetry styles—I don’t want to look back at grad school and think, well, I really left that stone unturned.
At the beginning of the month I scheduled individual student conferences. Students had a chance to discuss their poetry portfolios before submitting them; this was all done before we began the fiction unit of the course. At the University of Minnesota creative writing courses delve into the three popular genres—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—and that gives students a chance to explore how narratives are derived, what makes for compelling storytelling, and how poetry is architected. The student conferences under the poetry unit showed me how students are approaching our course and their work; they offered me the opportunity to direct my students to areas that needed more work or areas where the poem already had the fiber of a precious poem. True: most of them expressed their concerns with poetry, the intensity of the revision process, and what they wish they could’ve written instead or what they hope changes by the time the fiction unit starts. But it was also true that as a whole they’d written superb material.
Last Thursday, I was on my way to a quick lunch break when my phone vibrated. Call me immediately. My mom. I was still tired from the night before, where I’d run around trying to grab things for my dad who was camped out at the ICU with his mother, my grandmother. But I had gotten a text from Dad earlier that day: She’s doing better. Might be able to leave next week for therapy. But that’s not what Mom’s voice relayed as she sobbed into her phone. “Please come,” she said.
Last week, Ada Limón visited UVA as a Rea Visiting Lecturer. She gave a wonderful hour long craft talk about ending poems. This is something I struggle with (see also: titles) so the talk was timely. She gave us six different examples of endings, along with lots of examples. I hadn’t heard of about half of the poems she used and that was a nice bonus. Now I have new poems I can read and work through in relation to what I’m writing. Afterwards, a bunch of us poets and a few fiction writers had lunch with her on grounds. In both venues she talked about some of the jobs she’s had and none of them involved teaching. I’m not interested in teaching so it was great to hear from the perspective of someone who’s had a career largely outside of academia. The visit also included, of course, a reading. I won’t say much except that is was lovely and Ada has a great reading voice. I would love to read as well as her some day. And …
I launched my MFA dreams two years ago, starry-eyed and oblivious. At the time, I had three finished essays to my name (and I use the term “finished” very, very loosely). I figured, “I’ve taken a writing class or two; I have a few pieces that have gotten some positive feedback; I don’t have the SLIGHTEST clue where I’m going with any of it or what I want to write next, but I’ll do an MFA and figure it out when I get there.” Not surprisingly, things didn’t go according to plan. I mean, it wasn’t the WORST idea I’d ever come up with–and before the days of hyper-competitive MFA admissions, it might have been perfectly fine. But it also spoke to my inexperience, not just as an MFA applicant in-the-know, but as a writer with a dedicated approach to production and craft.