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The Process and Pathway of a DIY M.F.A

Maynooth Station

There is no way to avoid Emily Dickinson as a poet or someone who is studying poetry, same with Walt Whitman.  I knew they were going to be chapter one reading in the Contemporary and Modern American Poetry class. I know this because I have signed up for the class two other times with varying levels of participation. I liked the course but I was intimidated by all that I didn’t know.

As many of my fellow contributors sit in classrooms and participate in University life; I am taking what I call a DIY M.F.A; Utilizing Massive Open Online Classes (MOOC), discussion groups, in person writing and study groups. Taking classes with thousands of other students has many freedoms and also many dangers. My professors do not know me; I am not accountable to anyone but myself. My education is completely in my own hands. I decide if I pay extra for certificates of my classes or if I am okay with a statement of accomplishment, I decide if I follow up with local people from the class. I decide how many publications I submit to or if I attend conferences. I have all the same responsibilities for assignment, quizzes and reading and none of the formal support.

What I do have is a network of writers, artists, friends, family who support me, who ask with genuine interest how classes are going and if I have heard back from the latest event, job opportunity, anthology, or journal. What I also have is all the responsibility of the decisions about my education and career prospects, and how I will move forward. I knew I would be writing and learning about writing for the next two years but I had no idea it would be like this.

I get more adjusted to my sea legs each time I do well on a quiz or get constructive feedback on an essay or poem. Each time my previous worldview is challenged and I find new, difficult, exhilarating ways to tell stories, play with language and process poetry. I find myself having my interest peaked in books I have either not heard of or not given a second thought to. I find myself considering new reference books, and digging more into the study of poetry and poetics and even literature. My world has been opened in ways I didn’t anticipate. I have been challenged with revising my process of writing and thinking, expanding both in ways that are pleasurable and uncomfortable to better writer, reader, and student.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two of the classes that are giving me such a wonderful experience. Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, University of Pennsylvania led by the phenomenal Al Filreis. Professor Filreis brings a wealth of resources and insights to the course making it by far one of my favorite courses I have ever had the privilege of taking. After two other times of signing up and doing some of the readings I am pleased I decided to jump in with both feet. I suggest this class to anyone with an interest in learning more about American poetry.

An equally wonderful class I am taking is Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop, California Institute of the Arts led by Douglas Kearney. While Kearney’s style of teaching and explaining is very different from Filreis, he is very captivating, passionate and sincere and has made me look at poems I have heard and loved for years in a different way. If anyone is interested in taking either of these classes, they are both available through Coursera.

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