All posts tagged: creative writing

On Reading Poetry and Poetry Readings

Do you read poetry out loud or in your head? Do you read so slowly you lose interest or so quickly you have motions sickness by the end of the poem? Is it okay to space-out during a reading? Are boredom and confusion acceptable experiences to have when, say, you read a poem that doesn’t stick, that slides right off your mind back onto the page? This semester, in Lisa Olstein’s seminar class on sixties poets, we’ve been reading a poetry collection weekly and discussing the effects they have on us as readers. Two poets we’ve read recently have taught me one thing: No one can tell you how to have an experience. My gratitude for this lesson goes out to John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin, and to their books, Rivers and Mountains and The Lice. Ashbery is notoriously difficult and polarizing in certain ways—a divide usually opening up between “I don’t get it” or “I don’t get why it matters.” I’ve loved Ashbery for years but also always felt myself space-out during his longer …

Strategizing for Second Year

Image: Shemsu.Hor The countdown has begun. After a summer of traveling in Europe, teaching ESL classes, seeing the utterly inspirational musical Hamilton, and generally avoiding writing despite my desire to get ahead, I’ve started my fall classes and I finally have the motivation to do what I came to grad school for: write. I’m in my second and final year of my MA in creative writing at UC Davis, which means between now and May I need to write a thesis. I’ve decided to make my thesis a collection of short stories. Compartmentalizing my thesis into smaller, doable tasks— writing one story at a time— will do wonders for my mental health. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a senior thesis for my English degree. It was an academic paper that ended up being 90 pages long and not very good, even though I worked on it for a whole year straight. My entire senior year I felt this looming sense of dread hovering over me, like …

Becoming the Killjoy: Confronting Academic Spaces

Finishing up my final semester at University of Wyoming’s MFA felt tumultuous, though I suppose it couldn’t have ended any other way. Many faculty seemed to be leaving UW amidst the school’s large-scale budgeting overhaul due to the collapse of Wyoming’s coal industry last year, nothing new for the state considering its legacy of booms and busts. A new drama was rising afresh within the program as students learned of the manner in which beloved faculty member, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, had been terminated. Further, this was all happening against the backdrop of macro and micro struggles. Each week was some new round of messy political theatre, and meanwhile my friends and I were going through own crises, doing what we could to find moments together to fight through the gloom. After my thesis defense, one of my committee members gave me a letter that contained everything I needed to hear at the end of this stricken road. Even now, I’m holding the letter, reading through it again and finding myself wrecked with the sharp joy of …

Finding My Discomfort Zone

Image: Trung Bui Viet In my first class on creative nonfiction this past April, I sat down in the workshop, excited, a little nervous, but fundamentally reassured by one thought: I wasn’t going to be any good at the class anyway, so I didn’t have to worry too much about mastering the finer points of the memoir or essay. I was taking nonfiction because in my MA program, we are required to take one class outside of our genre. Since I’m a fiction writer, that meant choosing between poetry and nonfiction.  When I was in undergrad, I took one fateful poetry workshop. It was actually my first workshop experience. I wasn’t much of a poet, or at least I didn’t consider myself to be one, but it was easier to get accepted into a poetry workshop than a fiction workshop, so I took the chance to be in it when it was offered, knowing that I wasn’t going to be the star of the class. I brought in my painful clichéd breakup poems every week and …

Want to learn how to write? Become an autodidact

Image: The Dark Veil If you’re familiar with the pros and cons of MFA programs in general, you’ve probably heard this advice before: an advanced degree in Creative Writing is not necessary for you to become a writer, but it can definitely help by giving you the time and validation you need to build confidence in your writing. I’ve now completed two terms of my M.A. in Creative Writing program (two quarters actually, but because there’s no summer term there are only three quarters in one school year– I’m guessing whoever invented that system didn’t major in math), and I have enough experience at this program to confirm that advice, but also to qualify it. In an MFA or MA Program, you will be treated seriously as a writer, and you will have more time than you otherwise would to write, especially if you’re coming back to school from the working world. However, if you are in a program that funds you via teaching assistantships or other university positions, you’re also going to have a …

How to make your MFA decision

Image: Vimal Kumar Maybe you’re still waiting to hear back from MFA programs or you already know you’ve been accepted to one or more. Either way, come April, if you are in the lucky position of being able to choose where you attend graduate school next fall, here are suggestions from some of our first year contributors on how to choose the program that is right for you. Contributors: Molly Montgomery, Craig Knox, Devin Koch, Jess Silfa, and Carlos Chism What is the most important factor to consider when making the decision? Molly Montgomery: I think the biggest factor when you’re making your decision is your personal goals. Of the programs you were accepted to you, which do you think will help you reach your goals as a writer? And if you have other aspirations, such as a desire to improve your teaching skills or to gain professional or editorial experience, will the program also help you achieve those goals? When you are comparing offers, it’s easy to only look at the funding, but you also …

What is Your Message of Hope?

Image By: Martin “Interrogate yourself. Everyday. What is your message of hope?” – Ocean Vuong My first semester in pursuing my MFA, I got the privilege to hear Ocean Vuong, an exceptional poet, who visited Virginia Tech and delivered a craft talk the following day. He had a soft-spoken voice when he talked but when he read his work, there was a strong sense of passion and intensity. His craft talk covered the idea of how powerful language is, especially in regards to how fluid language is. It is connected to one’s culture and history. It is a way to connect with the ones around you. Language is ever changing, with new slang being introduced and how words/acronyms can change meaning. For instance, we all know what Lol means, but now it holds more abilities. These days people use it in texts as if it’s filler or a means of trying to lighten the mood. Lol I just bombed the test. When you take the Lol out it has a completely different meaning, where there …