Saturday, October 02, 2004


Yes, the new venue for Dodge was god awful and completely ruined the entire experience. Skipped the evening readings because it was so miserable and I was weary of crouching in a muddy port-a-john. If they have it at Duke Farms again, I definitely won't go. Hey, I'll probably never go back again anyway. But we did enough grumbling about it while we were there so I'll stop here.

On a positive side, I had fun hanging out with Allyson and Laura and got to ride in a school bus.

There was a lively exchange between FW [Name Removed] and Philip Levine on a panel about poetry and class. I only caught the last 20 minutes, but it seemed like Levine had a counter argument for everything Wright said. Wright: (I'm paraphrasing) "Hart Crane didn't have a formal education in poetry but he was a technical genuis." Levine: "Yeah, but that's because he was a genius."

Someone in the audience asked the so (yawn) tired question of "Do you need an MFA to be a poet" and FW went on a tirade against all MFA programs and why would anyone want to go and blah blah blah. He suggested that aspiring poets seek out mentors instead. That's great, if you can find a poet you admire willing to spend time with you. I wonder how many aspiring poets that write to him get a receptive response? "Oh yes, please send me your manuscript, I'd love to critique it." A lot of older and experienced writers I know have neither the time nor interest to spend helping a young new writer in the rough. Unless of course, they're teaching in a program or getting paid to run a workshop. If you want someone who's an "expert" in any field to teach you how to do something, someone or some instituition is probably going to have to pay for his/her time. I don't know much about FW upbringing and early experiences, but most of us didn't have James Wright as a father or exposure and access to other talented poets that I'm guessing FW had growing up. Lots of us grew up in houses that didn't have a single volume of poetry on the bookshelf. I never met a poet until I was 18 and an undergrad. The only reason I had access to those poets was because I was student.

Three years ago when I started beading and making jewelry, I bought a few books and ordered supplies. I read the books, then I practiced, made a number of sub-part pieces (Tender Buttons was my free sample tester and would give critiques "This necklaces lays funny" or "The bracelet falls off my wrist" or "Ow, this burns"). Every piece I made I learned something and each one got a little better and in a few months I was making jewelry that people were willing to pay money for. I never took a class (although I'm sure there's much I could learn from one) and I don't have a jewelry making degree. It's not something I worry myself about. I enjoy making jewelry. I get giddy seeing a $500 necklace in Neiman Marcus and making something similar for $40 in supplies. I'm even more giddy when I sell that necklace for $100. If I spent all my time worrying about all the "certified" jewelry designers and moaning about how they have access to things I don't, well there would be little time for jewelry making.

What I don't understand is why this is such a difficult concept to grasp: An MFA program is one of many ways to study the craft of poetry. Different programs vary widely and they're a good idea for some people, and not for others. You will meet poets with MFAs who are wonderful and some who are awful, same as poets without an MFA. If you decide an MFA isn't the path you wish to take, you're probably better off not pursing it. So just go on with the path you believe you should take and stop worrying about all these MFAs with their "access" and snooty degrees or whatever else bugs you about them. Just read and write god damn poetry.

Ugh, what else is there to say. Not too much to report. Oh yeah, my hotel is pretty nice. Good thing because its only 11 p.m. and I'm already back in my room. I'm going to order breakfast in so I get an early start on driving home tomorrow. But there's no freakin' omelet on the menu. What am I going to get?

I'm a little behind on reading No Tell subs, so I'll do that tonight. Nah, I'm going watch some TV instead. I'll read subs tomorrow when I get home.


At 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's funny that I had the "honor" of taking a workshop with Franz at the helm. The class was a total mess, to say the least.

Your point here is well-taken, though.

After spending three years here at Arkansas, I feel like those three years studying poetry would have been just as helpful in a non-academic setting. Most of what I took away from the program came from the other grad students and the conversations that took place outside of the classroom. My thesis advisor offered nothing helpful whatsoever, but I'm not bitter about it. I was given three years to work on a manuscript and I did.

Off to bed. Hope you are well. Swell poem in Good Foot.


At 3:59 PM, Blogger Reb said...

Maybe it was Wright's experience at Arkansas that so colored his opinion. :)

I like the latest issue of Good Foot a lot.

"And ends when we look to sky and think we can sing along" Indeed!

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Victoria Chang said...

Thanks for your insight into Dodge...and your thoughts on the MFA. I have to say, I agree with you--although, I was a major skeptic until I got $$ to go to Warren Wilson and skipped out on a traditional MFA to go there and it's just one mentorship after another there, not like the traditional MFA at all.

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Reb said...

Yeah, I transferred from a traditional MFA program to a low-residency (Bennington) and preferred that mentor-style of teaching too. I was needy like that.

At 11:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to let you in on the big secret, I did not live with my father after about six, and the life I led thereafter with my mother and stepfather was about as unliterary as it gets.
2) I do happen to "mentor" (at no cost, I do it because they happen to be truly gifted, born poets) about fifteen younger writers.
3) Anyone who thinks they are going to cash the writing of poetry into an academic career will get the following: comfortable mediocrity. THere are a few exceptions, a few geniuses, but you and your pals here are not among them.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Peter said...

"2) I do happen to "mentor" (at no cost, I do it because they happen to be truly gifted, born poets) about fifteen younger writers."

Hey, I'm pretty sure that most people consider coerced sexual favors to be a significant cost, even if it doesn't hit our pocketbooks.

I'm, uh, just sayin'.

At 7:56 AM, Blogger Peter said...

...and wait just a minute. "Born poet?" Last time I checked, language was an acquired skill, you toad-choadling pathogen.


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