I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

31 August 2005

Ready to Head North and Katrina

Will be leaving tomorrow for Nashville, flying up to Chicago for the connecting flight to Music City, U.S.A. I'll be spending the night with my son, and then when he's free from school on Friday, we will drive to the Atlanta airport to pick up my brother, and then on to Athens. Funny that I have been concerned about the availability of gas in Atlanta, when in the face of so much unimaginable grief and suffering because of the hurricane.

Another point of contact is that my ex-wife's husband's family is in Southern Mississippi (mostly Hattiesburg, which suffered a bit of damage, though a hundred miles inland, I believe) and S.E. Louisiana (in Hammnond, which I imagine must be devastated). I'm wondering if he's been able to get in touch with his family, and no doubt, his mind will be elsewhere while I am there. Yes, I stay at my ex-wife's place most times I go to Nashville. Pretty far removed from the divorce that occured 12 years ago.

Also heard today from my nephew, who'll be watching the game in his dorm room in Spokane--he's off to a very good start at Gonzaga--though he's a little blue that he can't join his father and cousin and uncle for the big game.

Oh, and not to mention the tragedy in Iraq today of the stampede over the bridge. And so I'll be headed off to a football game, in a stadium of 93,000, at a university that probably is askew in values because of this very sports culture (interesting how the University of Georgia Press has been knocked down a few rungs because of the Jorie Graham judging scandal--maybe not all that far from the Georgia basketball coach a few years back and his phony tests for his "coaching" courses: what is the nickname for the UGA basketball team?).

10 August 2005

Obligatory Comment on M.F.A. Programs

Almost impossible to have a poetry blog without either an apology for or a rant against M.F.A. Programs.

I've written articles in the AWP Chronicle and Poets & Writers critical of M.F.A. programs and the po-biz, and I am very familiar with some of their weaknesses. But they are not the blight against literature that so many of their critics proclaim.

I occasionally do recommend M.F.A. programs to individuals, as long as they understand their value: an opportunity to work with a community of writers--no more and no less. A dear friend of mine is enrolled in the low residency program at Pacific Lutheran, a sixty year old poet who obviously does not hold ambitions of setting the literary world on fire, or who does not think she's a real poet without the degree. Barbara is going there to specifically study with the very good poets at PLU, to see what she can really do with the time and focus.

A few times, I've had students who've approached me who look at M.F.A. programs misguidedly, that they think it's a ticket to fame, to a literary agent, or less likely, to a position as a university professor. I go to great pains explaining to them what an M.F.A. program is not about, first saying that going to one will not make the student a writer. That comes from something else entirely beyond the institution. I also help the student review the different programs, helping them to avoid the places that do not suit their personalities, talents, politics, and aesthetics. I also have recommended to students that they probably shouldn't go to an M.F.A. program.

Now, I have recommended seven individuals, in 24 years teaching at the college level, getting into creative writing programs at Cincinnati, Louisville, FIU, George Mason, Goucher, PLU, and Mills (though for the last college, the student decided not to enroll after all). I think for each individual, the choice has been a good one, because the writer saw the venture as a personal challenge and an opportunity to become a member of an admittedly artficial community of writers. For myself, that was the value in my own venture in going to Indiana University: to get the heck out of Idaho and to be a part of a dynamic, contrary, and invigorating group of poets. The exposure there did not result in any lasting poems (I hate to think of all the M.F.A. students now at Indiana who are culling through the M.F.A. theses, coming across mine, and thinking, as they should, "he got that poem published?"), but it taught me to take the craft seriously and the business with some humor.