MFA Semester 2/6: Beginning

Today was the first day of the new semester. I’m taking two workshops and an independent study this semester, giving myself a grand total of HELLO I’M A FULL-TIME GRADUATE STUDENT.

Crazy? Or ambitious?

I signed up for the poetry workshop because it’s a requirement for the MFA program of study. Poetry writers have to take one fiction workshop, and fiction writers have to take one poetry workshop. The rest of the workshops are in the writer’s chosen field. Full disclosure: I started off my registration with the carefree thought of: I should just get this over with. And that has been my attitude until today.

I used to write poetry. It’s been fifteen years; way back in the good ol’ days of completing my undergraduate degree. I was in an amazing poetry course one semester, with my favorite professor and a table full of supportive writers. I loved that class. I wrote angsty drama-filled confessional poetry that worked for me more as therapy than art (perhaps). I experimented with other genre within poetry, mostly out of assignment than desire, but ended up having fun with it.

Unfortunately, I stopped writing. Not just poetry, but everything. For far too long.

In preparation for this upcoming workshop, I wrote a couple poems during winter break and declared them all “awful” and was convinced I would never find my poetic voice again. Then the professor asked us to bring a new poem to workshop the first day, and I do so much better with a clear goal and deadline.

I needed one decent poem by Tuesday, January 22nd.

So I wrote one. The night of January 21st.

It’s okay. I got compliments in class, and was able to see what I’d done in a new light. It’s a lot like when I write a story, or even a scene in a story, and at the workshop table I only see the metaphors and imagery and thematic elements through the comments of my peers. Suddenly that clunky phrase I thought had too many ‘s’ sounds became a clever choice for sound. The shape of the poem, which I only chose because it looked more “poetry-like” than a solid block of text (which, I am aware, is still poetry-like), also flowed much like the waves of the lake carrying the speaker’s body.

Listening to my peers read their poems, and then later as we each read a poem that meant something to use as writers, I let myself enjoy the rhythm and flow of the words. I picked out what I liked, what I appreciated, what I found interesting. I couldn’t always find the right words, but I was participating. And I wasn’t comparing my poem to the others at the table.

I’m not having some revelatory moment, but maybe I kind of am. Going into the first day, I was still on the fence about the department’s decision to have students take a required workshop outside of their field. Coming out of just the first day, I have a better appreciation and understanding. I think writing poetry, for me, is going to help in my fiction too. Poems are typically shorter than even short stories (flash fiction is another story…also let’s not argue about what makes a poem…just go with me on this), so I’m going to have to learn the art of condensing and choosing just the right words. I have a lot of writing that is verbose to the extreme. I’m sure paragraphs, walls of text, could be eliminated without losing a single important element from Finding Agnes…and that novel isn’t even close to completion.

I don’t feel comfortable talking about and critiquing poetry, but I don’t always feel that great critiquing fiction either. So this is just another chance to practice and become a better reader, a better peer at the workshop table to help the others bring out their best writing too. I’m cautiously excited about this class, and I’m looking forward to writing more poetry.

Next Monday starts the fiction workshop with a professor and a table full of writers who I am familiar with, and who are familiar with my writing. So there’s a lot (lot) less anxiety about that one. Then I get to figure out this independent study on crafting short fiction.

It’s going to be a great semester.


My favorite photo I took over break:

card with pixelated skull from Oregon Trail card game reading You have died of dysentery
Got the kiddo the Oregon Trail Card Game for Christmas because I thought it would be funny. It was. Especially when I drew this card less than halfway to the Willamette Valley so the kiddo had to finish the rest of the game by himself. He made it safely. The next time we played, we both died from a snake bite within a turn of each other. Highly recommend the game.