Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to School

Year Two of my MFA program at Penn State started today. Poetry workshop bright and early at 9:05 Monday morning. We didn’t actually workshop today, but we discussed our ideas and goals in terms of “voice” (the general theme of the workshop this semester), we each read a poem we’d written over the summer, and we discussed the reading we’d done for today (selections from Frank Bidart’s collected poems). It’s a nice group of people, and the vibe is very positive. ‘Twas a perfect way to begin the semester!

I’m undecided right now on the other class I’ll be taking this semester. Since this is a two year program now, and I’ll be working on my thesis, I’m registered for thesis credits which means I only need two “real” classes. Right now I’m registered for both a lit seminar on Shakespearean tragedies and a lit course on the 1930s which promises to be heavily political/cultural studies-ish. I’m masochistically considering staying in both of them, but I think I’ll end up dropping one.

I’m teaching an Intro to Creative Writing class, which I’m thrilled about. We meet for the first time tomorrow at 8:00am. I won’t reiterate all my plans here, but it’s basically a mixture of instruction and practice in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction (i.e. lecture/discussion, lots of writing exercises, one workshop per genre). We’re using this textbook as well as supplemental readings I’ve drawn from classes I’ve taken and generally just other work I like; I’m sort of nervous about teaching work I love because I’ve heard other people say that they feel personally affronted when their students don’t like, or don’t get, some of their favorite literature. We’ll see how it goes, I guess. In general though, I’m excited about the class!

What else? Oh yeah, that whole thesis thing…. It is so strange to me that a year ago I hadn’t even begun my MFA program, and now I am halfway finished. While it would be nice to have a third year, I think the two year program is for the best (I don’t think I could take another year in Central Pennsylvania without serious detriment to my sanity). It’s crazy to think about having a book manuscript done by May, but it’s exciting as well. I turned in about 35 pages of poems to my thesis advisor at the end of spring semester, got her comments back over the summer, and then proceeded to not write very much at all…. In my defense, I did a lot of reading, and I did do some writing; but I traveled a fair amount (spent two wonderful weeks in California – half in San Francisco and half in Berkeley – and also spent a couple of long weekends back in Columbus), I also taught a summer class, and I took an intensive Spanish class, so for six weeks I was on campus eight hours a day, five days a week. Not too conducive to getting a lot of writing done. However, I feel like I have a solid idea for my manuscript and good direction for the revisions on what I’ve already given my advisor so I only need another 15 pages or so. Totally doable, right?

Overall, I’m a lot more comfortable here than I was a year ago, more confident of being able to be a successful grad student, but also feeling an increased pressure to “perform” outside of my classes, i.e. publish, get into a PhD program, get a job, or something.

And I still miss my Columbus people/my Columbus life to a ridiculous extent sometimes, in spite of the fact that I have wonderful friends here and an amazing partner I never expected to meet. Sigh! Anyway, who wants a poem? Yes? Someone out there said yes? Well, okay, here is a very early draft of something I wrote after coming back from California…..

Leaving San Francisco at Night

How many lights make up the body

of this place, it straight lines, its curves

tiny houses sprinkled like freckles

on the red-earth skin?

I entered in daylight, over water,

through clouds, struck by nothing

so much as fear of the bay

drawing closer and larger, green

and mottled, dotted with toy boats.

Since then I’ve walked the skeleton

of the city, miles and miles, hand

to hand at ground level, climbed to the top

and looked down from the tower,

but it’s only here in darkness, blinking

goodbye, that I see it as whole.

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