Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Whine-of-the-Month Club

I'm sick, and I'm such a wuss about being sick -- today was my second day off work, and judging from the sound of my cough, I may stay home tomorrow too. Or maybe I'll go in just to get some sympathy. I'm sure I can just sit in my office and cough, and everyone will leave me alone because -- one listen and they'll be afraid to come any closer. I believe I may be hacking up some less-than-vital internal organs here. Ew.

Not much to say tonight. I'm feeling frustrated in general; I've felt too muzzy-headed to do much reading the past couple of days, and certainly no writing; I have a bunch of poems out -- some since September or October -- and at this point I'd be happy to get rejections, just to get things moving again; I keep doing math in my head and thinking longingly of low-residency MFA programs and deciding I'd be crazy to take out some $25K in student loans in my mid-forties when I have very little saved for retirement as it is, even though I think one of those programs would be awfully good for my writing. Because I'm just not good enough right now, not as good as I want to be. And maybe if I had more discipline and could make myself sit at my desk and read & write for three hours a night without the carrot/stick of an MFA hanging over my head, I'd improve. But so often I think what I need is a mentor, and that's pretty hard to come by outside of a formal program of some sort. And how am I supposed to know whether I even have the potential to get any better, to get as good as I want to be? That's where the external validation of an MFA might be nice.

My poetry group is nice, but we just work on fixing each individual poem in front of us, tinkering and editing, and it's helpful at a certain level, but I need to learn how to step back and look at my work as a whole, how to make the next poem better and how to take risks, how to (say it!) put together a book manuscript. And how to get it out there, yes, and get it published -- because I want that, I admit it, uncool as that may be. I don't need to work on my poems, I need to work on my poetry.

Maybe D.A. Powell's workshop in June will help with that. Maybe a summer workshop every year or two is all I need. And I can afford that, sort of. It's not like I want an MFA so I can get a job -- I already have a master's degree that can get me a job. (A second master's would help me get some librarian positions, though.) There's nothing magic about an MFA that instantly makes you a better writer. I do think it would be very good for me, but surely it's not the only way for me to go. It had better not be, because I just plain bloody can't afford it.

And how do you know if you're ready -- and if you're good enough -- to put together a book ms.? I suppose I should just sit down and do it and see what happens, but I wish I understood the process. I mean, I sort of do, but I don't think I really do, you know?

Apparently "intense self-doubt and frustration" is one of the symptoms of the common cold. This, too, shall pass. I already had some chicken soup today, so sleep is my next stop.

8 comments:

Emily Lloyd said...

Hi, Anne--hope the coughing's calmed. If there's anything I can do in the way of advice, or looking at a full ms and suggesting ordering, let me know. I'm a much better editor (and marketer, for that matter) than poet. [grin] I did 1 1/2 years twds an MFA @ George Mason (Forche, etc.) before dropping out to pursue my dream of becoming a housebound agoraphobe. I got better, but didn't go back, because I knew at that point I was too panicked to face teaching (I had a TA), and that's mainly what the degree was for...I honestly think that, if it's practical stuff you want, you'll be able to find it here online (by asking bloggers w/books, etc.) Two of my MFA classes were priceless--the rest, not so necessary in terms of your practical goals. The best part was having a community of other poets (not just the professors) to bounce things off...see: your blogroll.

Other option: do you NEED it to be low-residency? Some programs, if they like your portfolio, will give extra consideration to you as a TA candidate since you already have a master's. That's free tuition & usually around $10,000 a year (plus you could hold down a part-time on the side--perhaps even at the univ. library)...I'd try that before loans, unless you're mad about your current job and locale...I mean, shoot, we're librarians--we're not gonna be paying off those loans anytime soon.

best,
em

Emily Lloyd said...

PS: You write, "And how am I supposed to know whether I even have the potential to get any better, to get as good as I want to be? That's where the external validation of an MFA might be nice."

I'll say it now, and I'm sure anyone else who comments on this post will, too--there are buttloads of not-so-good poets with MFAs, many who feel very validated, I'm sure.

And while someone else can spot your potential (and many already have), I don't think anyone else can tell you that you'll someday be as good as you want to be...at least not if you're your toughest critic, like most of us. That's all you. I'd bet many major poets with trails of books behind them still don't know if they'll ever be as good as they want to be. (Oh, this reminds me: a good roundtable discussion--Daisy Fried, Thomas Sayers Ellis, others--of how anyone can today can say they want to be a "great poet" in this month's Poetry.


yrs,
em

jenni said...

Hi Anne. Hope you get to feeling better!

I'm with Emily, I think with the vastness of the net, there's no need to do an MFA program unless you crave the community in a physical way. There are TONS of online workshops that are freee and just as tough as sitting in a classroom (many ex MFA students host free online workshops--see Steve Mueske, he has a good one called 'three candles') There's also "eratosphere" "The Gazebo" and tons of others that range from extreme critique to comments only. If you want links, email me and I'll be happy to hook you up to several.

I don't know that anyone ever writes to their full potential--that may be something that plagues all writers. Imagine Keats, dying of TB before he was thirty and knowing he could never reach full potential--yet his poetry is still remembered and loved.

Anyways, hope you get to feeling better. being sick sucks.

jenni

Anne said...

Thanks, Em & Jenni! I am feeling better today, both physically and poetically.

I do, for various financial & personal reasons (not least of which is the fact that I'd have to sink several thousand dollars into repairs before anyone in their right mind would buy my house, and renting it out isn't an option under the terms of my current mortgage), plan to stick around Bloomington for at least the next several years. And although IU has a fine MFA program, it's not the right program for me -- it's extremely teaching-oriented, and honestly, I'd rather work at McDonald's than teach freshman comp! I guess I'm a bit spoiled, as I got my MLS without taking out any loans -- I was already working full-time as a staff member at IU, and by taking one or two clases at a time, I was able to finish the degree in about 5 years with my staff fee courtesy covering the vast majority of $$.

I think it's all partly a bit of a midlife crisis -- I'm a 43-year-old spinster (heh) with no offspring, starting to feel the pangs of mortality, and sometimes I feel like if I don't get a gosh-darn book out there in the next few years, there's no way anyone will have any reason to remember me after I'm gone. I know, having a book published is nowhere near a guarantee of that, especially poetry, sheesh. But...

Anyhow, all I can do is keep writing, and I may check out some of those online workshopping ideas (though for me, the MFA is at least as much about reading as it is about writing -- when I took Cathy Bowman's class, I ended up reading a lot of stuff I would never have picked up on my own, and my own work was very much the better for it). I may try to save up enough to at least apply to low-res programs and just see if anyone will offer me any grants. I know they're few & far between, but it just seems so silly for something dumb like money to stand between me & something that could be good for me.

Anyhow, thanks for comments & support -- I appreciate it!

-A.

early hours of sky said...

Split Rock of Minnesota has great on line metoring programs. I used them and it really change my writing. They will even go through your manuscript.

Anne said...

I went to Split Rock for a week-long workshop one summer, which was quite wonderful. I've looked at their website and wondered how well the mentoring stuff worked -- glad to hear the recommendation! Maybe once I've paid off the credit cards from this summer's workshop in Provincetown, I'll look into it. Thanks!

Jilly said...

I'm doing the low-res MFA at Queens U of Charlotte, and highly recommend it. Email me if you want details. :)

Hope you feel better.

Anne said...

Thanks, Jilly! That's one of the programs I have not heard too much about. I may hit you up with questions at some point. :)