Dec 15, 2010, 4:02 AM
Re: [PhillProvance] GRE Score Reports
I applied to MFA programs during my senior year of college, and the poems I sent to MFA programs, in comparison to the work I am doing post-MFA (and during MFA, mostly), were really quite bad. I'm not saying they were bad poems for a 20-21 year old. I'm just saying that they weren't good, and that I thought I was going to an MFA program to "hone my craft" but what I was really doing was finding my poems. I don't want to reduce it to something sappy-sounding, like "finding my voice," or something cold, like "finding my craft" or "aesthetic." What I mean is that I found my poems.
This might be different for those (like you) who start programs a few years post-college, I don't know, but I think even "honing your skills in the direction you want" is limiting because you shouldn't necessarily point yourself in a direction quite yet, at least not consciously and intently. I entered my program with a significantly different "aesthetic" than I have now. The poet I thought I was pre-MFA is no more. Death to her! My poems (and, to a great extent, other poets) led the way; my brain, generally, was along for the ride. Note that I'm not saying I came in writing narrative realist poems and left writing L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poems; that's not what I mean. The shifts I took were more subtle, but significant enough that they're poems I didn't think I'd ever be writing.
The value of an MFA is the growing, the development--the chance to develop. <On side note: This is why I've stopped "justifying" my life and degree choices to others at this point and I really think we should all, in this field, stop being self-deprecating. As much as the MFA is one prerequisite for university teaching, that is not its primary value and we should stop trying to justify its place in the capitalist economy to people who don't and will never understand. For me, the MFA was an opportunity to engage, full throttle, in poetry and poetics, and (in particular) my own poetry in relation to a historical tradition. If it helps me get a job, it will be primarily because it helped me become a better writer, not because I paid my dues to the system.>
I understand your devotion to UMass, but I also see a bit of myself in you. I, too, had pre-acceptance devotion to a particular program. Consider this: the one person I wanted to work with most at that program actually helped me least (well, maybe she helped me in some ways, in that her treatment of my work caused a personal crisis that in turn caused me to see my work differently). And the one person to help me most? I didn't meet her until my second year, when she was hired. The program, during my first year, was so disheartening I considered transferring. Then this other person came along and gave me the kind of mentorship I personally needed to grow as a poet.
FWIW, I applied to three competitive programs (not Iowa, however) based mostly on location, and was accepted to two. UMass was one of them, but I chose to go elsewhere. In hindsight (no longer, erm, 20 years old), I would have cast my net wider, not necessarily because of my "chances" but because I now know that what I thought about my work before entering the MFA wasn't actually true about it! I changed so much during my program. It's crazy to read those old poems now; it's as if they're written by a different person. Not everyone's work undergoes this sort of transformation, but I don't think it's uncommon.
Also, FWIW, I had some online publications and one publication in a well-known literary journal, plus some writing award(s) from my undergraduate college, but I am positive (without question) you or anyone could apply with none of those things and do just as well. It's mostly about promise and potential, and less so about numbers and pedigree and polish. My undergrad work certainly wasn't polished (with the exception of that one print published poem), and it didn't aesthetically match UMass professors' work, but I still managed to be a "top 5 candidate" there. MFA program admissions are extremely competitive, but you are not competing against people with lots of awards and publications; trust me, that is a rare applicant (who is very likely to be accepted, but still, it's rare.)
(This post was edited by sarandipidy on Dec 15, 2010, 4:05 AM)