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Robert Thomas

Jan 17, 2001, 6:15 PM

Post #551 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Lynda, I like it too that the faculty often participate in each
other's classes. On the workshops, I don't think of there being a "ban
on prescriptive feedback" at Warren Wilson. I know my poems took some
fairly harsh knocks! It may just depend on the chemistry of a
particular workshop (or maybe the fiction writers are stricter about
this "ban" than poets?). In my workshop people gave plenty of "normal"
workshop criticism: "I'd delete those first two stanzas," I don't
think that image of the snake works," etc. I can see how it would be
frustrating if people didn't do that in your workshop! Sometimes the
discussion does get bogged down in abstractions ("I think this piece
is essentially a meditation on the conflict between time and
eternity") without getting down to the nitty-gritty of what works and
what doesn't, but in my experience the workshops do get down to the
nitty-gritty without TOO much time wasted. Anyway, I'll bet your
supervisor gives you as much harsh criticism as you want!


e-mail user

Jan 17, 2001, 8:56 PM

Post #552 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Robert, I just drafted a long reply to you and then AOL just
disconnected me for no apparent reason! I immediately lost my yet
unposted message. I guess next time I will have to draft my message on
WORD and then try cutting and pasting it onto this box. I'll need to
reconstruct my message and resend it at a later time. Sorry for the
incovenience. Lynda


e-mail user

Jan 18, 2001, 9:27 PM

Post #553 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

To Robert T: How odd! Maybe the poetry workshops are run differently.
Id welcome the kind of harsh practical feedback you just described
from your poetry workshop, since I believe that is how I learn to
refine the language of the text via editing/rewriting. If there is a
difference between the poetry and fiction workshops policy on
offering prescriptive feedback, that is a big surprise to me! The
first night I was at Warren Wilson (Jan. 3rd), I attended a New
Student Orientation meeting for both poets and fiction writers. At
that orientation meeting Pete and Ellen advised us that the WWC
workshops were probably different from what many of us were accustomed
to, and that the goal in WWC workshops wasnt to offer so- called
prescriptive feedback, i. e. criticism which seeks to fix or repair
another writers manuscript. They explicitly told us for the first
time that students were to avoid being prescriptive in workshop, since
the goal for us was not to help others fix their pieces, but rather to
try our best to "describe what the author had done" and "what he had
accomplished or set out to accomplish" in this particular draft. Then,
in every workshop session I actually attended at the January
residency, someone would remind our group to stay away from being
prescriptive whenever criticism tended to veer toward questions of
refining the language or restructuring sections of the story. Prior to
attending my first residency at WWC, I had already read each student
work at least twice and critiqued them the way I normally would (with
specific remarks relating to craft issues for fiction writers, i.e.
whether a certain passage contained much more telling than showing,
whether particular language choices lacked precision and clarity and
this created confusion for the reader, whether the author failed to do
scenes, whether he used too many ly adverbs to do the muscular work
of verbs, or interrupted the flow of action without repeated authorial
intrusions, etc.) Most of my earlier prepared comments were
prescriptive--the sort I couldnt raise in class. So I tried to go
along with the flow of workshop discussion, though it was
disconcerting to hear most students talk in broader generalities about
story material issues. In short, I felt inhibited from participating
in workshop discussions the way I would normally do, i.e. offering
textually based feedback about craft and language issues that would
help the author in the editing/rewriting phase. I believe I was fully
prepared to help my classmates with brutally honest feedback based on
a close reading of their text, rather than taking on the direction of
discussion the others preferred to take. I was also ready to receive
honest criticism of the excerpt I had submitted for workshopping, no
matter HOW brutal or harsh that criticism might be. However, I sensed
that something else was at play in my workshop group; no one opined on
the specific craft and language issues I had hoped they would address.
Of course, I know I am new to the WWC MFA Program and I will try my
best to be receptive to just how things are done there. And I will
gladly shut up about this curious workshop experience after I finish
my discussion here with you. One more thing. When I asked another
student why WW workshops were done this way, she told me the reason
for this ban on prescriptive feedback---specifically, that the WWC MFA
Program doesn't want a group of students in workshop to impose their
own sense of aesthetics on fellow student writers. That is a noble
goal, I guess, but I wonder if that isn't hindering the free flow of
critical feedback that might otherwise aid a student writer in
rewriting/refining his work. Anyway, I will be happy to count on my
advisor to give me what I need (advice on how to fix and improve my
fiction pieces). That appears to be the emphasis at WWC: working
one-on-one with a faculty writer, rather than workshopping pieces all
the time and relying on the criticism of fellow students. Hope this
approach works for me! Thanks for asking about my impressions of the
Jan. residency, Robert. I look forward to exchanging impressions with
you. See you around. Lynda


e-mail user

Jan 18, 2001, 9:32 PM

Post #554 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Oops. There was a typo. I meant "with" (not "without" repeated
authorial intrusions). Also a closed quotation mark was missing after
"prescriptive. Sorry, I'm still very tired and incoherent.

Robert Thomas

Jan 18, 2001, 10:53 PM

Post #555 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Thats strange, Lynda. Did you talk about your impressions with Pete
or others? Ive just never had that experience there. Of course
theres an attempt not to impose an aesthetic on someone, but that
doesnt mean you cant criticize their work. It just means you dont
try to force Jane Austen to be Kafka or vice-versa. And there is a
notion that instead of diving right in to criticizing the nuts and
bolts of someones work, you spend maybe *the first five minutes* of a
workshop talking about what a piece is overall trying to do, and
*then* talking about where it succeeds and where it fails. Again, the
idea is to avoid criticizing a bicycle for failing to be an airplane,
not to avoid criticism altogether. Have you read the section on
workshop participation in the program handbook? Im wondering whether
or not that fits what people said in your meeting. Maybe you just had
someone who tried to impose their rather extreme workshop aesthetics
on everyone else! Feel free to email me if you want to talk more.


e-mail user

Jan 19, 2001, 1:42 AM

Post #556 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Robert: Yes, I spoke about my impressions with some of the other
fiction classmates (as well as those further along in the program, ie.
Essay Semester or later). One classmate actually noticed my
"frustration" and asked me about it! But I didn't bring it up with
Peter Turchi. (I didn't speak to him much during the residency.) The
fiction students I spoke to (including two in my own workshop) told me
not to get worried about it, that "yes, it takes some use getting used
to it, especially after attending other writing workshops," but that I
would soon get used to it. Another pointed out that the emphasis of
the program was less on workshops than it was on the one-on-one
correspondence with faculty writers. So I decided to play it cool and
not make a fuss about it in a public way, to only ask others about the
rationale for this approach and how they adjusted to this method.
After all, I didn't want to look like I couldn't play by the rules,
even if they were new to me. . . Nor did I want to appear rigid in my
outlook on workshops. As mentioned in my earlier posting, I think I
learn much more from brutal criticism that examines the details of the
text (especially where language is closely read and responded to
honestly) than broader discussions of where a particular character is
going, what kind of story this seems to be, what other author's book
this piece reminds a classmate of, etc. Maybe it's just what's been
drummed into me from an old curmudgeon of a writing teacher. . .or
maybe it's just me. Anyway, Robert, thanks for responding to my
concerns. It really helps to get another WWC student's reaction.
Surprised that you are surprised about this "No Prescriptive Feedback"
policy. I really thought it was "the law of the land" at Warren Wilson
and I was afraid to keep raising my hand and question why I couldn't
offer the kind of criticism I usually feel comfortable offering. (Of
course, I don't usually "tell" anyone what he or she should do, I only
SUGGEST possible strategies for cleaning up the written text to make
it clearer for the reader or strengthen the "vivid and continuous
dream" of the fictional world.) See you around Speakeasy. Good luck
with your first packet. Mine is due Feb 1st and I'm starting to freak
out. Lynda

Tamara Kaye Sellman

Jan 19, 2001, 4:03 PM

Post #557 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Why hide all these conversations? Some of us find this info useful
even if we didn't attend. Tamara


e-mail user

Jan 20, 2001, 12:23 AM

Post #558 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry, Tamara. Not trying to shut you out. Robert and I were only
comparing our experiences in the January Warren Wilson MFA workshops.
And our perspectives on what a good workshop allows one to say and do.
Just wanted to be discreet, that's all. This is my first term at WW,
so I don't want to be too noisy and opinionated around here. Funny,
he's doing the poetry track and I'm on the fiction track, so our
impressions of the workshops are completely different. Please feel
free to hit the expose button to read our postings.

Buy this book!

e-mail user

Jan 20, 2001, 9:23 AM

Post #559 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Incidentally, Tamara, you can see the hidden messages by clicking on
"hidden". It's not exactly a terrific security system; more a way of
keeping people from having to read things that are peripheral to the
main discussion. dmh

Robert Thomas

Jan 20, 2001, 11:14 AM

Post #560 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

I hid my postings because I didn't want to bore everyone to death, but
here are a few more comments for those who are interested. Overall
I've been very satisfied with the WW poetry workshops, though in a
low-residency program there's obviously less emphasis on them. Your
work is only discussed (in a workshop) for one hour every six months!
But I've been in a number of workshops in my life, and am in an
ongoing workshop in San Francisco, and I can't really say I see a big
difference between the WW workshops and any others. I certainly left
the workshop this time having a pretty good sense of what people would
suggest I do to improve my poems--omit Subplot X, expand Subplot Z,
etc. (Do poems have subplots? I think mine do, which may be the
problem right there.) I think people do try to focus sometimes on
larger questions--not just what to do to improve this poem, but what
this person (and all of us) might do to improve all our poems in the
future--what can we learn from this person's mistakes-- but that's
different from not talking about mistakes at all. By larger questions
I mean, for example, focusing on the need to make a character's voice
more consistent, as opposed to just fixing an awkward phrase on page
3. I can imagine someone might tell someone else to cool it if they
were coming on really strong ("Let me just read you this list I wrote
down of the Top 20 things that are screwed up about your piece"), but
I think people in the poetry workshops usually walk out with a pretty
good idea of what people think are the strengths and weaknesses of
their poem (this radiator image is great, but this balloon image just
doesn't work).

Tamara Kaye Sellman

Jan 23, 2001, 2:03 PM

Post #561 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

David, no duh.* Robert and Lynda, this is a public forum. If you want
to talk that privately or protect your commentary, it might be better
to use e-mail. (I mean that in all sincerity, I do it all the time for
sensitive topics. I can appreciate why you would want to take some
opinions off the main thread.) It's just that I think, "what's the
point?" of visiting this topic if people aren't going to put their
comments out in the open? Some of us (myself included) are researching
MFA programs (lo res) and while the pamphlets and brochures are of
some use, the inside "scoop" is what really helps a person to decide
where to go. I can afford all the programs, and all of them will take
me far from where I live. What I'm here for is some real understanding
of the inner workings of these programs, that's all I'm saying.
*Anyway, when you hide postings, there is the assumption here that
others are not welcome to follow the thread. Robert and Lynda, your
postings are not boring at all! They reflect real experiences. We
really could, all of us, benefit from what you have to share. For
instance, having your poems reviewed for only one hour over a period
of six months is revealing. If there are poets among us who need more
than that, then we may be spared the mistake of signing up for
programs that might not satisfy our needs. (That does seem like a long
stretch of time between critiques -- I am curious, are there on-line
critiques in the interim as well?) And your comments about poems
having plots is interesting to me, in particular. I'm a prose writer
first, but have taken on poetic forms over the last two years, not to
become a bona fide poet, but to become a better prose writer. And I've
found that I succeed with prose poems and a few longer poems (where
there is a story) but struggle with shorter free verse. (I do
amazingly well at formal first stabs, believe it or not, probably
because I focus so much on structure in my prose). I think there is
something useful to discuss here: expectations of poets in workshops,
and how the programs running the workshops deal with it. (As you
pointed out, Lynda, the dynamics in prose workshops are quite a bit
different from those in poetry forums. While that's a given, I'd like
to see how the differences are channeled.) And it's really good to
know which programs spend time on larger questions and which don't. I
used to belong to a local group that spent hours and hours on
"pickies" and never pulled back to look at the work as a whole. That
was the most damaging experience I've ever had, even though for the
most part my work had few "pickies" -- I'm a copy editor. It was as if
they were mandated to look for anything that might resemble a "picky"
or else watch their credibility dissolve. Anyway, that is a tangent. I
know there are others who only lurk here, I'm just saying, unless you
find it too sensitive, feel free to share. Really. The topic is all
about what you have to say. Tamara

Robert Thomas

Jan 23, 2001, 2:12 PM

Post #562 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

I should clarify what I meant by one hour of critique every six
months. At Warren Wilson and I think in most low-res programs, you
work with one supervisor-teacher-mentor each semester, and typically
send that teacher half a dozen packets of work over the course of the
semester, and in my experience get pretty detailed, in-depth feedback
back on all of it from your supervisor. But other than the workshop at
the actual residency, there's no exchange of work with other students,
only with your supervisor. Of course students are free to exchange
work with one another by email whenever they want and exchange
comments, but that's not an official part of the program.

Robert Thomas

Jan 23, 2001, 2:19 PM

Post #563 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

P.S. When I talk about feedback, I mean that usually within a week of
sending a packet of work to a teacher, you'll get back copies of your
work with detailed handwritten comments, as well as a lengthy letter.

Tamara Kaye Sellman

Jan 23, 2001, 2:23 PM

Post #564 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

That's good to know, thanks, Robert. T


e-mail user

Jan 23, 2001, 2:43 PM

Post #565 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Tamara, I CAN see your point about this being a public forum and how
one might want to read everything here. Really, I can. Nevertheless,
I've seen hundreds of postings on this site where Speakeasians posted
"hidden messages" to discuss certain issues in depth or in private. It
doesn't bother me when they do so. Maybe there is a good reason why
they are sensitive about it. Or want to carry on a quieter discussion.
Anyone who really wants to read out postings CAN go ahead and push the
"Expose" button to read them, and I'm sure plenty of Speakeasians have
already done so. Especially lurkers! Seems to me these hidden messages
get read and they might still benefit readers. Whoever invented this
Speakeasy Message Board System apparently envisioned situations in
which writers would want to post here and yet remain discreet about
what they are posting. I'm sorry about your frustration, Tamara. But
as mentioned above, I didn't want to be too loud about my first
impressions around here. It was only my first term there. BTW, if you
ever have questions about my WW fiction workshop experience, please
feel free to ask me and I will gladly respond. See you around. Lynda

Tamara Kaye Sellman

Jan 24, 2001, 2:14 AM

Post #566 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Lynda, what frustration? I've been on this board for almost five
years, I actually like to believe I know how it works. Just trying to
help you out, actually, in hoping to pass on the residual effects of
the presumed "netiquette" here. People do growl a great deal about
hidden postings, and often for good reason. Sorry to impose. I'll be
leaving now. Tamara

Kathy Whitman

Jan 24, 2001, 9:34 AM

Post #567 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Here's my two cents. It seems reasonable that users of this message
board should feel free to use all its features and to decide whether
their posting is of general interest or not. Since hidden postings are
available for viewing by everyone, I don't see what difference it
makes. In my experience, if you comment on a hidden posting, the
originator isn't surprised or offended. If they are, they should be
emailing instead of posting.

Robert Thomas

Jan 24, 2001, 11:50 AM

Post #568 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

For what it's worth (two more cents), the "official" Speakeasy/Motet
directions for hidden postings say, "Anyone may follow the link and
read your posting, or bypass it. It is a good idea to hide postings
that are long, or have limited relevance to the particular topic."


e-mail user

Jan 24, 2001, 1:41 PM

Post #569 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Hey, Everyone: I don't think Robert and I did anything all that
unusual or offensive on Speakeasy. All we did was "hide" some rather
long, detailed discussions about workshops at WWC that might not have
interested everyone else. And when I used the hidden feature, I wanted
to exercise some measure of discretion. I certainly didn't anticipate
Tamara's reaction! It seems to me whoever uses the hidden feature
probably has his reasons for using the hidden message feature. (I
always respect those reasons, whatever they may be. I never get
offended by those who exercise their rights to be discreet.) One more
thing. The net effect of hiding our posts did NOT ACTUALLY SHUT ANYONE
so-called hidden postings. As mentioned by someone else here, it is
not an airtight security system. Hope things calm down around here. It
is really too bad this whole thing erupted.

Tamara Kaye Sellman

Jan 24, 2001, 3:13 PM

Post #570 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Hmm, nothing erupting here, and I live next to a volcano. Post:
Writing.224.557 Everybody, breathe and smile. Life's not that serious.
Back on topic -- I'm curious what made Robert and Lynda choose WW in
the first place. Was there a specific feature that attracted you to
this lo-res program? Tamara

Michelle Topham

Jan 30, 2001, 3:16 PM

Post #571 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

I think the problem with hidden postings is that there often get to be
five or ten in a row and if you DO want to read them, some people's
browsers will not go back to the page previously loaded once you've
read the hidden post, as their browsers get 'timed out'. So, for
instance, like myself, if I have to read 10 hidden posts, I have to
reload the original topic page at least 10 times which means to read
10 posts, I've had to reload the page 20 times (10 times for the page
and 10 times to read the hidden post). After a while it gets really
annoying because it takes so much time, and it's doubly annoying when
the hidden post is only three lines long.

Rebecca Livingston

Jan 31, 2001, 2:33 PM

Post #572 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

For those of you who are interested. In the mail today I received some
information on a low-residency MFA program at Queen College of
Charlotte, NC. Members of the faculty are Pinckney Benedict, Cathy
Smith Bowers, Richard Chess, Peter Ho Davies, J.D. Dolan, Robin
Hemley, Susan Perabo, Robert Polito, Ron Rash, Kathryn Rhett, Heidi
Jon Schmidt and Elizabeth Strout. For more information:
kobrem@queens.edu or 704-337-2335 or www.queens.edu. I have no
personal information about the program and since I just graduated from
Bennington a few weeks ago, I'm no longer in the market. :) Hope this
is helpful to those who are currently looking for a program. Reb

Kathy Whitman

Jan 31, 2001, 3:25 PM

Post #573 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Rebecca-- How was your experience at Bennington? I am in the process
of preparting lo-res apps for Vemont College, Goucher, Goddard,
Antioch and Bennington. How many hours per week did you devote to it?
Did you work full time wihile going through the program? Was any
funding available? What was the residency experience like? What genre
did you focus on and who were the faculty that were most supportive
and helpful? Did you take any courses from Gretl Ehrlich? As you can
see I am hungry for first-hand information that might help me with my
decision. Thanks Kathy

Rebecca Livingston

Jan 31, 2001, 8:10 PM

Post #574 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Hi Kathy, My experience at Bennington was extremely positive. I would
recommend it to anyone who wants to focus on learning their craft and
studying literature. The program is 100% focused on that. Bennington
also invites guest (editors, publishers, etc.) during the residency
for publishing panels and things like that. During the residency, your
days are packed with lectures, readings, panels and workshops. The
lectures and readings are given by visiting lecturers (usually around
four visiting lecturers come per residency), associate faculty and
graduating students. One of the requirements for graduation is to give
a 20 minute reading and a 30 minute lecture. These readings and
lectures are highly attended by other students and faculty. You'll
also meet several times with your teacher for the semester and plan
out your semester's goals (your reading list, etc). When you get home,
you hit the books and keyboard. Approximately each month you'll have a
packet of work due to your teacher. He/She has ten days to get it back
to you with a letter, comments, etc. I devoted between 25-40 hours a
week to my work. That consisted of writing (poetry, was my genre),
reading, and annotations. I didn't work when I was in the program
although most people had part- time jobs, some had full-time jobs.
It's definately possible to work full-time and get your MFA, but it's
tough and it takes a lot dedication and time management. Low-residency
programs typically don't offer funding because there are no teaching
assistantships (since you're not on campus for most of the year).
Bennington has a Jane Kenyon Poetry Scholarship which they give to two
(I think) first semester poetry students, but that's it. I believe
it's $1500 towards tuition. I studyied with April Bernard, Thomas
Sayer Ellis, David Lehman and Liam Rector. I found each of them to be
incredibly supportive and available. Every teacher has a different
style -- some put all the focus on your monthly packets, some
supplement with e-mail, some with telephone calls. It depends on the
teacher. I've never heard of Gretl Ehrlich. I don't think she (?) is
affiliated with the low-residency program at Bennington. I have also
posted some additional messages here a while back when I was still in
the program. They might also answer some of your questions. Reb

Kathy Whitman

Jan 31, 2001, 10:56 PM

Post #575 of 2664 (19195 views)
Looking for Grads & Students of Low-Residency MFAs [In reply to] Can't Post

Rebecca-- Thanks for the good information. It is nice to have your
thoughts now that you've completed the program. Bennington has
appealed to me quite a lot as I have researched my options. Gretel
Ehrlich has always been one of my favorite writers, and I noticed a
couple of months ago on the Bennington website that she was part of
the undergraduate English program faculty. She wrote some wonderful
books of non-fiction (my genre of interest) including "The Solace of
Open Spaces" (about her years on a Wyoming ranch) and "A Match to the
Heart" (about her struggle to come back after being struck by
lightening). So, I was curious as to whether she ever taught in the
MFA program. Do you know what you want to do now? Kathy

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