Feb 28, 2007, 8:47 PM
Post #2440 of 6294
Thank you for finally making this point, susuq33 - I, too, have been holding off from jumping in on all this, but I'm beginning to worry what affect all this stress and worry is going to have on my writing - my inspiration has dried up since the first acceptances started going out - all I do now is obsessively check various forms of communication - I suppose that we have chosen to take part in the MFA system, so we can't completely knock it (would we be knocking it if we were getting calls from Iowa and Michigan right now?) - it may simply be frustration - and yet, aside from this, I think you do have a point - I'm pretty sure poetry was never meant to be this way (competitive) - as we all wait to hear good news, bad news, ANY news, I'm wondering how everyone else has been affected by this whole process - has your writing changed as mine has? Should we be concerned about this?
We certainly wouldn't be the first people to express concern over and to discuss the impact of MFA programs, competition, and the increasingly (academically and otherwise) insular world of poetry (I'll avoid getting into fiction as my experience therein is limited). I debated the merits of pursuing an MFA for years, and the only reason I ultimately decided to pursue one is because the idea of being paid (I applied only to programs that fully fund their students) to incubate creatively for a few years was too appealing to ignore. Still, I worry. Acceptances will necessarily be guided by the tastes of a given program's teaching staff, and the academic world is fraught with competition---over fellowships, awards, appointments, publications, etc.---that can crush the more sensitive among us. My mentor, whose path I would most like to emulate, never got her MFA; she wrote and read everything she could, whenever she could, and achieved not only an unquestionable level of success, but also an astonishingly sound education (she is perhaps the most well-read person I know). Despite the many people like her, I think that many of us often feel like getting an MFA is the only way to validate our passion for this art. Our society demands accomplishments, typically social or financial, and since poetry is not going to rake in cash or celebrity for most poets, we need an alternative; educational attainment becomes that alternate.
Similarly, certain academic environments seems heinously self-congratulatory. A good friend of mine completed his MFA at a well-respected program. This program was wonderful for him and he milked it for all it was worth. Yet, when I visited with him and hung out with his circle of fellow students, I was regularly appalled by their hubris. They vilified other writing programs and instructors, competed amongst themselves over who had the most network-worthy connections, then assured one another that their group "style" was the most important and truly progressive in contemporary poetry. I realize that it would be erroneous to generalize based on just one experience, but it did concern me. I kept thinking, how did this happen? None of us (or very few of us) began writing poetry as an avenue to fame and fortune, so why do we sometimes let our love for the work come second to our need for validation?
I do it, too. It just bugs me.