Sep 4, 2009, 11:33 AM
Post #494 of 1018
Re: [unsaid78] Choosing an MFA Program 2010
[In reply to]
I don't know if you're referring to the funding situation at UVA when you speak of having received "misinformation", but I do think it's important to distinguish between misinformation and mis-advertising. UVA was incorrectly advertising their funding package on their website until a few months ago--most applicants were understandably, based on the program's own promotional materials, left with the impression that first year students had to pay all or some of their tuition from their first-year funding package, leaving only (and here I paraphrase from what the website said at the time) "a very small stipend" left over--based on the tuition costs at UVA, it seemed evident to many that the amount of money available to live on for first-year students was perhaps around $4,000. This was, we now know, incorrect, and we know that because Virginia got the word out (through students and otherwise) that it had been inadvertently mis-advertising its funding package for years.
As to aesthetics, I don't say this critically, as I think there's room for all aesthetics in every genre, but the poetry faculty at Virginia is aesthetically conservative in their own writing, the Virginia Quarterly Review is one of the five most aesthetically conservative big-name journals in the U.S. (agreed that Meridian is a slightly different animal), the most well-known poetry graduates are fairly aesthetically conservative, and when the poetry faculty at UVA have been judges of contests and anthologies in the past (the closest analog to MFA admissions we can realistically find) they've been known to selective fairly conservative (which in poetry means traditional epiphanic lyric-narrative) work. If you're a first-year student, I imagine you've been in a single session of workshop so far (if that; I'm in the Wisconsin MFA program for a workshop this fall, and our first class doesn't meet until September 14th). I think it'll probably take longer than that to see whether any of your fellow writers are interested in the avant-garde or other forms of experimental work, and if so how that work is received.
That said, I wouldn't be at all surprised if UVA's reputation--which is similar to the reputation of a number of MFA programs in the South--is undeserved, especially as I lived through the collapse of one of the greatest myths in the American MFA system (that the Iowa MFA in poetry is "conservative"). And frankly the Iowa "myth" has similar origins--a conservative literary journal, a run of fairly conservative graduates (granted, ending in the late 1970s or so), and so on. But on the other hand, Cole Swensen is one of the primary voices of the experimental wing of the American poetry community, and until-recently-faculty-member Dean Young's self-evident influences were always in the same tradition as the post-avant's (e.g. Apollinaire), so it never completely jived. I still haven't seen any signals or work coming out of UVA to completely convince me that it's not slightly aesthetically conservative in its admissions process, but I'd actually love to be wrong about that (I'm the one who's always saying that there's really no such thing as a "house style" at nearly any program). Hopefully you'll continue to check in on the MFA Chronicles as you get one, two, three semesters into your studies. Though I suppose even then, readers will always have reason to be circumspect about me when I speak about Iowa, and you when you speak about Virginia, because none of us want our programs to be seen as having an aesthetic bias. Sometimes it's up to the program to change perception--by admitting and graduating writers, and supporting literary journals, which break the anticipated/perceived mold.
Best of luck with your program,