Mar 3, 2010, 10:30 PM
Post #821 of 1018
I think Minnesota has it all over Louisiana State -- and this has nothing whatsoever to do with rankings. Minnesota is a larger (by 300% to 400%) and thus presumptively more dynamic writing community (relatively speaking only) that historically excels in three genres rather than two (LSU does offer screenwriting and nonfiction but is not known for these; UM is a true "triple-threat" [as it were] and allows students to work across genres), located in a city regularly rated as among the best five in America in which to be an artist or merely a literate personally generally. This means more readings, (many) more publishers and thus internship opportunities, not to mention more cultural happenings generally (cf. the burgeoning music scene in Minneapolis and the fact that most indie tours pass through; professional sports; &c); Baton Rouge has its attractions, but they are not these and that city is simply not Minneapolis (and wouldn't claim to be). Baton Rouge is not New Orleans--I know you know, but this really has to be kept in mind.
The major poetry-related institutions @ LSU are The Southern Review, whose funding has been gutted, and The New Delta Review, which is a modest operation, and LSU Press, which publishes the Walt Whitman Award (as is our euphemistic way of saying It Is Mainstream-Conservative). Obviously the weather is at opposite poles, though I'm guessing if you had a strong aversion to cold or heat you wouldn't have applied to these schools and/or, having applied, you would find yourself so substantially drawn to one over the other as to practically have that make the decision for you--those of us for whom weather is a big issue generally see it as truly a central one. The most interesting poet on the faculty of either program is probably Lara Glenum at LSU--but she is a newly-minted professor, and aesthetics do not determine pedagogy, so it's tough not to see Gonzalez and Hampl as being safer bets from a mentorship standpoint (at least until Lara gets her sea-legs; mind you, she may have them already, but behind Rawls' "veil of ignorance" we simply make choices based on what we know). (I am a huge Andrei Codrescu fan, but he appears not to teach at LSU anymore, not even adjunct.) Minnesota's reputation is far more established, which actually is not a way of working the rankings into this discussion but rather a way of saying that the high degree of student satisfaction generally reported out of that program has a longer trail behind it and therefore is less likely to be a transient phenomenon. LSU deserves its present esteem but do remember what percentage of that esteem is funding- rather than curriculum-based.
The percentage of total faculty in your field is telling: Minnesota is 44% poetry faculty and several of its most well-known faculty are poets; LSU is 33% poetry faculty and its poets are less well-known. LSU is the home of The New Criticism, in many respects, and as you know The New Criticism is much reviled by many of today's most innovative poets, an important note if you see yourself as, or aim to be, an innovator in your field; whatever one's view, LSU presents as a program supportive of--and advertising itself to--a conservative base of artists, its hiring of extremely interesting "gurlesque" poet Lara Glenum notwithstanding (i.e., it's a start, but only a start, however much I love The Hounds of No and Maximum Gaga). In contrast Minneapolis is a hotbed of innovation in the arts, in publishing, in music, in politics. A degree from Minnesota may have more institutional cache, to the extent this matters, owing (as is so often the case with these things) to the undergraduate program's reputation exceeding that of LSU; likewise, if you wanted to stay on at Minnesota for a humanities Ph.D. e.g. in English (if being there were to give you some advantage in such application, as it does not always) Minnesota's is the far stronger English Department per the NRC, USN&WR, really everyone. Minnesota also has state grants available only to Minnesota poets, which grants help fund Milkweed Editions and have made that press's publication of nearly 1 (on average) graduating MFA poet/year basically a tradition -- meaning that on graduation you quite possibly have a chance of coming away with a book contract as well, a correlation between program and publishing house no other program in America (to my knowledge) can offer. And Milkweed, like Coffee House, like Graywolf, is a major publisher in your genre.
Because Minnesota's MFA literary magazine (Dislocate) is much less established than LSU's, you may actually have a much better opportunity at the former to become an integral part of their operations right away if this interests you. The teaching load is light at both LSU and Minnesota but the latter assures you of the opportunity to teach creative writing--this matters from both a career development standpoint as well as the fact that it's simply a more enjoyable subject (in the view of most poets) to teach. And, yes, easier (strictly from a temperamental standpoint, I mean; writers are "always already" [excuse the Althusser-speak] in the imaginative space being a writing teacher requires). The cost of living is average to low in both places; Minnesota is ranked lower than LSU in funding in part because Minnesota does not release stipend data--as an admitted student, however, you should now be in a position to request and receive that data and make comparisons directly between the two programs (something pending applicants, generally, can only estimate).
Minnesota must be considered the stronger cohort (behind the "veil of ignorance"), as it publishes its acceptance rate prominently and it is quite low. LSU is one of the only top 50 programs not to publish its admissions data and this is cause for concern (albeit a responsible and not undue concern). Minneapolis gives you more ready access, by car, to cities a) of general interest to writers (Iowa City, Madison, Chicago), and b) where many post-MFA employment and fellowship opportunities exist (Columbia College residency in poetry, Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing; &c), and c) for interesting road-trips during your three years on campus.
I could go on, but I got 75 minutes of sleep last night (literally) and need to go to bed. Of course I should add that LSU is a fantastic program and you can't really go wrong here; I simply think Minnesota is the superior option exclusive of any personal considerations you may be bringing to the table (e.g., a relationship, a strong weather preference, closeness of family, a preference for Southern rather than Midwestern culture, a preference for LSU's "averaged" center-right politics [mild college progressives averaged with Neo-Confederates; and yes, a very close friend of mine is an LSU grad so I'm not guessing with that second assignation] over Minnesota's neo-hippies and labor-Dems; a preference for Southern cuisine over the basic meat [steak] and dairy [cheese] products popular in the Midwest; a particular interest in screenwriting; &c &c).
But hey -- I don't really know about MFA programs, so take all this with a grain of salt. I'm mainly a survey guy when I'm fully awake.
Best of luck, and congratulations on your acceptances!