Tuesday, August 15, 2006

MFA Material

Whether you're a potential MFA student, current matriculant, graduate, or instructor, you'll likely be interested in Gianmarc Manzione's essay, "MFA: What the Skeptics Don't Want You to Know." Manzione is a 2004 poetry graduate of The New School's program.


grackyfrogg said...

oooh, thanks for the link to this article! i appreciated it. especially in light of that quote you posted some days ago, from The American Scholar, with their snide remark about work resulting from creative writing programs!

i'm starting a low-residency MFA in the fall, and i am under no illusions as to its potential of helping me get a more lucrative career. i'm doing the program, in a nutshell, because i want my writing to get better! somehow, though, in this product-focused culture, such a goal is hardly considered a goal at all.

interesting. and kind of sad.

on the other hand, it's disheartening to see people's responses to MFA work... the apparently deplored "workshop polish." do you have any suggestions as to how one can work to get the most out of the MFA program and do well in it, without one's writing becoming "homogenized"? if that makes sense...

Erika Dreifus said...

Hi, grackyfrogg--let me think about this for a bit and get back to you.

Erika Dreifus said...

Hi again, grackyfrogg:

I'm not sure the low-residency route presents as much of the "workshop polish" issue, to the extent that such a thing does exist in "traditional" programs. That's because most low-residency programs do not rely on the workshop model for instruction. The program I attended did use a workshop of sorts between residencies, but since there were only 3-4 students in each of my workshops (including me), it was a something of a strange animal.

Still, virtually every program will use workshops at the residencies themselves. So I'll keep thinking....

grackyfrogg said...

thanks, erika. i appreciate your response. i'll be happy to hear any other thoughts that come to your mind on this subject. as you can imagine, it is discouraging to hear, when one is getting ready to start an MFA program, that editors/publishers seem to look down their noses at work coming from former MFA students!

maybe the question i was trying to ask in my first comment could have been asked more simply as follows: what exactly is the nature of the "workshop polish" and how does one avoid it?

Erika Dreifus said...

I think that one of the reasons I linked to this article here was that it resonated with commments Louise Gluck made as a visiting poet at the recent Lesley University low-res program's residency in Cambridge; I sat in on Gluck's reading. It's been several weeks, so I may not be paraphrasing quite as accurately or completely as I'd like, but at one point Gluck mentioned her observations based on experiences judging the Yale Younger Poets competition. She seemed to agree with the ideas attributed to Hirsch in the article. That is, while she found so much of the submitted work entirely competent and "correct," it lacked a certain originality. She expressed this much more eloquently than I'm able to.

You're asking a great question when you ask to define "workshop polish." It seems to me this would vary by genre.

Not that this will answer all your questions by any means, but I think you'd appreciate Margo Rabb's short story, "How to Tell a Story," from *Zoetrope*:


grackyfrogg said...

ah ok. i think i see what you're getting at, and hirsch and gluck, too.

i guess the problem arises when a writer does not already have a strong sense of their own voice, and the subjects that are truly of deep and abiding interest to them... not to their teachers, or fellow students, or anyone else.

there must be such a delicate tension between accepting feedback about one's writing, but at the same time knowing how to "eat the hay and spit out the sticks," as a friend once said to me--knowing which bits of advice to follow and which to say, "thanks, but that direction just isn't right for this story." something like that.

anyway, i appreciate your comments. and thanks for the link to the Margo Rabb piece. i look forward to reading it.