Additional Thoughts... (Medium.com)

08 Mar 2006

In my late-night rant last night about MFA programs, a few relevant details slipped my mind and never made it into the piece. So, just to clarify ...

It wasn't only the unwelcoming nature that drove me away. It was other things as well. For example, as a young writer, I'd begun sending manuscripts out to literary magazines a few years prior to grad school. As could be expected, I amassed a healthy stack of rejection letters in the process. However, I'd also found success on a few occasions.One literary journal called Potato Eyes (a fairly well respected rag) wrote me back saying they wanted to publish my poems because they liked the "musical nature" of the language.

At that age, I suppose, I tended to define myself a bit by the comments I received from respected others. If someone pointed out a strength in my writing, I tried to leverage that (sometimes too much, perhaps) in whatever I wrote next. Over time, I guess I built up a small list of things I thought I could do well.

Fast forward to my turn in the thesis review hotseat in grad school, and I'm there taking the usual skin-thickening commentary from the class. The teacher, a famous poetess whose undeniably profound intellect I'd come to respect deeply and view with considerable awe, ended my session with a final summary of my work. There were a few good qualities, I suppose. But, her primary concern was -- get this -- the marked lack of " musicality " in my writing.

Fuck. That really threw me. How could it be that the very reason I'd ever achieved any success at all in the competitive publishing world was also this famous, hyper-intelligent woman's main criticism of my writing?

So, for that as well as other more mundane reasons, I left the program and just "went corporate." I told myself that, of all the writing teachers I'd had, it seemed like they came from two groups: (1) those in teaching positions based solely on academic credentials, and (2) those there based on publishing credentials. If I were ever to return to academia, I figured it was better to be from group #2. Ergo, I didn't need the stupid MFA, anyway.(After all, writing isn't rocket science; simply mind your "to be" verbs and avoid starting too many sentences with "I" and you're half way there.)

Looking back, maybe I should have stuck it out. I only later realized that schmoozing with the big-name writers was a pretty good way to get those publishing credentials. But, to tell you the truth, for those in the world who are capable of self-directed studies, there's really no need for any schooling whatsoever today (unless you need a degree for job-related reasons, of course). Everything you'll ever want to know probably exists on the internet for free, if you just poke around a bit.

Okay, enough banter. Let's get back to the Tales of the Midwest, shall we? I have chapter 20 coming up in a bit!

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