Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Third Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the third semester, I studied with poet Adrian Matejka. We spent the semester working on my craft essay, a long term paper that does a deep dive into a particular craft element-–in my case, poetic line and how Adrienne Rich and Gwendolyn Brooks have influenced contemporary intersectional female poets. This is the cover letter to the third packet.

Dear Adrian:

What a relief to be able to change the thesis of my craft essay. Our conversation on Friday helped all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place. My early thesis just didn’t stand up to the light when it was time to do close readings, especially in the case of Morgan Parker. Connecting Parker with Brooks’s voice makes so much more sense than trying to argue that her work was more regularly patterned—it’s just not. I expected to have to rewrite the entire paper from scratch, but I found that most of the close readings I’d already done worked well with new argument—I just needed to tweak a few of the arguments.

The extra couple of days have given me an opportunity to polish up the whole thing. Hopefully it meets with your satisfaction. I’m sure that if I revisited it, I could find further tweaks to make, but as my poetry-sister Wandajune says, it’s never going to be perfect.

The poetry in this packet is a mixed bag. Two of the poems – “Brendan, Summer, 1993,” and “What Remains” are drafts from years ago. They say you should never abandon your poems entirely, so here I am picking them up again. “Brendan, Summer, 1993” is definitely a lyrical poem. The speaker remembers a simple exchange with a “you” whose relationship to the speaker is undefined. The risk I am taking with this poem is presenting a moment so unadorned and without complexity that it may fall flat with the reader. I’m not sure that there’s anywhere else to go with this poem, but I can’t tell if it’s done.

“The Path to the Inner World” contains both lyric and narrative elements. There is a general forward motion, but the use of extra white-space make the journey tentative and airy. As the title implies, this poem depicts a journey to an inner space. The poem still feels very personal to me, so the risk I’m taking here is exposing something delicate and almost abstract to a reader who may or may not be sympathetic.

“She Has Always Lived in the Tower” picks up where the previous poem left off, but in quite a different form. The risk I am taking here is working with longer lines, moving into hybrid prose-poetry territory. Historically I’ve abhorred prose poetry and am just beginning to learn to appreciate it. As usual, attempting it myself gives me a whole new appreciation for the skill involved in doing it well. This poem describes in concrete detail one piece of the inner world that is the destination of the previous poem. Its mode is narrative in that it concerns itself with scene-setting, but lyric in that not a lot happens in the poem.

“What Remains” is a lyric poem in which the speaker catches an image of herself in a particular posture, which mirrors the stance of an abusive ex-girlfriend. This poem doesn’t take many risks.

“How Do You Approach Race?” is a narrative poem that attempts to convey the clash between different kinds of oppression and bullying experienced by a child. The speaker is older than the child in the poem. I hesitated to include this poem in the packet at all, since I think it’s so disjointed and half-formed that it’s barely a poem at all—after a revision, I feel a bit more confident about it. This poem runs the risk of being too preachy—of lapsing into a voice that Kevin used to call “this is what Frances thinks now.”

In our study planning session, you noted that the draft of the craft essay in Packet 3 might be sufficient for the semester. With typical pre-semester ambition, I mentioned that I’d like to see about getting it published someplace. If this current form meets the coursework requirements, I’d welcome suggestions on how to adapt it for publication somewhere like The Writer’s Chronicle. I found their submission guidelines here: https://www.awpwriter.org/magazine_media/submission_guidelines. Do you think it’s feasible to repurpose the current essay for this or other publications? Do you have any suggestions for other publications? Second-tier lit mags, for instance? I highly doubt I’d have any chance of getting something like this published in Poetry or APR.

I was surprised that I was able to finish the work in the time allotted and hope that you find it acceptable. I’m curious as to your expectations for the final packet. If another draft of the craft essay isn’t necessary, should I send ten pages of poems?

We’re not quite to the end of the semester yet, but I wanted to express my appreciation for all the work we’ve done so far. Your consistently positive vibe is a welcome foil to my sometimes melancholy disposition.

All my best,

Frances

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