Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Two, Final 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 second semester, I studied with poet Kevin Prufer. We spent the semester looking at narrative versus lyric poetry. This is the cover letter to the final packet of the semester.


Dear Kevin:

I feel like I’ve learned a lot working with you this past semester. Arranging the packets around narrative and lyric poetry was helpful. I’d never really thought deeply about the distinction between the two modes. My research also shed some new light for me about literary trends that have been developing since my days as an undergrad. The whole notion of “confessional lyric narrative” poetry and the reactions against it made me think about my own work and about the kinds of work toward which I’m drawn. I also learned that a lot of people don’t like Sharon Olds.

Working on my own poetry has shown me the ways in which I’ve grown since the first semester. I have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t, and I’ve been able to go back to old poems and remake them. I’m less inclined to encrypt my work, although like all poets I struggle between saying the thing and saying it well. It’s easy to be expository. It’s less easy to convey information in a way that still pays attention to language and a poem’s overall structure. What I do find though, is that I’ve had the tendency to assume a reader will understand things that are clear to me, but not clearly spelled out in the poem. Your observation that I need to work more on establishing scene is a good one. It’s a lesson I hope I continue to remember going forward.

My energy level has waxed and waned through the semester and that’s been reflected in the quality of the work I turned in—especially with the craft annotations. During my first semester, I spent a lot of time on the annotations and less time on my own work. This semester I struck more of a balance between the two. I work my poems a lot harder than I used to. I hope that you find both the poems and the craft annotations in this packet up to snuff—or at least as not as “thin” as the ones in the second packet. I had to cut a lot from my annotation of Ross Gay’s work in order to stay within the page limit and still have a conclusion. Thank you for turning me on to him. His work is so lush with imagery and music, and he’s fearless in the way that he constructs his poems. I wasn’t able to touch on “spoon” or “catalog of unabashed gratitude” in my annotation, but those two really wowed me. I also loved “smear the queer,” with its gorgeous ending lines, “opening our small / bodies like moonflowers / in the dark.” I was looking forward to seeing him read at the Mass Poetry Festival but had to skip it in order to get my packet done on time.

One of the unexpected blessings of this semester was discovering the newly renovated Boston Public Library. I was really missing the old library at Vassar with its gorgeous architecture and the quintessential long tables with green lampshades. Turns out that Bates Hall in the Boston Public Library has a very similar setup. The courtyard is also a lovely place to study on warm days. Discovering the older part of the library was a revelation. I’d lived in Boston for seventeen years and only visited the newer wing of the library, which was built in the Brutalist style so popular in the 1960s and 70s.

I’ve also felt free to address more difficult topics such as race in my poetry, and to be more ambitious in terms of length and complexity. Interviewers have recently started asking famous white poets why they don’t write about race. Many of them respond with some variation of  “I don’t want to get into all that.” Black poets point out that ignoring the suffering of another race—and the effects of white supremacy—is a luxury that comes of white privilege. They challenge white poets to join the conversation. I still fear the reactions I might get if/when my poems on race go public. I often cringe thinking about ignorant things I’ve said about race in the past. I don’t want to simply espouse the party line today, but speaking about race in a complex way—remaining true to my experience while also affirming the fact of racism in American—opens me up to the possibility of misinterpretation. The firestorm surrounding Tony Hoagland’s poem is a good example of the dangers of speaking on the subject. Reading Martha Collins’s work—as well as Robbie Gamble’s, one of the poets who graduated from Lesley last semester—has given me more courage in that arena.

In terms of my own poetry, I finally worked up the gumption to tackle “Pastoral, Poughkeepsie” again. I did my best to establish the relationship between the two characters sooner, as workshop made it clear I needed to. I also put the lines in couplets, since it’s been suggested as a good way of culling anything that doesn’t belong. My hope is that the narrative is more cohesive now without losing the poem’s complexity. I struggled with whether or not to include the second section. Let me know what you think. I also struggled with whether or not to include the exchange about April’s parents sending her money. Ultimately I decided to leave it out, but I’d like to hear what you think about that. All the other work in the packet is new or is work you haven’t seen before. I said that I wanted to take more risks when sending you work, so that is what I did in this final packet.

I’d be curious to know what you think I should continue to work on in upcoming semesters. Next semester I am taking an IS only, so I will have time for additional reading. I also plan to send out some more of my work. I appreciate your kind words about my work. Your line edits and novel solutions are also most welcome! The hour-long phone sessions really help me in a way that a letter by itself wouldn’t. Thanks so much for all the support and guidance.

Come See Me Read in Roslindale on January 24, 2019, at 7pm

Photograph of Roslindale poets Phyllis Bluhm, Frances Donovan, and Mary Lou Maloney

I’m reading next Thursday in Roslindale (a neighborhood of Boston). There’s parking nearby, it’s on the commuter rail, and it’s a ten-minute bus ride from the Forest Hills T stop. Hope you can come.

Rozzie Reads Poetry
Featuring Roslindale Women Poets and Open Mic
Phyllis Bluhm, Frances Donovan, and Mary Lou Maloney

Thursday January 24, 2019 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Roslindale House, Community Room, 120 Poplar Street, Roslindale, MA

Sponsored by Friends of the Roslindale Branch Library, a free event, contributions voluntary, refreshments provided. Parking on Hawthorne and Poplar streets, in unnumbered spaces, and at rear of building.

Phyllis Bluhm is primarily a painter who works in acrylics, oils, encaustics and also 3 dimensional assemblages. As a physician assistant she worked at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital and continues to work in Urgent Care at Harvard Vanguard. She started writing poetry over 40 years ago when getting her masters degree in Art Therapy in Louisville, Kentucky, where she honed her dancing skills and became a founding member of the Louisville Ethnic Dancers which continues to this day.

Frances Donovan is the author of the chapbook Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore. Publication credits include The Rumpus, Snapdragon, Marathon Literary Review, and The Writer. She is a certified poet educator with Mass Poetry and reads for Sugar House Review. She once drove a bulldozer in a GLBTQ+ Pride parade while wearing a bustier. You can find her climbing hills in Roslindale and online at www.gardenofwords.com.

Mary Lou Maloney is a poet and former lobbyist for The Arc of Massachusetts, an organization that represents people who are developmentally delayed. She has studied poetry under Barbara Helfgott Hyett and is a member of Poemworks: The Workshop for Publishing Poets. She received her undergraduate degree at Regis College and her Masters at Boston College. Her work has appeared in Constellations, Lit Break, Third Wednesday, and Front Porch. She currently resides in Roslindale.

Reading at Newton YMCA on August 3, 2018

Come see me read at the Newton YMCA on Friday, August 3, 2018. My friends at PoemWorks: The Workshop for Publishing Poets have graciously invited me back. Open mic to follow the features.

POETRY READING and Open Mic
Friday, August 3, 2018, at 7:00 PM
West Suburban YMCA
276 Church Street
Newton, MA 02458
617-244-6050
www.wsymca.org

Join us for a poetry reading with Frances Donovan & Kenneth Lee, members of the Workshop for Publishing Poets, directed by Barbara Helfgott Hyett, followed by an Open Mic. For more information about the workshop, see www.poemworks.com & https://www.facebook.com/groups/poemworks/ Hosted by Richard Waring, rwaring@nejm.org.

Frances Donovan is the author of the chapbook Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore (Reaching Press, 2018). Publication credits include Borderlands, Snapdragon, Marathon Literary Review, and The Writer. She curated the Poetry@Prose reading series in Arlington, Massachusetts, and has appeared as a featured reader at numerous venues in the Northeast. In 1998 she drove a bulldozer in a GLBT Pride parade. In 2018 she became a certified Poet Educator in Massachusetts. Find her online at www.gardenofwords.com and on Twitter @okelle.

Kenneth Lee is a pathologist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. He is the author of four books of poetry. Ken will read from his latest, Late Revelations (2017), along with some new poems. He has published poems in many journals, most recently in Ibbetson Streetand The Aurorean.

A Note About the Venue: Please sign in at the front and provide a photo ID. Those who have already attended will be streamlined through. All are invited to help return chairs to the chair stands after the reading. Rest rooms are available down the hall, a handicapped ramp is beside the front door, parking in front & behind the gym as well as on Washington St. and most side streets nearby.

Download a flyer

UPDATED April 2016 Boston Poetry Readings

National Poetry Month offers a dizzying array of events across the nation, but especially in Boston. Updated listings appear below. You can see my teacher Barbara Helfgott Hyett read alongside an old poet-friend Nicole Terez Dutton at the Newton Free Library on Tuesday, April 12 at 7pm. You can meet me in person at the Roslindale Public Library on Saturday, April 23 at noon. And if you have the time, inclination, and stamina, you can attend at least one reading on just about every day this month. All readings are in Mass unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, April 7, 6 pm
Martin Corless-Smith
introduced by Boyd Nielson
Woodberry Poetry Room, Lamont Library, Room 330
Harvard University
Cambridge

Thursday, April 7, 7 pm
Cammy Thomas, Sophia Yee, Ros Zimmermann
National Poetry Month Celebration
Cary Memorial Library
1874 Mass. Ave.
Lexington

Continue reading “UPDATED April 2016 Boston Poetry Readings”

Frances Donovan and Kate Wallace Rogers at Newtonville Books, March 7 2016

I’m one of the features at the PoemWorks monthly reading series in March, the beginning of crocus season. Come hear me and my fellow poet Kate Wallace Rogers reading our work next Monday, March 7. Details follow.

POETRY READING & Open Mic
Monday, March 7, 2016, at 7:00 PM
Newtonville Books
10 Langley Road
Newton, MA 02459
617-244-6619
www.newtonvillebooks.com

Free to the public

Join us for a poetry reading with Frances Donovan and Kate Wallace Rogers, members of the Workshop for Publishing Poets, directed by Barbara Helfgott Hyett, followed by an Open Mic. For more information about the workshop, see www.poemworks.com. Hosted by Richard Waring.

Frances Donovan’s work has appeared in many places, including Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Snapdragon, Marathon Literary Review, Ishka Bibble, and Gender Focus. She holds a degree in English from Vassar College and has studied with Barbara Helfgott Hyett and Toni Amato. She curated the Poetry@Prose reading series and has appeared as a featured reader at numerous venues in the Northeast, including the Newton Public Library and the PoemWorks Reading Series. Her workshop in Roslindale nurtures the seedlings of new poems. She enjoys candle-lit dinners, long walks on the beach, and writing about herself in the third person. You can find her climbing hills in Roslindale and online at http://www.gardenofwords.com.

Kate Wallace Rogers has been writing and performing poetry since second grade. With some friends in Dennis, Mass., she co-founded the Dragonfly poetry and music series. She has had work published in The Beaver and Red Weather. She self-published a slim volume of poetry silk-screened on Japanese folding paper. More recently, she has been a frequent participant and feature at the Mews coffeehouse and AMP gallery in Provincetown. Kate’s poetry weaves together her love of language, nature, and women. She is originally from New York City, but currently lives in Provincetown in Stanley Kunitz’s house. She loves swimming in the ocean year round.

Photo credit: Tejvan Pettinger via Flickr, CC 2.0

“The Kitchen Poem” in the Summer 2015 Issue of Dirty Chai

This spring I was delighted to learn that “The Kitchen Poem” had found a home at Dirty Chai Magazine. I missed the issue when it came out, so here it is now. Here’s a PDF download of the Summer 2015 Issue of Dirty Chai.

And since it’s more 90 days since it appeared there, here’s a reprint:

The Kitchen Poem
for Adrienne Rich

A kitchen is where a woman belongs sometimes
not because I should cook for you

but because here when one sits at the table
with a bowl of something one realizes
what it is to slow down

Because here there is always food
and yet I can go hungry

Because there is a smell of things cooking,
and the smell is good.

Because I can spread tablecloths
and be unmolested.

Because God loves a kitchen
and I feel powerful here.

Because a kitchen is where civilization began.

Because some men are shy of the kitchen
and those men I can do without.

Because kitchens come in many shapes and sizes.

Because Allen Ginsberg never wrote a poem about a kitchen.

Because in a kitchen, a woman can take what has been
dismembered,
                        forgotten
                                             and remember it.

Because in a kitchen we put things together
that have been cut apart
and call it food.

“Grief Ambition Knot of Self” Published in the Fall 2015 Issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing

My poem “Grief Ambition Knot of Self” appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing. Many thanks to Jacinta White for her work on The Word Project and Snapdragon.

grief, ambition, knot of self that won’t untangle, fear of my own
banked fires, caught between frost and sunshine, caught between

Read the entire poem here

I’m Reading at the Newton Free Library Next Tuesday, October 8

I just discovered that I am scheduled to read at the Newton Free Library on Tuesday, October 8 at 7pm. I’m so glad that Barbara at PoemWorks reminded me that Doug Holder had asked me to read for the series way back at the end of last December.

My reading is the day after the monthly PoemWorks reading at Newtonville Books. The following evening (Wednesday, October 9) I begin facilitating a writing group that will meet every other Wednesday through the beginning of December. So it’s going to be an all-writing kind of week for me.

Next month (Tuesday, November 12), two poets I know personally and greatly admire — Alexis Ivy and Charles Coe — will also be reading at the Newton Free Library. From the descriptions of the two folks scheduled to read with me on Tuesday — Wendy Ranan and Lawrence Kessenich — I will be in quite illustrious company myself. An open mic follows the reading.

If you are in town I would love to see you there. I know some of the Dverse Poets are Bostonians and would love to meet you in person. Directions by car and public transit are on the Newton Library website. Either way, wish me luck. It’s been some months since I’ve read in front of an audience.