Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, 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 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 final packet.

Dear Adrian:

I tend to have mixed feelings when sending in the last packet of the semester. It’s a relief to come to a break in the work. But once I’ve turned in the packet, despondence overcomes me as I realize the end of the semester means no more school for a while. School has generally been a refuge for me. And this work I’m doing has such intrinsic value that even when I’m on the edge of burnout I prefer it to my non-poetry, non-academic life. Without a school deadline, the future appears like an unbroken line of dull days clocking into my corporate job, writing status reports and functional specs, hiding my artistic side in favor of businesslike necessity.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Final Packet”

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.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Third Packet”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Second 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 first packet.

Dear Adrian:

It’s worked out that the majority of my semesters for this MFA program are going to take place in the Winter/Spring term. I feel particularly lucky that you are on sabbatical next semester, since it means we’ve been able to work together. I have mixed feelings about doing actual academic work during the Winter/Spring term, though. My fondest memories of school are in September, when the world and the school year seem full of possibilities. As a grown-up living outside the groves of academe, I sometimes find a wave of melancholia overtakes me in the fall. A good friend of mine once said it’s because I’m sad that I’m not back in school. Regardless, my memories of the Winter/Spring term have more to do with gasping toward the finish line than setting off on a new, exciting venture. And late winter can be especially difficult. All this to say that the second packet tends to be rougher and thinner than I would generally like it to be.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Second Packet”

Take Time for Your Own Writing and Support a Small Business

Photograph of a hand writing in a notebook.

Wherever you are, I hope that you are weathering well and staying safe and healthy during this pandemic. I’ve found it quite stressful, especially as my partner works in an emergency room. He takes precautions when he comes home, but I worry about him every day. For myself, I work from home regularly but I miss the days when I do go in to see my colleagues.

On the bright side, I’ve been getting outside for more walks than ever before (staying six feet away from everyone, of course) and have been especially grateful for Zoom, which helps me feel more connected to friends and colleagues than the phone alone does. In some ways, this physical distancing has meant that I reach out and connect with good friends even more than before.

If you are looking for some additional connection, please consider joining me for an online generative writing workshop. A new creative space called Create Art in Community just opened in Roslindale Square in February. I was delighted to connect with Gena Mavuli and to offer this course in her studio. As with many small businesses, closing has created some real difficulties for her–especially since it’s such a new business. She asked me to take the class online. We will use the five senses and other prompts to grow new seedlings in our very own garden of words. Feedback for these new first drafts will be exclusively positive. A few spots remain. Please consider signing up, to support your own writing practice and also a small, local business.

The two-hour workshop meets for four sessions in April: April 1, 8, 15, and 29. Cost is $165. Sign up here.

Some folks are intimidated by trying this new technology. If you’d like to learn how to use Zoom, I’m happy to give you a tutorial, whether or not you sign up for the class. It’s a great way to stay connected in this time of social distancing. Just comment on this message below, use my contact form, or send me a DM on Twitter.

An Embarrassment of Riches

Silhouette of a woman with arms outspread and head thrown back. Photo credit: Jill Wellington via Pixabay.

The only thing you need to do to be a poet is to write poetry. But occasionally, if you do the footwork and let go of the results, you get rewarded with some accolades. I’ve had a string of successes recently and wanted to share:

  • In March, the Lambda Literary Awards selected my chapbook Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore as a finalist in the bisexual poetry category.
  • On April 24, Athena Dixon interviewed me for the New Books in Poetry podcast. We had a great conversation about the writer’s journey, how things have improved (or not) for marginalized voices, and how writing practice can change over time.
  • On April 29, new Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola selected my work, along with that of 17 other poets, to be displayed at Boston City Hall as part of the Mayor’s Poetry Program.
  • On April 27, I performed alongside a slew of talented poets, musicians, and actors in the Solidarity Salon, an event started and organized by fellow Lesley poet Lisa DeSiro. The crowd that showed up to Third Life Studios in Union Square, Somerville was wonderfully warm and appreciative, and True Story Theater brought three poems to life–including one of mine!
  • On May 10, three of my poems appeared in the Heavy Feather Review #NoMorePresidents online feature.
  • On May 13, The Rumpus published my interview with Kwoya Fagin Maples about her moving book of historical persona poetry Mend (University Press of Kentucky, 2018).
  • On May 15, the Harriet blog on the Poetry Foundation website picked up the article, thus causing something rather unlikely: my name on the Poetry Foundation website. It’s a far cry from having my poems up there, but it’s still pretty cool.
  • On May 18, I walked in the Lesley University commencement ceremony with a brown hood to signify Master of Fine Arts. Lesley won’t award me the degree itself until I complete my graduating seminar at the June residency, but taking part in the ceremony was quite moving. My mother, brother, and sort-of-mother-in-law all traveled from out of town to celebrate with me and Mark, my partner and biggest fan.

Yes, Dispatches from an MFA are not up-to-the-minute coverage. More to come.

The interesting thing about po-biz success is how short-lived the good feelings can be. Lesley faculty member Tracey Baptiste has talked about the moving goalposts, and others seem to agree with her. I’m sure I’ll be eyeballs deep in existential angst soon, but for the moment, anyway, I feel like the Poetry Gods are smiling upon me.

Thanks to you, dear reader, for supporting me in these endeavors.

On Celebrating National Poetry Month While Earning an MFA

National Poetry Month is April, the cruelest month according to T.S. Eliot. And I get where he’s coming from, especially in Boston, where lilacs may or may not be breeding out of the dead ground. This month, everything bloomed late because the Weather Gods decided to send us temps in the 40s for most of March and April, and then bust directly into summer on May 2 with a high of 87. I should be used to this by now, seeing as I’ve lived in Boston for 18 years. But California spoiled me in my toddler years, and on some level I’ll always mourn weeks and weeks of room-temperature weather. The temperamental temperatures affect my mood as well, leading to unpredictable amounts of spoons.

The good thing about National Poetry Month is also the bad thing about National Poetry Month: everyone is celebrating poetry. As anyone perusing the listings I post can see, Boston has a thriving po-scene. There are open mics and slams and performances and launch parties and panels and exclusive hoity-toity readings every week and twice on Sundays. In April the listings just explode. And those are just the ones I know about–I hear about other ones all the time that don’t make my list. And then there are the informal writing groups, as secret and desirable as lesbian potlucks.

Continue reading “On Celebrating National Poetry Month While Earning an MFA”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Final Packet

Read on for the cover letter to the final packet of my first semester at the Lesley MFA program, written to my teacher Sharon Bryan. The cover letter of a packet is meant to be a meditation on your writing and study process over the course of the previous month — a sort of “making of” the finished work that accompanies it:

Dear Sharon:

How strange to think that this is the last packet I will be sending you. The semester has gone by so quickly. I was really worried about being able to finish all the work on time, but it turned out to be possible after all. About halfway through each packet I would get incredibly anxious. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish the work on time, and that what I sent wouldn’t be good enough. It’s natural to want to get the most out of a degree program as possible, but it’s also important not to let the perfect get in the way of the good. The fact that the course work is pass/fail helps, but ultimately it’s a question of whether I think I am doing the best that I can. Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Final Packet”

Boston-Area Poetry Readings for January and February 2018

In my unbiased opinion, the one must-see reading this winter is happening on Saturday, February 3 at 2pm. Come see me (Frances Donovan), Erica Charis-Molling, Sonja Johnson, and Heather Derr-Smith read for free at the newly renovated library in beautiful Jamaica Plain.

Others might argue that honor goes to Nikki Giovanni (!) at Brookline Booksmith on Friday, February 2.

Also a shout-out to Regie Gibson and the other fine poets performing at the Gwendolyn Brooks tribute this Saturday, January 13 in Lexington, Mass.

All readings are in Massachusetts.

Friday, January 12, 7:30 pm
Alan Smith Soto, Tim Suermondt, and Pui Ying Wong
Loring-Greenough House
12 South Street (across from the Monument)
Jamaica Plain, MA

Saturday January 13, 3 pm
Chris O’Carroll and David Davis
Powow River Poets Reading Series
Newburyport Public Library
94 State St.
Newburyport, MA

Saturday, January 13, 4 pm
Tara Skurtu
Porter Square Books
25 White Street
Cambridge, MA

Saturday, January 13, 7:30 pm
Contemporary Poets Celebrate Gwendolyn Brooks
Nancy Boutilier, Robert Carr, Jennifer Clarvoe, Tom Daley, Regie Gibson, Krysten Hill, Dorian Kotsiopoulos, Julia Lisella, Kathy Nilsson, Sabrina Sadique, Lloyd Schwartz, Joyce Swagerty, Cammy Thomas, Jonathan Weinert
Munroe Saturday Nights series
First Parish Church
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA

Wednesday, January 17, 8 pm
Valerie Duff and Musical Guest
Unearthed Song & Poetry
Home.stead Bakery & Cafe
Fields Corner
1448 Dorchester Ave.
Dorchester, MA

Continue reading “Boston-Area Poetry Readings for January and February 2018”