Monday, November 02, 2009

Pauvre Pierrot

It's been a while since I've blogged. Blame work, school, and a bike accident that wasn't but could have been very nasty. I have some fabulous bruises, but that's all.

This morning I've been reading Rachel Zolf's blog The Tolerance Project, a collaborative writing project with eighty writers, artists, and thinkers from across Canada and the United States. Rachel is the author of Human Resources, and winner of the 2008 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. So, why is she in an MFA program? Rachel Zolf is Canadian, and when her female partner got a tenure-track job at a university in the USA, she was not able to legally move with her to New York because their relationship is not legally recognized by US immigration authorities. Becoming a student was really her only other option for obtaining a visa. In her Statement to MFA Workshop October 13, she writes:
...what is most important for my project is that it is a collaborative take on the MFA as an institution within larger state apparatuses. That is the key concept behind my project, a deconstruction of how “authors” and “voices” are created through the process of the MFA, linked with how difference is “tolerated” (or not) in general in the US. I wanted to provoke a look at how the MFA works as a process, by deliberately blowing up the authorial creation and feedback process beyond this room. There is a long tradition in the art world of looking at the workings of art institutions such as art museums and art collecting practices and the creation of the artist as a commodity.
If Carolyn Forche had been more present at George Mason and they'd had more funding for me, I might have gone there instead of doing an MA at Georgetown. In fact, I think my critique of MFA programs only became fully developed when I left the east coast and found that not even community colleges wanted to hire me to teach. On the east coast, no one cared that I didn't have an MFA. Most of the major east coast cities have active poetry and arts communities that aren't centered on MFA programs. In other words, I don't think I was fully aware of the degree to which MFA programs were becoming the norm and the ways in which creative writing is professionalized in the US.

I suspect that the farther you get from the city in the US, the more likely MFA programs and educational institutions will be central to art communities. That's an undeveloped argument, I know. But where are the poets going to hang out if you have to drive to the bar? You hang out at school, I guess. Some one give me counter examples.

I'm taking a brief break from typing up my comments to the other people in my poetry workshop--I'm still irritated by the way submitting individual poems to workshop really discourages things like abrupt tonal shifts and strange juxtapositions. I fall into descriptions: this poem is doing this here and that there, that poem is doing that there and this here. I look for strangeness and moments of disorientation. I ask about other poems and refer to previous poems and try to extend the context of the poem as far beyond the workshop as I can. I don't like how workshopping encourages writing for workshopping.

I do like having an immediate group of readers. That's nice. Everyone in my class is intelligent, thoughtful and creative. But more feedback doesn't equal better feedback. Just like after every reading I give there's almost always a woman who is slightly older that me whom I've never met who wants to give me a lot of specific suggestions about the pace of my reading, my clothing, and how I need to learn to breathe differently. I know that my feedback on other people's work has as much to do with me as it does to do with their poems. Obviously.

I am enjoying all the reading and discussion that I'm doing for both the workshop and the other seminar on Modernist aesthetics and art movements. I'm remembering things that I like, reading things I've read, reading a lot of things I haven't read. In some cases, I'm evaluating my relationship to things that I respected but thought I wasn't that interested in.

Example: it turns out that I might actually be more excited by Fanny Howe's work than I previously thought.

Example: now that I've had to read some more Donald Revell, I can be much more articulate about why I really dislike it.

Example: I've never written about Modernist theater or performance. In fact, out of all the major a-g Modernist, I've probably read Artaud and Beckett the least. It's exciting, then, to read them and others and think about a genre that I haven't thought much about.

When I was doing my MA at Georgetown, I felt pressured to make every seminar paper full of amazingly brilliant critical insight that would somehow be relevant to the field. Now I don't mind if I use my term paper as an excuse to think about and learn about things that I want to think about and learn about. I don't care so much about the field. If I have any academic career ahead of me at all, which is doubtful, it's certainly not going to be based on my ability to write normative academic articles. So, in the meantime, I get to read Artaud and Beckett. I get to think about Jacques Copeau and the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, especially the years it was in New York, and also Charles Dullin. How Artaud's name comes up constantly in the work of the artists and actors who were busy reviving/changing/rejecting pantomime and thinking about a more physical theater centered on actors and gesture.


adams24 said...

I lover this: "Example: now that I've had to read some more Donald Revell, I can be much more articulate about why I really dislike it."

I suppose I should note that I'm friends with him (and he adores Herbert, which is, lol, a good indication one can't be too bad a being); nevertheless, I find your comment fun/funny.

I like F Howe's line "sticky sub-atomic soul."

I hope all's well!

Adam Strauss

Matt said...

Actually, in a small town, driving to a bar is a much simpler proposition than catching a subway train in upper Manhattan that because of perpetual construction delays on the weekends takes 75 minutes to get to some place in Brooklyn, maybe 10 miles away.

One example I know of is a reading series in my hometown, held at a coffeeshop downtown that you pretty much have to drive to. I've never been, but I hear it's doing well.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Hi Adam--I am well, thank you. I've never met Donald Revell, only read some of his poems, but I'm glad to know that you find him to be a good person. I expect everyone to be a jerk, so I'm always glad to learn when someone is not a jerk. Alas, I've not read much George Herbert. Any favorites?

Matt--Indeed, traveling on the New York City subway can be daunting. I'd rather be drunk on a broken subway, though, then drunk driving a car on the highway. Still, I see your point.

I'm happy to hear about a reading series thriving in a small town. Communities need places to gather and hang out, and ways of getting to those places. The not so hidden subtext to my comment is how I think the structure of suburban sprawl actively discourages community gathering. People gather anyway, but I think they have to work a lot harder.

So, we've got cities, small towns, and suburbs (and in southern California, the distinction between those three things isn't always obvious), all of which may or may not have MFA programs, bars and functioning public transportation.

If I'd grown up driving, I'm sure I'd feel differently about this.

adams24 said...

You mussssssssstttttttt read "Prayer" (1), any of the "Affliction," poems, "A Wreath," oh hell his book "The Temple" is rather amazing: great syntax. Oh yah--going back to individual pieces--Love (III) is magnificent (and extremely sexy, I think: sexy poems strike me as so rare, and it's toooooo bad!), and "The Collar" is another stunner--and very sexy, to me, too: with a working of line-lengths/syntax that is astonishing: so religious, so almost like a verbal phantasmagoric Maplethorpe!

Michelle Detorie said...

Yikes! Sorry to hear about your bike accident. I'm glad that you are okay!

How's Lester? Have you guys made any new songs?

j. pluecker said...

hey thanks for the link to rachel zolf's page. lisa robertson's comments were my favorite part. overall the project is quite well thought out and important i think. nice to read your reflections on mfaland. nice to be in e-touch.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Adam--thanks for the recommendations. Sexy and astonishing...

Michelle--I am indeed well. Lester and I have been dabbling in recording again. We're now in the mixing stage. You'll be the first to know about them when they're done, I promise!

JP--Rachel's situation is complicated and interesting, for sure. I'm trying not to blog too much about mfaland, but it's hard to avoid...

Anonymous said...

You are very welcome! I hope the poems please you!

Adam Strauss

Lance Newman said...

Funny. Herbert and Howe. I'm reading "Gone" just now. Would love to hear more about why/how she got your attention.