Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guest Blogger: Amy Schrader on Writing Outside of One's Comfort Zone

Last Friday evening, Trina and I were discussing “the long poem” over a glass of wine. Well, actually, I had four glasses of wine, but who was counting? I certainly wasn’t, at least not after four glasses. We were talking about “the long poem” because Trina recently rejoined our bi-weekly Po Group, and she has given us the writing assignment for our next meeting. The assignment? Write a long poem, at least four pages. As a confirmed sonneteer, the thought of writing one word past the end of line 14 gives me heart palpitations, so I was seeking her advice…not only on how to accomplish this goal, but why I would even want to try. We talked about T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, among other long-poem-y folks, and it struck me in the middle of our conversation that my favorite poem of all time is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, followed by (in a very close 2nd place) Stevens’s “Sunday Morning”. How could my two very favorite poems be long poems when for nearly a decade I’ve been eschewing the long poem as nothing more than a meandering pathway to bloated self-aggrandizement?

Meanwhile, my friend Cat (who was in the MFA program with me and who now lives in New Hampshire) sent me this link, saying that as of late she has been “seeking out some pomes [sic] of religious fervor”.

I take all of this as a sign, and it’s put a bee in my bonnet, so to speak, about this long poem assignment. I’m actually kind of looking forward to writing the damn thing. I might add that one of the reasons I adore Cat is that she uses words like “pome”. Another is that she writes amazing poems . She also loves cephalopods.

I’ve been in possession of my MFA (from the University of Washington) for two years now and, ever since we graduated and Cat moved away, I’ve been craving this gentle but very insistent nudge to write outside of my comfort zone. Or to write anything at all, actually, given that I can probably count the number of poems I’ve written since graduation on both hands.

Amy Schrader holds an MFA from the University of Washington. She was a semifinalist for the 2006 and 2007 Discovery/The Nation poetry contests and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Tin Parachute Postcard Review, Willow Springs, Pontoon, and the Tupelo Press Poetry Project. She lives and works in Seattle.

Introducing: Guest Bloggers!

Here at The Three Ps, we care about you, the reader. We want you to enjoy your experience of the blog and we realize that, having just graduated, we three are a bit myopic about the whole MFA thing. So, for a bit of perspective, we've asked some guest bloggers with a little more perspective on post-MFA life to add their two cents.

Guest posts will appear periodically as we receive them.

Friday, June 13, 2008

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ll be attending Western Michigan University’s Prague Summer Program this year. As the trip gets closer (I leave on the 26th), I am realizing how completely unprepared I am. Downstairs, on top of a box of books that I have yet to unpack, there are two pieces of media connected to my impending travels: Derek Sayer’s Coasts of Bohemia and a set of Czech language tapes. I know these resources are available, yet I give them a wide berth.

Last year, I attended the SLS Russia program. Prior to my trip, I learned the Cyrillic alphabet and a number of very useful Russian phrases. I knew how to ask for water without bubbles, food without mayonnaise, bathrooms, and nesting dolls. This year, I only know the Czech word for beer and I’m hoping that will be enough to get me by. If not, I have a 5-hour layover at Heathrow to brush up, I guess.

So why go to Prague? Why attend a writing seminar when I’ve just graduated from an MFA program? Shouldn’t I be sick of workshops by now? I’m not sure that I have an answer. When I sent in my application, it seemed like it would be fun to spend a month in Prague. It would be a sort of graduation gift to myself. And I was a finalist for the program’s fellowship award of free tuition, after all. I have since discovered that this is a common ploy—the programs tell a number of applicants that they are finalists or semifinalists for some award and offer these applicants discounted tuition and fees in order to get a commitment, but the applicants still end up paying a considerable amount of money to the program. I’ve often wondered how many (if any) attendees ever end up paying full price for these things. In any case, it worked out well while I was a student—these designations of “finalist” or “semifinalist” were enough to convince my university president and provost to give me money to attend conferences. As a non-student, of course, there are not so many opportunities for supplemental funding.

I don’t believe one has to travel to write. And yet travel has been a highly effective trigger for me. In St. Petersburg, I wrote more in two weeks than I had in an entire semester at UM. And it was quality stuff. In the fall, one of my colleagues actually asked, “What happened to you over the summer” in regard to my work. It was like the time I developed boobs over the summer between 6th and 7th grade. Which begs the question, why do some writers find it so easy to write abroad and so difficult to write at home? There is, I guess, a simple answer; we spell it: J-O-B. When I am abroad, I am not working for pay. In fact, I plan trips abroad in order to avoid work or get away from work. So maybe it’s not all about the mystique of the old world or getting outside one’s comfort zone. Maybe it’s really just about having a little more time for navel gazing.

On a tangentially related note, here's a fun article by Ann Bauer about the stigma that surrounds untravelled writers and the reality of travel vs. the ideal.

So anyway, I’m leaving in 2 weeks. I’ll be posting dispatches from the field. Possibly even pictures.
I am still in Missoula, and I have to disagree with Trina, hanging around town does not allow you to milk the thrall of the MFA. Not when almost everyone is gone, and you keep running into First Years (soon to be Second Years) at the taco joint who ask when you are leaving. Did I mention it SNOWED this week?

For many MFA's it's the two years after that are the make or break time, not the two years spent in school. Was the MFA that lark, that ha-ha amusing time, that last grab at the golden ring of youth, that idyllic interlude where Art Mattered that one will always fondly remember (sigh) — or is this the beginning of a writing career?

Are we beginning to understand why there's a scad of blogs dedicated to the MFA application process, yet so few about after the MFA?

On the plus side, many Montana MFA's actually have launched writing careers. Former prof Kevin Canty (alias The Cheerleader) and Montana grad/now best-selling author Aryn Kyle both agree that it's those who keep at it who seem to be making it. Those who "decide to do something else for a few years" tend to drop out.

In other news, I'm selling all my furniture and it's depressing as hell to post on Craigslist and have people sniff at your grandmother's dresser that you moved 2500 miles across the country but can't afford to move back, finger the scratch and then lo-ball you and then even after you come down in price say no thanks.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


The new issue of Phoebe is out. Laurie and I have poems in it.

Friday, June 6, 2008


The last time I moved to Seattle, I had a hell of a time getting my computer set up. I'd just won the computer in one of those sweepstakes on ExtraTV.com (yes, people actually do win those things) and had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for it. Now it's five years later and I'm having a hell of a time setting up the damn thing and I have neither the energy nor the enthusiasm to sustain me. The tower is currently at the computer doctor being diagnosed. I fear the verdict will be something vague, like "ennui". Or worse, the computer doctor will tell me that there is nothing wrong with my computer and the problem must be "user error". Then I'll just have to add it to the list of infuriating aspects of moving to Seattle.

Another: proving residency in order to get one's driver's license. I sat at the DMV for an hour only to find out that my documents weren't acceptable. The kind and patient woman at the desk handed me a list of items that are acceptable--among them, a concealed weapons permit--and of which I have none currently. My best bets are auto insurance policy and WA voter ID card, but good luck trying to obtain either one at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon.

Did I mention that our washing machine doesn't have a cold cycle?

Also, my neighbor and I found what we thought was an injured crow (in our defense--it was limping around and one of its wings was drooping). I spent a good deal of time attempting to capture it gently, eventually wrapping it in one of our blankets and handing it to my neighbor for ministrations. We found out later in the day from the wildlife hotline people that the bird was, in fact, a baby crow (they have blue eyes and shorter tails--go figure) and that we should return it to where we found it posthaste in order for its parental figures to find it and continue teaching it to fly. So now I'm just an idiot with an empty blanket covered in bird shit, not a hero and friend to all creatures great and small. But the effort counts for something, right? Right?

Writing? What writing?

Job? What job?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Now I live in Seattle

Do you know how I know that I now live in Seattle? The city has seen fit to give me a library card! Because what I really need in my life right now is more books. I haven't even unpacked all the books I own, but that's neither here nor there. We do what we must in order to find comfort in chaos.

My review of Paige Ackerson-Kiely's In No One's Land is up on Gently Read Literature (see link at right).

This morning, I attempted to write two imitation poems--one on Frank O'Hara's Lana Turner poem and one on Baudelaire's "Double Room." This is the first writing I've done since graduation.

I've learned a couple things over the course of my move:

1. The style of my clothing is "too old". This from the lovely lady at the Buffalo Exchange in the U-district, where I attempted to sell my skinny clothes this morning in order to buy groceries (perhaps my insistence on buying groceries is directly linked to said skinny clothes no longer fitting me). New city, new harsh truths.

2. MFA closure comes not from graduation, but from leaving town. As long as you remain in the same physical space as your MFA program and your MFA friends, you are still in the thrall of it all. You can convince yourself that what you've done is a significant thing and everyone around you will concur. The minute you leave, it's over. No one cares that you earned your MFA. Very few people even know what MFA stands for. And when you explain what MFA stands for (I don't recommend this), most people look at you as if you are stupid. And then you begin to wonder if maybe you are a little stupid. You think on it a bit and decide that, yes, you are profoundly stupid. And when the next person asks what you've been doing for the past two years, you tell him or her that you were teaching. Or freelancing. Or just about anything other than attending an MFA program. And that denial is your closure.

Back to the pile of boxes...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

That is all.