Wednesday, May 13, 2009

272: thesis defenses make me think of

Emily, during Q &A of thesis defense

I've been thinking about:

- The ways in which a manuscript is formed. Thesis defense week has us listening from books that are supposedly fully formed, though after the program, so many of these books turn into chapbooks and the remaining poems are scrapped or saved for other times. It is rare that this thesis turns into a true published book, though we all know there are exceptions.

- Topics that speak to a poet. Meryl has been delving into tattoos and Virginia Woolf epigrams. My MFA buddy, Emily, completed a manuscript that had a narrative of domestic violence (it is a gorgeous book, of what I heard, and I cannot wait to settle in and read it in its entirety). Myself? There is the modest collection of poems I've had writing about Alzheimer's--the changes in memory, the body, grief. Now, I keep thinking about ways in which to utilize entomology in poems, and I've also been haunted by the zuihitsu--The Pillow Book and Kimiko Hahn. I worry I'm coming up with nothing but a series of chapbook ideas--one a portrait of my grandfather, another what is essentially a portrait of my friend Chris, another collection that are portraits of quirky famous types. Of course, the truth is, I don't need to have a unified idea just yet. The first year is coming swiftly to a close, and this is the year where we were supposed to, according to the program website, "dabble." I think, more accurately, this is the year we are supposed to come to terms with what we've chosen to do with these three years. My first year was spent asking myself what the hell I was doing in this program, and I know the answer is something like: because you've wanted an MFA since you were a freshmen in high school (and wanted to write since you were eight), but that's not enough. It's not enough to justify forcing your husband to carry the mortgage or justify this constant self-deprecating behavior, the constant, "Am I good enough?" questioning, the admiring of classmates and subsequent trashing of your own work, and here I am, at the end of my first year, and I think I will become good enough.

- Thus, the reading list. After observing three of five thesis defenses I plan to attend, after spending time with my poetry friends and listening to recitations of summer reading goals, I realize I cannot allow myself to continue this ridiculous grazing that has filled my first year. I must admit, I have expunged a great number of one-read books; boxes have marched out of this house to give these novels a new home, but one-read books aren't going to help me write better. They're just a little pleasure, usually not lingering. I might look back into the notebook where I've been tracking my reading patterns (since 2001--can you believe it?) and the titles I remember the least are the ones I've read in the past year or so. So I'm trying to change my habits, just a wee bit: this month is themed "A Poetry Book a Day in the Month of May." Ah, the repulsive charm of sing-song rhyme. I've mainly been sticking to books that I suspect I won't want to spend expansive time studying later--singles and duets by authors who are generally too young to have that bulk of biographies and critical pieces connected to them. I will save the Plath, the Gluck, the Stern for later. And on June first, I begin my summer reading list, which will likely fluctuate in the next two weeks and is intended to cover some foundational ground I'm missing and feel expected to have prior to entering the program. This isn't all that I will read--the grazing will continue, just on a lower level.

I'm grateful to be energized by these last two weeks of the semester--the last class meeting of Maria Damon's seminar, along with these theses, and watching my colleagues react, having discussions with them, analyzing committee members and ruminating on our own goals--I just may accomplish a little something this summer. We shall see.

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