Semester One is Done!

Semester One of my MFA program is in the history books. It sounds like the ticking morning clock is applauding me as I write this. Yes, I am excited about the growth I have seen as a writer through this intense semester of creating and considering and revising. It’s nice to have a period of time over the holidays to take a deep breath and watch some mindless television, but i have to admit I am already feeling the excitement and anticipation in my almost-always typing fingertips at the prospect of studying next semester with the great poet Angie Estes.

I have learned so much from this semester’s poet-mentor–Ruth L. Schwartz. In addition to reading her work in-depth, I studied the following poets: Dan Bellm, Larry Levis, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Cynthia Marie Hoffman, C.K. Wright, Charles Wright and Jan Beatty. It’s amazing how reading these poets with careful consideration regarding my own craft and aesthetic has shaped my writing this semester. I am writing even better first drafts and I have developed the key and previously missing skills of revision, good news to the thousands of first drafts hiding on my hard drive.

Most importantly for my work and for my life, I have discovered that I have something to say and this is the arena which I choose to say it in. This first book of poems I will complete as my thesis project is very personal, but at the same time, evolving into interesting relationships with my faith, with history, with universal experiences. My poetry seeks imagery–my mind thinks that way and it always has. It is satisfying that this semester I have learned it is much more satisfying to create an image-heavy poem which works for readers, which coheres and makes some sense. I enjoy poets such as Eliot, Angie Estes, Charles Wright, who I “get” but I don’t fully understand at all times. Wallace Stephens. Those who have that “something” extraordinary illuminating or creating a shadow of though, illusion, allusion, myth.

I have been called “strange” many times this semester! I have learned that “strange” in poetry can be a good thing. Now someone please write me a note verifying that “strange is good” that I can hand to all the ordinary people in my ordinary life. I  have learned that I compartmentalize my poetry pursuits from the rest of my life in my thought processes. I keep it separate. I am a different person when I am putting words on a page. I hope by the end of this program that Writer Kerri and Ordinary Kerri can share more peacefully the same skin. I hope I alienate all those in my life who refuse to take me as least half as seriously as I take myself. 

I have learned so much from Ruth L. Schwartz, from her patient and constant attention to my poetry, to the many hats she wears as she enters our fledgling poems and seeks to know the writers better so she can find that jumping off point for us to learn to soar. It is different for each one of us. It is a kind of poetic parenting…this mentoring. Through her ability to find a slow peace in the living out of her personal convictions and her own poetic creations, I have learned to slow my pace somewhat as a writer. I have learned the value and the rush of staying with an image or a poem until it really feels complete, and then looking at it again the next day and the next day after that. For me it’s a process of tweaking away until I see a little light. Revision is the hard work of writing poetry. Ruth has steadfastly stayed with me and encouraged me to enter my work as the poet, and this was the main goal I expressed to her at the beginning of semester. She never forgot that, even though I handed her some of the most outlandishly disconnected drafts she has possibly seen as a poetry professor. She never flinched. At the end of this semester, I feel that I can begin to write from a place of accomplishment. Perhaps live there, too. I don’t feel that I am clawing and scratching and auditioning anymore. I feel I belong in this MFA program. It is an incredible amount of hard work to produce a book of poems. I am thankful for my community of Ashland writers who get that and who deeply through the experience of pursuing the same end really understand.


Creativity casualty

As a civilization we are destroying miles of rain forest every day, we have whittled down untouched prairie to less than 3 percent of our world’s known topography, our landfills are bloated, ugly artifacts-turned-monsters–yet what may be the most endangered life-giving domain in the post-post modern world? Creativity.

Why? It takes a deliberate snubbing of all that mainstream society holds dear for a person to creatively write, draw, paint, sing, dance, think.

Creativity requires “Thoroughly Modern Millie” to turn off the television, mute all cell-phone notifications, to begin to think of her home as a studio where art is created, which means order and simplicity and hours and hours of uninterrupted time and space. Creativity requires long periods of seemingly doing nothing. It’s much like prayer, when prayer evolves into listening to God rather than speaking to God. For me, creative moments are prayer in exactly that sense.

I wish that I could visit all the elementary schools in the world with the power of an Education Czar so that I could teach teachers and principals and parents how to structure days and classrooms and lessons so that each day children would be “required” to learn the architecture behind the creative moment, because there definitely is one, and I believe most creative souls get their architecture mown down by the bulldozer of the industrialized society, by the misplaced values of such a society, much in the same way Andrew Jackson took down the Native Americans. He couldn’t see what he was destroying for the vision in his head of what he wanted to build.

I really believe the person who will ultimately cure cancer will be a scientist who writes poetry on the side, who listens to Mozart while he manipulates cells in a test tube, who takes long walks in the evenings and reads real books, not Kindles.

Poetry makes me a better person, and there is not much else in life that has that power to refine me. Others may misunderstand, but I understand myself so much the more, which strengthens my own foundations and my resolve to continue down this path. Most of us, who do this, do it for the joy it brings.