Week in Review

Rickshaw, a photo I took in Great Barrington, MA

Rickshaw, a photo I took in Great Barrington, MA

There’s a fine line between excitement and anxiety – adrenalin can either make us soar, or gnaw at our innards. Now that I have week one under my belt, I’m feeling more like embracing the challenges rather than wanting to take a road trip and never come back. Thanks to all of you who’ve encouraged me. It means a lot.

I’d say the hardest part of this new venture is the commute. For the week of conferences and meetings I took MARTA, our transit system in Atlanta, but the trip took over an hour… .  I’ve decided to be one of the lazy polluters and drive into town, which takes only 30 minutes, and even less in the early morning before rush hour. I intend to record the poems we’re studying so I can listen to them during the ride. At least I drive a subcompact. Let’s hope the Hummers out there don’t squash me. Such brutes.

My English Composition class is full of polite, eager young men and women. On the second day I had them do a free-write in which they introduced themselves to the class as a sandwich. I wrote right along with them, which was fun. They’re each going to keep a blog for the class, and we also will have discussion forums. Lots of writing for all of us.

My literature course is  20th-Century American Poetry with Dr. Leon Stokesbury, a highly-regarded scholar and poet who knows his stuff. We’re reading Robert Frost first, a poet whose work almost all Americans have read starting in grade school. The beauty of Frost’s poems is their multiple layers – he truly was a genius. The professor told us that “Frost loved to play the role of the genius poet, the taciturn New England codger.” He said, “undergraduates loved it when Frost would contradict their professors. Frost told the students that when he wrote about mowing hay, that’s all the poem was about, it was right there on the surface.” But anyone who has read Mowing or any of his other great poems knows Frost’s claim isn’t true.

It’s obvious I’m going to learn a lot about writing in the poetry workshop. The professor, David Bottoms, has written several volumes of poetry, and is the founding editor of Five Points, a longstanding literature and art magazine. He guides us into a careful, critical reading of the poems, and maintains a respectful but honest tone. And he’s not afraid of giving praise where it’s due. I submitted a brand-new prose poem, and as soon as the copies circled the table I wanted to snatch them back. It’s my very first poetry workshop in a formal setting. I wanted to say, ‘wait, it’s just a joke! I have much better poems than that one, really!’ Too late. I’ll let you know how it goes after they’ve given me their feedback.

The other hard part of going ‘back to school’ is my age. Usually I don’t think about the number of years I’ve spent on the planet, and if I do, I’m extremely grateful for almost all of them, but when I see that some of my classmates were born the year I graduated college, I start to wonder what the hell I’m doing there. Is there something ridiculous about a middle-aged woman wanting to ‘be a poet?’ Isn’t poetry supposed to begin with the passion and longing of youth? Doesn’t narcissism prod the earliest of poems, and if so, what does that say about me? I just keep going back to the thought that I want to spend the rest of my life doing what I love. Like Polly in the film “I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing,” I do it for the kicks.

About an MFA

GSU panther

GSU panther

I found out this spring that I’ve been accepted to the MFA program in creative writing at Georgia State University, with a concentration in poetry. Since then I’ve been preparing myself in all kinds of ways, from diving into my reading list to getting booster shots for tetanus and other diseases (not pleasant – tetanus shots hurt). I even have a school ID card! The last time I had a student ID was when my youngest son was a baby, 15 years ago. In my photo his bald head is next to mine, peeking out at the camera from his perch in a backpack.

So now I will be a student again, for yet another advanced degree. That’s how crazy I am about poetry, that I’d be willing to drastically change my lifestyle for the sake of art. Yes, I’ll be a sort of Grandma Moses, and yes I will sit in a desk and listen when as a former teacher I’m more used to being the one in charge of a classroom. But I’ll be in one poetry workshop after another, and I’ll have the chance to work with other writers, something I don’t get to do much when I’m not online.

My biggest challenge, besides having to receive grades and study, will be to balance all my other obligations – my family, the house, and my work with Jo. The one place where I’ll have to cut back the most is blogging, since it’s the only optional activity I have these days. So if I don’t visit your blog as often as I used to, schoolwork will be the culprit. I’m going to try to post once a week, and visit everyone on my blogroll once a week. I don’t want to lose touch with all of you… .