Poetry at the Post: Should I Get an MFA?

Workshop
BY BILLY COLLINS
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now

Poetry Workshop outside Galway, Ireland Photo: Maria Hofman
Poetry Workshop outside Galway, Ireland Photo: Maria Hofman

Now that I have an MFA in Creative Writing, writer friends have asked, “Should I get one too?”

Well, I can’t answer that question as getting an MFA is a personal decision based on one’s objectives, needs—and financial resources. But—if you have already decided to take the plunge and commit yourself to 2-4 years of demanding work then Spalding University’s MFA program may be the one for you.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,…

One of the reasons you may not have applied to an MFA program yet is that you are nervous about the “workshop experience.” I know I was but  “Serious critique doesn’t have to hurt. At Spalding University, you’ll find a top-tier low residency MFA program that celebrates creativity and community, not competition. The program offers real intellectual stimulation in a supportive environment while giving writers the tools to make writing fresher, richer, more uniquely their own. There’s no such thing as a “Spalding voice.” It’s your voice, and at Spalding, it will be heard and read.”

Four years ago I became a member of the Spalding MFA family— a very large family indeed! Not only am I now connected to all of the incredibly talented and caring staff, faculty and fellow students but also to an alumni group over 500 writers strong. In addition, because I elected to do my residencies abroad, I have poet/writer friends around the world—and one of them is currently translating a selection of my poems into Bulgarian!

Poets in Paris Photo courtesy of Stephen Woodward
Poets in Paris Photo courtesy of Stephen Woodward

Residencies abroad? Yes! For me, a global nomad, this was a compelling reason to consider a Spalding MFA.  At Spalding, you have the choice to attend your residencies in Louisville, Ky or abroad—or do a combo of the two. During my years at Spalding, I traveled to Rome, Tuscany, Paris, Dublin, Galway, Prague and Berlin. I actually graduated in Berlin! How cool is that?

Graduating class Summer 2014 Spalding MFA in Writing. A biergarten in Dresden, Germany Photo courtesy of  Karen Chronister
Graduating class Summer 2014 Spalding MFA in Writing. A biergarten in Dresden, Germany Photo courtesy of Karen Chronister

But the best part is that in actuality you never really graduate as you can continue to connect with the Spalding family with opportunities for post graduate study, homecoming in Louisville,  and even travels with the program as an alumn.

In 2015, Spalding’s summer residency will be in Athens and Crete, Greece.

So-what are you waiting for?

The application deadline for spring and summer is February 1. Holy Ouzo! Get that application started today!

You can email: mfa@spalding.edu for more information. Or contact me at alicecatherinej@gmail.com.

You never know—we may meet up this summer in Greece. I hope so! First ouzo is on me!

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite.
This is where the poem wins me back,

Poetry at the Post-Prague: Splendour Falls on Castle Walls

from The Princess: The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls
BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

The splendour falls on castle walls

Prague is medieval opulence mixed with Hapsburg over-the-top.
More than the castle itself, The Castle District is something else.

St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, The Royal Gardens, and…

I think I like Prague but I can’t figure it out, certainly not
culturally or language-wise but also at the most basic level.

I get lost wherever I go. I ask for help, then end up
somewhere
I did not want to go.

The Castle District. Yes,
it is stunning. Yes,
Hitler spared it. Yes,
it is worth a visit—
despite the crowds.

Yet…yet…
Achingly lovely…
think of the other
99% or perhaps
the other 98.9%
back then.

prague3

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.

Poetry at the Post, Day 7: Here’s to the Tomato!

“Ode to Tomatoes” by Pablo Neruda, as translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

The street
filled with tomatoes,
midday,
summer…

“It’s time” or soon it will be time for tomato season in Texas. Neruda’s poem “Ode to Tomatoes” reminds me of how much I enjoy garden grown tomatoes. There is just no substitute. Greenhouse tomatoes fill the gap in a pinch but they are just not the same. In Chile, the season is December and the tomato “unabated/invades the kitchen.”

You can read the full poem here in both Spanish and English: http://www.soupsong.com/ftomato2.html

I first read this poem several years ago. What I learned about craft from this poem and the others in the collection Odas Elementales , or Odes to Common Things is that you can write a poem about anything: a tomato, an onion, a lemon, even a pair of socks. I wrote an “Ode to High Heels”, modeled on Neruda’s “Ode to Tomatoes,” because I have a fondness for heels. They make me feel majestic. The perfect heel, for me, is 2 3/4″—not always so easy to find.

So much has been written about Neruda that I have nothing new to add, except that I read today that Neruda chose his pen name after the Czech poet, Jan Neruda.

Jan Neruda's grave Vysehrad Cemetery, Prague  Photo courtesy of Miaow Miaow , October 2005
Jan Neruda’s grave Vysehrad Cemetery, Prague
Photo courtesy of Miaow Miaow , October 2005

Since no one has been joining me at the post each morning, I decided to read to a couple of my neighbors. They really liked this poem.

If you happen to be in the Austin, TX area and are looking for a full time seasonal job, Johnson’s Backyard Garden is hiring Tomato Packing Crew Members now.

https://www.jbgorganic.com/blog/2013/05/jbg-is-hiring-for-summer/

Thanks to Julie Haines for her request for Neruda. It was so much fun to reread this poem.