"Christeene Fraser is a vibrant new voice on the poetry scene. Starkly confessional, yet warmly human, her writing strikes a nerve in the audience...a poet to watch."

Bruce Haring, Director, New York Book Festival

Thursday, October 21, 2010

To MFA or not to MFA? That is the question...

You know, there is something to be said for people who get out there and make it without the vestige of the almighty M.F.A, aka the 'I'm a mother-f*#&in-artist-so-recognize' degree, or Master of Fine Arts.

I think there is some sort of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps romanticism about it that appeals to us. A sense that this person was either so wildly talented and/or ambitious that they cheated the system and went blazing into anthologies everywhere without paying tuition to learn the craft. Who am I talking about? William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway to name a few. But it's the same with any profession--we love a good underdog story. How many times must we read about Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team? Or Einstein failing Math?

Why? Because these stories give hope to the average person that they too, could be a genius, a basketball prodigy, or a literary great who just hasn't been discovered yet. But some part of me thinks this kind of legend-leeching gives people false dreams. There will never be another Einstein, after all.

I love this picture that I've coupled with this blog post because in some ways I feel like this explains the curse of a writer, or at least, a creative person: "Just because you are unique doesn't mean you are useful." Ouch. Some part of me recognizes that this must be true. I am not performing life-saving surgery, or even helping someone save 10% or more on their car insurance--I'm writing. Writing about things that, in many cases, never happened.

I think getting a MFA is part of this fear, and maybe that is why I'm seriously considering it.

Don't get me wrong, MFAs open doors and create a certain caveat when you are publishing and speaking and doing all the peripheral puffery that comes with writing--particularly poetry. BUT. Why else get it if you weren't afraid of being useless? Jobless? Without insurance? Without prestige? Some people, granted, do it to become professors; but I think if they were honest, they'd tell you they'd rather be holed up in a cave (or bar) writing their magnum opus without having to grade scores of terrible student first drafts.

So maybe I'll MFA and maybe I won't. I'm leaning toward won't. But who's to say? I want to be useful and talented. I need health insurance too. Just remind me to delete this blog post before I apply to the Iowa Writer's Workshop or Vanderbilt...I can't have an Admissions staff Googler reading this and ruining my statement of purpose.

Though I did fail English one semester in high school. And wouldn't that make a lovely addition to Michael Jordan, and Einstein, and Hemingway? Har. Har. Har.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sometimes Reading Isn't Power

I never thought I'd say this, but...I think I need to stop reading. Well, at least for awhile.

Let me preface by saying that I have great reverence for reading. Nothing makes me happier than the smell of a new book, except maybe an acceptance letter from an editor. I take pride in the fact that I have more books than I can handle; I could probably make furniture pieces out of the more substantial volumes.

The problem is this: as a writer (or still a wannabe at this point), I find that the things I'm reading are starting to choke me out. I've been reading so much that I feel quietly paranoid about what I'm doing. Sure, the right piece of literature can awaken and inspire other literature, but lately, I feel like all the things I'm reading are trying to puke up on my page.

I've read so many great poets online recently (time for unsolicited plugs): Mathias Nelson, Justin Hyde, and Amanda Aucter among others. I've also gone the traditional route and raided the library for inspiration. Recently I devoured Sandra Cisneros' Loose Woman, and Natasha Tretheway's Bellocq's Ophelia is sitting on my nightstand in the cue just behind Bukowski's What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire.

I think it's a fundamental thing to educate yourself by reading as promiscuously as possible...until it's time for you to speak. I've been a reader my entire life and now? Now I need some quiet. I need to blood-let all these other voices and talents that want to smother mine. They are screaming at me when I'm writing, especially the male poets. And they say: who wants to read about that? You are too sentimental, too clean, too Tampax to have any bite. Be a misanthrope. The academic poets tell me that I'm not pedigreed enough. The influential poets tell me to copy them. It's vicious I tell you.

So I think, just for awhile, I will be alone in my own room and see what sort of sounds I can make. I think the cruelest thing you can tell a writer is that they are a stillborn version of someone else. I don't want to be anyone else, and I think the most successful people are those who are willing to be a total failure for the sake of being themselves. And maybe I'm not a special snowflake, maybe my writing voice isn't avant-garde or powerful, but I'll never know if I can't tell the other writers to shut up and go away while I work.