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Residency day 7

We began the day with Josip Novakovich’s talk on negative motivation in fiction. Again, the large size of the group tended to work against it being a proper seminar. I’m also seeing Josip being fond of using exercises as part of his writing instruction. For me the problem is that these sorts of exercises address problems that I don’t have. Beginning a story is an easy thing for me. I have notebooks full of wonderful opening lines, paragraphs, even pages. The trick is being able to bring this to a complete work. I wonder how there could be an in-class exercise in things like conclusions or revisions.

In the afternoon workshop, we had another large group for the genre workshop. I found the analyses we did of openings to be in some ways helpful, although was a bit embarrassed by the fact that I was familiar with 3/4 of the pieces including the relatively obscure Heliodorus piece.

The afternoon seminar was ”Print Matters” where we visited the University of Tampa Book Arts studio. I mostly spent time with the Intertype operator, and had the opportunity to actually do a bit of keyboarding work on the Intertype. The keyboard of that is a fussier object than I had imagined and it takes a light touch to keep from deploying multiple mats with each keystroke.

The evening reading was Jeff Parker and Arthur Flowers. Parker was the sacrificial lamb who had to be part of a reading with Flowers whose reading was as much performance as reading, with no printed manuscript to work from. Instead, he told/preached/sang his stories. One African-American girl in the audience asked where he got what he did from, and I kept thinking, girl, don’t you go to church? Flowers didn’t acknowledge it, and it might be a case of parallel development of traditions, but what he was doing felt very much a part of the African-American preaching tradition, even if he substituted Yoruba words for the usually Christian terminology.

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Residency day 6

Today began with a seminar by Peter Meinke which seemed to have been better-planned for a small group of poets than the entire student body courtesy of a last-minute cancellation of the opposing talk on experimental fiction. Meinke’s views on poetry are a bit opposed to mine. I stand more with Charles Bernstein, who wrote in “Against National Poetry Month as Such”:

The path taken by the Academy’s National Poetry Month, and by such foundations as Lannan and the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest, have been misguided because these organizations have decided to promote no poetry but the idea of poetry, nd the idea of poetry too often has meant almost no poetry at all. Time and time again we hear the official spokespersons tell us they want to support projects that give speedy and efficient access to poetry and that the biggest obstacle to this access is, indeed, poetry, which may not provide the kind of easy reading required by such mandates.

The solution: find poetry that most closely resembles the fast and easy reading experiences of most Americans under the slogans—Away with Difficulty! Make Poetry Palatable for the People! I think particularly of the five-year plan launched under the waving banners of Disguise the Acid Taste of the Aesthetic with NutriSweet Coating, which emphasized producing poetry in short sound bites, with MTV-type images to accompany them, so the People will not even know they are getting poetry.

The afternoon workshop was the “wildcard workshop” which gave us an opportunity to spend some time in an intimate setting with a different faculty member than was our usual mentor. I chose Maile Chapman, largely because of how much I was intrigued by her narrative point of view choices in Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto. I’m not entirely sure what brought the other eleven students, but the size of the group implied that somewhere, there were one or more mentors with empty or nearly-empty rooms.

The afternoon seminar was Arthur Flowers, speaking largely about Zora Neale Hurston in something that was half lecture half performance. There was a great deal of energy about it and I look forward to hearing his reading tomorrow.

The evening’s readings came from Josip Novakovich and Don Morrill, but since I’m writing this well past my bed-time, I’ll say little more than intrigued readers should read their books rather than the summaries of a weary grad student.

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Residency day 0

This is the first of a set of daily blog posts I intend to write about the residency for my MFA at the University of Tampa. I’m currently on a Southwest Airlines flight from Chicago to Tampa, with a suitcase full of clothes and books, a carry-on with a bunch more books, manuscripts, iPad and laptop, and a banjo in the overhead bin.

I got a thick packet of preparatory reading material leading up to the residency, along with another packet of writings from my peers for the workshops. I’m a little behind on things. I’ve finished all the required readings, but I’d like to finish reading Arthur Flowers’s Good Loving Blues and Lofty Dogmas, the anthology of poets writing on poetics. I also have three stories left to finish my critiques of. I won’t say anything about the stories or details of workshops in my posts since it’s important, I believe, to maintain the privacy of workshop, a privacy as sacred as that of a therapist’s office or the confessional.

I’m curious about how some logistics of the residency will work. We have two genre workshops where we’re meeting all as a single group, plus a wildcard workshop where we spend one session with a different faculty advisor than is our usual advisor. I’m not sure how or if we’ll be able to consider works before the session and if not, how much we’ll be able to do with so little time to both encounter and critique writing.

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