Four Degrees of Separation

At the wedding reception this weekend, I was introduced to a woman from DC, who was friends with a couple of my friends. She was a DC native and had lived in Minneapolis some time back and came to know my friends who’d gotten married.

“Charles, this is Jessica. Charles used to live in Minneapolis,” our introducer said. (Some of my Minneapolis friends call me Charles.)

“Where do you live now?” Jessica asked.

“DC,” I said.

“Me too. What part?”

“Silver Spring?”

“Me too. What part?”

“By the Metro.”

“Oh my God, me too. I live right off _________ Avenue.”

“Me too!” I said.

“In [Apartment Complex}??”


We swapped building numbers. Turns out she is in the building behind me in the exact same apartment complex. We had to fly 1200 miles to meet neighbors.

Later, we talked about my connection to the U.

“You lived in Middlebrook Hall? When?”

I told her.

“You didn’t know I___ K_____, did you?”

I explained that he was the senior RA when I was there.

“I moved to Minneapolis because I was in a relationship with him,” she said.

My life just does not seem to have six degrees of separation. Further evidenced by the fact that nearly everyone at this reception seemed to have a connection to another guest’s college roommate. The two of them lived two doors down from me in that dorm.

The burning question might be more of a burning itch the poetry world should get looked at

Things I could have assumed about my future before going into an MFA program:

> All it would prepare me to do is teach college.

> I would never look back at approximately 95% of the poems I wrote during those years.

> Although I would learn to put together a book manuscript, I would not write a publishable until I’d written three more manuscripts.

I feel like I was one of the fortunate ones in the end. I had no idea what I was doing when I was applying to programs, and I ended up working with some very student-centered faculty in an expansive, multi-aesthetic embracing program where we were encourage to be colleagues, not competitors, for most of my time there (some external factors did intervene in the end).

I also plunked down an embarrassing amount of money in order to fund that degree. I had a lot of personal debt and went from earning a slightly-above-measley salary in the corporate world to earning room, board, and a miniscule stipend.

It’s no fun thinking about poems when your car loan creditor has your phone number on speed dial, and when you’re wondering if you’ll wake up one morning to discover your only mode of motorized transport in a huge car town has been repoed.

So when I took out student loans, it was partly to pay my tuition, yes, and it was also an attempt to move all of my high interest credit card debt into a consolidated low-interest loan that I will pay off until I’ve completed my dutiful 10 years of service in the government/nonprofit sector–the only good thing George W. Bush did while leading this country.

But when I consider my life following my MFA, I can say with certainty that I would not have the job I have now, nor would I have amassed the many years of leadership and management experience I gathered to get this job, nor would I have gotten the job at ASU that allowed me to get (almost) another master’s degree for free while I worked there that directly contributed to me getting this job.

I call it “Buy one Master’s, get one free!”

And when I think about a comparison of “lost wages” from leaving the corporate world versus what I’ve now earned since, my degree program–and related job experience since–directly contributed to more than earning back anything I gave up. (Except the debt! But thank you, Direct Loans.)

But what about my happiness factor, doing something I love in an industry I love, versus doing something I was kinda interested in for a huge, hulking, soulless corporation that built pretty buildings?

That seems like a no brainer.

But I think most of my relevant education about poetry and writing came after my MFA. My MFA taught me how to devote myself to writing. I used that learned devotion to read voraciously and engage with other writers, and to take myself seriously.

And, well, I can think of at least one non-university place you can do that, for a lot cheaper than the cost of an MFA…

On LOCUSPOINT: Clarifying and expanding

From Eduardo:

The “Phoenix” installment of LOCUSPOINT is up and running. Go have a read. Notice anything? Each contributor has an MFA from ASU or works for ASU. This installment isn’t about Phoenix poets. It’s about ASU MFA poets and the ASU MFA program. That’s not a bad thing. I do like Sean Nevin’s work, and Christopher Burawa’s translations leave me wanting more work by Jóhann Hjálmarsson. Hey, I just noticed Burawa’s bio doesn’t mention his MFA, but I believe he holds an MFA from ASU.

I guess all the worthwhile poets in the Phoenix area have ties to Tempe. This narrow focus is disappointing. Especially after reading Charles Jensen’s introduction in which he mentions the arts community in Phoenix is “rapidly developing.”

If Jensen is only interested in the work of MFA poets then he should’ve enlarged the scope of this installment to include University of Arizona MFA poets. Why? Because the University of Arizona produces much better poets. Period. ASU is just beginning to catch up to the Tucson program.

Hey, nothing is perfect. And Jensen is bringing attention to some good work. I was just hoping to see work by non-ASU poets. But hey, Jensen is fighting the good fight. All I can do is bitch and moan.

Boy, I’m never going to be invited to the ASU Writers Conference now.

From me:
Hi Eduardo,

Thanks for your thoughtful critique of LOCUSPOINT, and for linking to it here. Just be reminded that no edition of LOCUSPOINT ever seeks to be “definitive” of a time or place, but is designed to be a subjective snapshot of an editor’s perception of place. If you look back at other editions, no one ever makes sweeping claims to summarize an entire city or region in seven poets; to event attempt to do so is an exercise in futility.

When I edited Phoenix, I chose work by poets I knew best, people with whom I interacted on a daily basis. Since my professional life centered around ASU, that’s where my focus was. It’s not to say that another poet would choose the same work; I’d expect the opposite.

And, to wit, all the poets in this edition actually do have ties to the Phoenix literary community in a broader sense: all work in arts administrative positions either on a local or national level, and two of them have work that is based in Phoenix.

Just thoughts for you.

* * * *

And to clarify: each editor is allowed to choose if they edit a city proper or a metro area. They choose their own region. I chose the whole metro.

* * * *

I guess I should expect responses like this. The dominant critical mode in literature has been to reject subjectivity. It’s why responses to anthologies often read editorial assumptions and intent from the dichotomy of inclusion/exclusion.

When I think about criticism, I think a lot about something Jeannine Hall Gailey wrote in her blog some time back. Jeannine wrote about, to paraphrase, the impulse to write “sweeping criticism,” criticism that categorizes (in effect, limits) readings rather than expands them or allows for multiple and even competing readings.

Countdown to Mexico: 4 days.

I’m going to Oaxaca in four days to spend some time writing and helping ASU MFA students while they enjoy a writing residency. In the meantime, I am crazy busy:

Wrapping up things at the office so I can leave with a clear conscience
Writing and/or studying for final exams in my Human Resources and Financial Management classes
Getting Arden to the Sun City Puppy Spa (my folks’ house)
Cleaning my house so I can come home to…a clean house
Packing: This is a huge issue; I travel like Diana Ross
Paying my middle-of-the-month bills

I’ll be gone until December 17, but in the meantime, the fabulous James Hall will be guest blogging here to hold your attention and titillate you variously.