the poetry MFA (or what can be ridiculous and still worthwhile)

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at least half the nights now, the sun takes her heat with her when she goes, a sure sign that it is late august. we’re closing in on fall, and the most sensitive leaves are turning color already. with fall comes the beginning of school — the chaos of homework and sports schedules, the thick clumsiness of early morning, meals on the run.

this fall, it’s not just the boys who are heading back to school. i’ve finally taken the plunge into an MFA program — albany’s very first MFA in creative writing at the college of st. rose. my concentration will be poetry, of course. and for me, it’s a most ridiculous venture, though you won’t find mention of that in the program brochure.

i work full-time. it’s a very good job. i have three busy kids. i don’t have extra cash hidden in my mattress. it will take me 5 or 6 years to complete at the pace i’m able to go. i’m struggling with my schedule now (when can i exercise? when can i cook healthy meals? when can i have extra time with the boys? when can i go out with friends and walk the plaza on the arm of a certain dapper gentleman?) BUT … i believe a thing can be ridiculous and still be worthwhile.

set aside all the debates about MFAs (here’s one defense of the MFA, here’s another defense of MFAs, here’s a great bit of satire on getting an MFA in poetry and here’s one that wonders if an MFA is a bad decision), it’s the next thing i want to do to challenge myself as a poet, and it’s what i love.

do the things you love. do the poems. do the art. do road trips. do new recipes. do half marathons. do the foolish MFA. hell, do the dapper gentlemen, if you like.

if i’ve learned one thing from the last few years, it’s “just. fuckin’. do it.” (not to be confused with the very dull version of that motto from a sneaker company). you don’t need anyone’s permission. nobody else even has to think it’s a good idea.

i don’t mean for this post to turn into a motivational speech (there’s only one thing i hate more than a motivational speech, by the way: a motivational poem – can i get an amen?), but when doing what you want to do is also an act of reclaiming your autonomy …

… honestly? i’m not reclaiming anything. i’ve never had autonomy. i went straight from my parents’ house to college to being married. fast forward two decades, and here i am on my own for the first time. now, things that might otherwise have been acts of rebellion can instead be seen as positive, well-informed steps in building something — just for me.

class starts on tuesday (which is also moving day), and call me a dork, but i couldn’t be any more excited.


  1. I’m doing the MFA to become a better poet and for the sheer joy of learning. I am not changing careers. This will be my third Master’s degree. I figure, after the 6 or so years it takes me to complete it, I’ll be 59. But you know what? I’ll be 59 anyway. I have to do something I want to do. Ya gotta live while you’re alive. See you Tuesday!

  2. Officially happy and freaked out for you – my way of saying Amen. And does the dappled gent have a brother?

  3. It’s like anything else of this nature: you don’t do it because it’s this much practical or that much schedule-able, you do it because you can’t imagine not doing it. And if “it” happens to be exploring your poetic craft with a breadth and depth you’ve never had the opportunity to get before, well, go get ’em. 🙂

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