poetry MFA summer residency, days 1 & 2

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my dorm room at ashland university for the creative writing/poetry MFA summer residency
my dorm room at ashland university for the creative writing/poetry MFA summer residency

in case you missed my earlier post, i’m at my first summer residency for ashland university’s creative writing MFA.

it was raining when i drove i-90 across a small corner of pennsylvania and into ohio, and it was cold and at least partly cloudy much of the weekend. at first, after nearly three weeks of terrible 24-hour heat in albany, it was a relief. but then wearing a sweatshirt in late july felt like a disappointment. among the things i fear in life is missing out on summer.

day one of the residency (saturday) was mostly about getting settled on campus and meeting — and drinking with (yes, already!) — fellow students. i can tell you that dorm life, as a 41-year-old, is quite a trip. sunday morning, for example, it took me three times back and forth to the shower before my little basket had in it everything i needed. sunday afternoon, i got scolded by a cafeteria lady for trying to bring a turkey sandwich back to my room. and my life-long confusion with keys and locks and swipe cards is quite the liability.


but already there is this sense that this has nothing to do with my real life. i mean that in a good way. it feels “away.” that’s not to say it will remain separate. i mean, the point is to gather up some tools and techniques and go home and use them. but i feel like i’ve been here a long while, even though it’s been just over 24 hours. i don’t think i’ve ever had an immersive experience like this before… totally outside day-to-day responsibilities and the people i know. it’s bizarre — alternate universe bizarre.

that’s helped along, i think, by the fact that ashland, ohio, itself, seems like a typical town. it could be anywhere. it’s not like a get-away at a well-known city or beach or landmark where we’re experiencing something already known with the expectations that carries. *we’re* the attraction here, this gathering of writers. for us, *this* is what’s happening… and really nothing else. we are inside this “anyone lived in a pretty how town” place. we are within the confines of a grassy brick building campus. we are inside lecture halls, dining facilities, dorms. we talk only to each other. we consider what’s on the page. we are inside our own heads a lot.


day two (sunday), the first-year students like myself had program orientation, and the course material itself started, as well, with both a craft seminar (on perception and vulnerability in poetry/CNF) and a reading (brian doyle).

a workshop on perception and vulnerability to kick-off my MFA residency? i guess it’s not just the NSA who listens to our conversations (i expect to be taken in for “questioning” soon, by the way, about photos i’ve texted; don’t judge me. lots of y’all will be waiting in that line of shame, too). i think the writing gods must be listening in, as well.

one of the standing jokes between me and my boyfriend is about carolee being a (not-so) tough girl. i’ve never felt more vulnerable. and we’ve talked about how that’s a good thing. the opening up. the going with it. the trust.

i’ve also never felt more vulnerable in my writing.

except that’s not quite true. this is true: i feel vulnerable about my writing. and that’s different than being vulnerable in my writing. it’s been the year of the blog stalker. it’s been the year of the heckler. and so i feel that my writing makes me – and those i write about – vulnerable. but i haven’t been using that very powerful emotion into the work itself. and i haven’t been using it to invite the reader in, to share in the experience. i haven’t been using it to extend the work beyond myself and connect with the reader. (that was one of the points brian doyle made in his talk/reading.)

so day 2 & a couple Very Big Somethings to Consider:

  • put vulnerable moments (back) into my poems. somewhere along the way, i’ve been censoring them before they even get on the page.
  • make the poems about something outside myself.

that’s not to say, by the way, i’m using my notes to develop a formula each and every poem must follow. these are just considerations. i’m not capturing them as rules. they’ll be good for some pieces. but they won’t make sense every time.

and of course, the number one takeaway for me is the “butt in chair” reminder. what have i been thinking? do the time, red. do. the. time.


one friend told me to knock off these “manifestos” about writing and just find the poems, but i’m using the blog to capture the experience and also to burn into my brain some of what resonated. i guess it’s a little bit like copying down your spelling words 10 times to secure the proper order of their letters. of course, i’m not sure i’ll keep up with the posts. i have homework. and i have socializing to do, too.

i may just take notes and write them later. or not at all. i’m just puttering away at something every day. i’d like some poems (and i *am* working on that). but i’ll take blog posts, too.

i’m easy. duh. even the NSA knows that.


total number of books purchased so far: 2. (expect that number to climb, btw.)

number of times i’ve hit my head on some part of the bunk bed: 4. (expect that number to climb, too. #slowlearner)


  1. Gee, on second thought (or third, or whatever), if you keep sharing what you are learning (or picking up) during your residency, maybe I won’t have have to shell out money for an MFA, I’ll just glom what you are learning.
    Keep at it!

  2. I called over to my daughter, “When you take food from the cafeteria, do you get in trouble?” She said, “You just have to be sneaky about it” 🙂 (hence, her purse?)… Like your details…

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