I was thrilled to see D.A. Powell tweet about an MFA being impractical:
OK, yes: in fairness, he labels his advice impractical, not the MFA (and in the article itself he calls the reasons people choose MFAs “impractical,” not the degree). He thinks they’re a good idea. I do, too, of course (and thank goodness because I’m finishing one up!).
Criticisms of MFAs are a dime a dozen. Plentiful. Not hard to find. And cheap. Yes, really. Those criticisms make me cranky, and that’s why I really love Powell’s post for AWP. Instead of jumping through hoops to argue the typical points, he tells it straight: “Wouldn’t we be better off in pharmaceutical programs? You can’t eat an MFA, and the attempt to do so is ill-advised.” In other words, “Grrrrl, don’t quit your day job.”
And (Powell, again): “Your MFA experience will be both good and bad if you’re lucky, and both are instructive.”
And: “The MFA program is like life—what you can get out of it is what you can put into it.”
So “why the hell wouldja” spend that kind of money, dedicate that many hours, travel that distance, deal with so much criticism, etc., etc.? For Powell, the allure isn’t the abilities and credentials that one may (or may not) have at the end of the course of study. The attraction is this:
The MFA program is as good a place as any to live in paltry condition and to concentrate all one’s physical energy on the conjuring of one’s senses through that most holy vessel, the written word. Isn’t that what you’re looking for, after all, in an MFA Program? Fellows of like madness.
Your teachers are on the same journey you are, although often they may seem to have figured it all out. We haven’t. I am amazed that poetry should have any instruction at all. And yet it truly helps.
The attraction is community. The attraction is commitment and dedication.
That poetry should have any instruction at all. Fellows of like madness. It’s as good a place as any.
Yes, I do know that there are other kinds of community and that they are plenty mad. I have found great opportunities for support and guidance and growth in writers’ groups, workshops and open mic scenes. But for me, I wanted an MFA community in addition.
The explanation of my decision to get an MFA has as much to do with “just because I wanna” as it does with anything else. It’s pure indulgence. Like romance. Like colored lanterns. Like wind chimes, tall boots and fancy cheese. Oh, yes: I wanna.
Want to read more about the defense of the MFA? My own honest reasons:
& here’s what David Foster Wallace had to say about this issue (from Doug Glover who teaches in an MFA program) —