Paranoid Poet writes in with some frustrations that I'm sure are not limited to him/her. I'd appreciate any additional comments. I'm a little slammed with work right now, but I'll offer another post with some comments later in the week. Thanks PP.
This is more of a letter, rather than a specific set of questions for you.
Lately, I have to say, I am feeling disillusioned. Luckily, I have your
voice (and others) echoing in my ear that I have done the right thing by
choosing my MFA program. I have chosen it on non-competitive full funding,
location, small size, and to some extent, faculty: the number of poets is
small, but their quality is strong.
This all seems great, right? But the competitive nature of the writing
world, particularly the poetry world, is scaring me, especially because I
am not a very aggressive person. For the past three years, my writing
professors (at a school with a very prestigious MFA program itself, no
less) have been telling me that I could "get in anywhere," or "get a book
now," etc.--that I have the talent and craft to succeed. I never even
applied to Iowa because it just didn't seem like a great fit for me, nor
did most other super-heavyweights that are often talked about on this blog
and elsewhere. I didn't want to apply to a program based on prestige and
"connections," especially because some of the "best" programs don't seem
to have great poets teaching. I wonder why that is. Sometimes it feels
like fiction and poetry programs should definitely be talked about
separately. For example, the poets at Johns Hopkins are not very
impressive (in my opinion, of course), but they seem to have some amazing
fiction writers there.
But more and more the poetry world is seeming like one of networking and
connections. My chosen program, which has a very good reputation in
general, is probably the best for my writing itself, but I won't have as
many opportunities to network as a place like Iowa does. I feel as if I am
going to be on my own in a very competitive field, and that is scaring me.
My work will have to stand by itself. I am the kind of person who usually
strives for the "best" or "top," but I also don't like playing prestige
games, so I decided to put that part of me aside and go somewhere I
thought would be best for my writing itself overall.
--Do you think that an excellent writer will be successful in the end, no
matter where he or she goes for the MFA? That a worthy manuscript will be
picked up for a contest even if he or she never attended a program, never
mind a place like Iowa? Or is this somewhat naive, given the competition?
Sometimes it really does seem like a game. I want to teach poetry writing
(and not just as a way to pay the bills; I really do want to teach). The
fact that you always encourage people to ignore certain "big names" in
favor of other factors makes me think I'm doing the right thing, but
sometimes I wonder if I'm making it harder for myself to succeed. After
all, I am going to a great program for poets, just one that's quieter and
seems more concerned with the art of writing than anything else. In other
words, it seems focused on what it should be! I just ask this question
because I don't remember ever seeing a post where you extensively talk
about the clear presence of connections and networking in the writing
world, and how much attention one should give them in this process.