Thursday, September 04, 2008

Two Questions from Renee

I need some help with these, especially from poets! -- Tom

I am about to begin my MFA in poetry at
______ University, and I have noticed when I speak with my classmates,
that we talk about poetry in very different ways. While I usually opt
for plainer, layman's terms ("the line could be more musical" for
example), the other students in my class opt for literary terms that I
am not even familiar with. Is there a book you could recommend so that
I can translate their critiques?

My second question: After my MFA, I am interested in pursuing a
master's in literature, in hopes that that degree, coupled with my
MFA, will make me more appealing to universities as I look for a
position. Is this incorrect?



lesley said...

i like the bedford glossary of literary terms. it's complete, straight-forward, and without all that daunting girth!

Unknown said...

I'd recommend NTC's Dictionary of Literary Terms and the Poetry Dictionary. Also, if you can stomach it, Paul Fussell's Poetic Meter and Poetic Form is very helpful (but it's also very dry and confusing on the first several reads).

I'm not positive on this since I don't do hiring, but I believe that a PhD in Lit would make you much more marketable than an MA.

No One New said...

I would also recommend The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics by Lewis Turco.

Jenny Lane said...

I second gulfocasting's recommendation of the Poetry Dictionary. I would also recommend that you simply ask your classmates to clarify their critiques until you become more familiar with the terminology. I know that it can be daunting to feel like you're the only one who doesn't know something, but you're in the program to learn and your classmates are some of your best resources.

Unknown said...

I've never let go of Handbook to Literature by William Harmon and Hugh Holman. Even if it is an older edition of this book--it will give you a definition for any literary term used in poetry and beyond. Great for English majors as a desk reference.

Elizabeth Tussey said...

To address your question about coupling a MA with a MFA-
I would double check this with someone else, but I asked generally the same question to my undergraduate thesis instructor (who holds a MA/PhD in English/Post-colonial Lit.) and he suggested going straight from the MFA into a literary PhD. I'm not sure how sound this advice is, but he seems to know his stuff. Good luck!

Unknown said...

I was wondering about the MFA to MA or MFA to PhD thing myself. And I've heard a million things on the creative writing PhD(it's so new in the field we can't figure out if we need it or we disparage it -- and if we disparage it we frequently do so for conflicting reasons) but I've also been considering a lit PhD. A lit MA doesn't really get you a job anywhere in academia unless it's as a part-time instructor (which is what most people like to do while getting grad degrees) so if you're going to do another degree go with TATERTOT and go PhD

John Peacock said...

Yes, I will have to agree. Part of why an MFA is so appealing to many applicants is because it IS considered a terminal degree for the field of creative writing. This means it is widely accepted as the ideal highest degree of expertise in the field. Having one makes you much more desirable than if you only have an MA. (although only is a terrible word choice, suggesting having an MA is somehow a bad thing).

With that having been said, holding both an MA and an MFA will do little to boost your chances of landing a university position. What you should consider is that in the coming years, many universities may begin to offer a PhD in the field of creative writing. This will certainly change the value of holding an MFA, or pursuing one. Some schools already offer a PhD in the field (check out the University of Denver, for example).

Regardless, if a tenure track university teaching position is what you seek, be mindful of your work and publishing. Publications are the single most important factor in obtaining a teaching position with an MFA in creative writing. Institutions want to know that you can write and that you can do it well. They also want to know that hiring you will bring their institution at least SOME form of notoriety, even if it is to come in the future.

Make yourself as marketable as possible.

Julianna Baggott said...

The PhD is really, I think, what might help most here. An MA is not a terminal degree and so it won't help vault you forward -- as either A. a book would (with only an MFA) or B. a PhD in either CRW (one with a rep for rigorous PhD standards) or a PhD in Lit.

I would not go with the MA, but just my little opin.

Julianna Baggott, Asst. Director FSU CRW