Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Confessions
A commenter today called me bitter, and there’s some validity to that observation. I have a confession: though I’ve written posts like this—echoing the criticism of the specialized poetry industry fed by the proliferation of MFA programs—I would love to spend a few dedicated years focused on writing.
An MFA increases the chance you’ll get the velvet rope unhooked. In defense of this process, I found this post by Julie Schumacher.
MFA programs are proliferating. Currently there are 71 MFA programs in the U.S., as well as another 112 programs that offer an MA in English with a concentration or emphasis in Creative Writing. A conservative estimate would suppose that more than 800 MFAs are conferred each year.
This fact is bemoaned on a tiresome and regular basis in book reviews, essays, and cultural commentary. The universities are churning out similar approaches and similar minds; workshops are producing writers cloned like Dolly the sheep. The ultimate fear seems to be that (god forbid) we will have too many writers. A poet surplus. An excess of essayists.
I find myself unintimidated by this scenario. Imagine the worst: having finished your MFA, you continue to revise your manuscript, slipping pieces of it like slivers of your heart into the mail for publication, and in the meantime you land a job as a technical writer. Your cube-mate reveals himself to be a poet, posting snippets of Akhmatova by the coffee urn. Your supervisor is a lover of metaphor. Each of them harbors an inner life, and together all of you hope for larger things. Is this so bad?
Put that way, sure, sounds great. But then there’s the cost. If you read Julie’s whole defense, it’s promoting a specific program that offers 3 year fellowships. Not every MFA program works that way. The price tags can be steep.
Time like that for writing is a privilege, one I’d like to experience some day.
And crashing at an anarchist collective for cheap would also be a blast, though from what I hear, that chance is on its way out.
So with that personal context in mind, I pulled an anthology of American Poets of the New Century from the shelves, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin (Sarabande Books, 2006) and found this poem by Suzanne Wise, titled simply Confession. Enjoy!
I had my faults.
I had my so-called desires.
I remained open to temptation.
I argued with my colleagues.
I did not reach 100 percent
in my assignments. But I was no pry
pole, I was subsidiary. I was aspiring
to cog. I wanted to be a gullible
sheep or a rowdy-dowdy shepherdess
or a shamefaced sheepdog.
When I learned what I had to be,
I sat down on my luggage set
and wept. Then I unpacked. I decorated.
I raised the roof. I flew my kite.
I removed all the skulls and thieves.
I told my wise leaders where to sponge.
I was less than resistant. I was more than bold.
I was beyond naked. I was technicolor.
I was a brilliant butcher, an innovative
streetwalker, a saucy sales manager.
I knew a good stogy, a fine lace teddy.
I lived for love. I erred accordingly.
I assumed the world condoned my stunts.
It’s clearer today. I was misunderstood;
I was in the know everyone else wanted
out of. Today there are no traces
of erasures, and no qualms, no real
wrongs. I made judgements for the best
and by the standards of the time.
Now that it’s over I must beg
for attention. I have been robbed
of the limelight that comes with
responsibility. I can only imagine
how hard it must be for you
to believe me, I mean, to hold
blame. I mean, to be you.