Monthly Archives: August 2010


My poem “Deepwater” is now available to read at Poets For Living Waters. And here’s my statement of conscience:

In Nicherin Buddhism, which I practice, there’s a concept called “esho funi” which means “oneness of self and environment.” What happens in our environment is a reflection of what is happening within us – individually and collectively. The destruction we have created in the Gulf, I believe, is a manifestation of a deeper malaise: a tendency toward self-destruction; why else would we continually disrespect and destroy an ecosystem that is so crucial to us? Saving the Gulf (in every sense of that phrase) is not only about preserving the integrity of the natural environment, but about saving ourselves. One transformation cannot and will not happen without the other.

Making the MFA Work: Diego Baez

by Daniel Firman

Continuing our series on life (and work) after the MFA, here’s a brevity by Diego Baez, a 2010 graduate of Rutgers-Newarks Creative Writing Program:

I think it’s important to speak less of the MFA per se, than of everything that went into my receipt of what some people consider a terminal degree, others a waste of time, and yet others a conspiratorial moneymaking scheme endemic to ENG Departments nationwide (more on that).

It would seem the only intrinsic value any graduate degree can possess must follow from the time spent in pursuit thereof. And it’s of course impossible to separate energy and effort and yes financial investment (both in tuition paid and income lost, if you wanna look at it that way [that is, I left an incredibly low-stress, albeit not always rewarding but rather well-paying 9 to 5 for a stipend and $500/credit hour, and tried to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the continental US]; I prefer to think of it as a redirection of funds) from the two years I spent in Newark. Some of this I think starts to get at the relationship between the MFA and my career.

Desclamatory interpolation: most of this will be way too long and probably pretty boring, but I’m having a hard time summarizing or saying anything “that will suffice.”

Depending when you read this, I’m either unemployed or hopefully teaching, but probably working at writing centers in one or more of Chicago’s City Colleges. In that sense, my degree hasn’t done much in terms of providing job prospects. I was this close to signing a contract (you can’t see it, but I’m suspending the tips of my index and thumb about an inch apart) with the ENG Dept. at Harold Washington to teach two courses in what they call Developmental or remedial Comp, exactly the kinds of courses I taught at Essex County during grad school. But when my interviewers returned from a visit upstairs to clarify some Administrative fine print, they informed me that, unfortunately, a new district-wide policy prevents the hiring of applicants with only an MFA (nevermind my two years’ experience). So, strictly- and technically-speaking, no, my MFA hasn’t advanced my career. In fact it actually prevented me from getting a job for which I’m otherwise qualified.

(Since I don’t know how easy it is to format footnotes for a blog post, I’ll include as an aside here what I think is a pretty important clarifier: HW’s refusal to hire MFAs has nothing to do with low-level Admins or my alma mater or really even me [though that’s kinda thorny and debatable]; the departmental co-chairs were all about hiring me; whatever committee or Board comprises this “district” polices who gets hired by whom, not the future hire’s colleagues and fellow academics. I.e., the circumstances inhibiting my hiring have more to do with some ugly intersection between the bureaucratic Academy and art, about which I’ll abstain from saying anything more here.)
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by Jeff Bark

Kudzu by Saeed Jones

I won’t be forgiven

for what I’ve made

of myself.

Soil recoils

from my hooked kisses.

Pines turn their backs

on me. They know

what I can do

with the wrap of my legs.

Each summer,

when the air becomes crowded

with want, I set all my tongues

upon you.

To quiet this body,

you must answer

my tendrilled craving.

All I’ve ever wanted

was to kiss crevices, pry them open,

and flourish within dew-slick


How you mistake

my affection.

And if I ever strangled sparrows,

it was only because I dreamed

of better songs.

(This poem originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Ganymede, edited by the late John Stahle.)

Making the MFA Work: Zachary Pace

by Mathew Cerletty

I recently got in touch with several friends who have graduated from MFA program in the last few months or years. Essentially, I was interested in two questions: (1) What are you doing now to pay the bills? (2) Do you feel that the MFA helped you move forward in your career or was the value entirely intrinsic/artistic?

These are questions, I think, everyone deserves honest answers to and I will be posting responses over the next few weeks. If you’re interesting in participating in this discussion, just let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Zachary Pace received his MFA from Sarah Lawrence in 2010. Here’s are his thoughts on making the MFA work:

1. Though it barely pays the bills, I’m an editor/publicist at a small press in Brooklyn called Akashic Books, publishers of literary fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Not that I expected to strike gold — I was aware from an early age that my life’s work would involve producing books, which has never been the most lucrative career path. In the fall I’ll begin freelance work with Edmund White, transcribing his new novel as he dictates it to me, offering my editorial suggestions.

2. The MFA was beneficial both professionally and privately, and continues to be so — it’ll enrich every day until the end of days. Of course the network was helpful to beginning a career, as the MFA program provided opportunities to meet people I wouldn’t have dreamt of meeting otherwise; people invested in guiding and supporting young ambitious writers on their paths.

Most importantly, the MFA program is where I began seriously thinking about my intentions for writing. CP Cavafy wrote, “In the loose living of my early years the impulses of my poetry were shaped, the boundaries of my art were plotted” — that very accurately describes my experience at Sarah Lawrence. With the freedom to spend entire days ruminating, and endlessly talking shop with fellow writers, I began to form (nebulous) ideas about what I wanted to accomplish in the (perhaps foolish) discipline of making poetry and sharing it with the reading world; ideas I continue to (and will) brood over (forever).