Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

Some Essential Skills for Leaving the MFA

May 07, 2018

photo credit of Daniel Schultz

By Colorado Review Associate Editor David Mucklow

The end of the MFA is an inevitably strange experience, full of sort of empty landmarks of finality­­­­: turning in your thesis, defending your thesis, writing your last paper, grading your last paper, attending your last class, having your thesis formally accepted by the graduate school (a task more arduous than you would think), and then, I guess, graduation . . . getting a job? So overwhelmingly not: getting published, a sweet residency, or a first book. The accumulative nature of these landmarks is supposed to be a ritual of completion, but is instead more often an exhausting reminder of the always-present future that is so convenient to not look at.

I am especially bad at this because I am young and lack direction in terms of a career (yes, I am also a poet). Though, this is not at all due to lack of preparation. I have learned so many skills at CSU, and here at the Center for Literary Publishing (CLP), from copyediting and cover design, to an intensive writing practice and critical understanding of the striking contemporary relevance of Homer. I don’t necessarily want to pursue an academic career, or a publishing career, but there are so many other important non-career-specific skills I’ve learned here that are useful to my life as I move on from the MFA.

Using a calendar

While hungover from post-workshop beverages during the second week of my first year and after arriving slightly late to my shift at the CLP, our wonderful leader and editor explained to me the necessity of having a calendar in grad school. I was resistant to this for perhaps a month—trying to remember due dates, reading dates, times of classes, when to actually eat meals, etc.—until I gave in, and started using a calendar, and life became much easier.

Appreciating poems on their own terms

Many of the poems we see—in the queue, in workshop, even those in books—have small and secret lives. Even though many poems that I’m excited about at CLP and pass on for possible publication may get rejected by other readers or editors, I can still appreciate my own engagement with them, even if others didn’t ultimately see the same excitement in them I did. Reading poems, whether they’re iconic works, or early budding notes, is a practice of gratitude to words and the world, and is essential to continuing to write and engage with poetry.

Being involved with community

Pretty much just see my friend Emily Harnden’s previous post about this. Being a part of this lovely MFA and Fort Collins community, through readings and workshops and friendships, is such an important thing to continue practicing and appreciating: http://coloradoreview.colostate.edu/the-value-of-belonging-to-a-creative-community/

Juggling many roles

I have done tons of jobs in my life (the year before attending the MFA program, I worked as a carpenter, ski lift operator, warehouse worker, ranch hand, and professional road-tripper/social media coordinator). This has carried into my life here, where even in this final semester, I have guest-taught classes, directed an internship, taught poetry to kindergartners, led undergraduate workshops, worked as a research assistant and editorial assistant, coordinated a reading, and, of course, continued to be a student and a poet. It can be easy to overdo it with commitments, but all these things have been great opportunities to learn how to balance skills and perspectives, and (as above) use a calendar.

I truly don’t know what I’ll be doing next month, or next year, and that uncertainty is its own anxiety that a diploma will never solve. But I know that these kinds of skills will help me with whatever I end up doing, and especially so, will continue to make poetry and writing a part of that.

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