Po-Bizzy: MFA, ALC, ASS, LOL


you know da kine: the iowa writers workshop alumnus who fails to publish a book, fails to win an award, fails to get the residency, the tenure track job, etc. perhaps the most pitiful creature in po-biz. not necessarily because of the failures (we all fail) but because of their twisted sense of privilege and entitlement and authority.

speaking of, have you read seth abramson’s blog recently? i used to read his blog before he went to iowa, and it was quite a pitiful piece of work. he always had something about Po-Biz to complain–something he found unethical…like non-Iowa friends publishing their non-Iowa friends (gasp! close your ears youngun!). i had to stop reading his blog because it was just too embarrassing…esp his strange lover’s quarrel with the poet joseph massey (sad they broke up, considering they are both fantastic poets). i started reading seth’s blog again after he started going to iowa because he found much success with his book, the mfa handbook (which is in its second printing!!! cha-ching!), some big award, and his mind-blowing DISCOVERY of a once-unknown breed of white american poets that he named “american metarealism” (can you believe seth’s utterance of that name is truly the first time “American Metarealism” has ever been uttered in the history of the internet! moan. okok, take a moment to change your panties!). anyways, i began reading his blog again because he is so much happier now…so feel-good. one backchannel email suggested that seth is finally getting laid…i dont know if this is true or believable but it’s def true that naming a new movement is just as ejasculatorious.

and then there’s the whole MFA ranking thing. yes, very useful to many. as someone pointed out to me, the major flaw in his rankings is that it doesnt take into account location (which should include literary scene vibrancy), teachers, or graduates, or courses offered…but, you know, if you are going to spend hundreds of dollars on apps, do your own damn research. clearly seth’s system is flawed, but all ranking systems are flawed and incomplete.

now, folks have been up in arms about seth’s new venture to make money & help MFA applicants: ALC. one backchannel email suggested that this is the inevitable outgrowth of the professionalization and commodification of poetry. this cant be denied. but i think it’s more true to say that ALC is the natural development of living in Iowa city for two years with not much to do, of feeling the authority and entitlement of the IWW coursing thru your veins, of spending way too much time researching other MFA programs to fully understand why they are so inferior to Iowa.

some people have been saying that abramson & evil co. are not qualified to give such consulting advice. PLEASE! they all went to Iowa! they are OVER-qualified. i mean, think about this: if abramson trains every half-bit poet to write a Statement of Purpose that will get them into Iowa, Iowa will have to begin accepting 3 times as more applicants, and they will get entirely watered down, and will no longer be ranked #1. and then, as these poets begin to fail in the rigors of Iowa, they will have to hire ALC to help them get through Iowa. O it’s a vicious, lucrative cycle.
the Iowa Alumnus Consulting Firm is evil. seriously.

but seriously, seth is evil. i mean unethical. i mean an alumnus of iowa.

maybe it’s true that MFA’s are like ASS-holes (as in everyone has one). shit, even i have one. inspired by barbara’s blog, here’s my story: after receiving a BA in Lit, Creative Writing, and Art History, i spent two years teaching (what i love). i then decided to pursue an MFA in Poetry because i had been writing poetry since college and wanted to 1) learn more about the craft of poetry 2) teach creative writing at the university level. i chose based on location…i was living in Socal and planning to move the Bay Area…so i researched (all by myself!) bay area MFA programs…and eventually applied to San Francisco State, Univ of San Francisco, and St Mary’s (no I could not afford to apply to 20 schools!). i did my writing sample and Statement all by myself (no i could not afford to pay Iowa graduates for consulting). i got accepted by both San Francisco schools (rejected by St Marys) and ultimately decided to attend USF…mainly cuz i planned to work at the same time and their classes (two a semester) are always Tues/Wed 6-9 pm and that doesnt change over the two years…stable schedule. plus, i liked the idea that the cohort was small and you take all req courses with your cohort….i thot that would be good to build relationships in terms of workshop & discussion.

overall, i had great teachers (aaron shurin, rusty morrison, rob halpern, paul hoover, truong tran, susan gevirtz, and d.a.powell). plus, i had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant (2 courses with d.a.powell). i left the program feeling well-trained in both the craft & reading of poetry, as well as in the art of teaching poetry & creative writing. plus, i was helped to produce a publishable manuscript, which became my first book.

and i think that is what is missing in seth abramson’s depiction (or desire) of the MFA as a 2-year “writer’s colony”. one of the reasons i applied to the MFA is because it’s a graduate “terminal” degree: you can teach–anywhere–with this degree. granted, most MFA’s programs dont prepare students to teach (thus producing crappy teachers), nor do most who attend ever intend to teach. we should perhaps differentiate between MFA programs that are training programs, and those that are “low-residency” or non-training MFAs. so much diversity of programs and experiences.

i too advise/mentor many young writers who are thinking about pursuing an MFA. i always ask, do you want to someday teach creative writing? and where do you want to live? i offer to look at their writing sample (for free) tho i never offer to look at their Statement…who cares about the statement.

so yes, i find seth’s consulting firm a bit distasteful. and think about which young writers can afford such a “service”? think about which young writers can afford to apply to 15-20 schools, as seth consults. i know many pacific islanders who ask me about MFAs can’t afford either.

so someone tell me why an organization like the ACENTOS FOUNDATION will offer FREE, OPEN TO THE PUBLIC writers’ workshops in the Bronx (with some of the most respected writers around as teachers) and a group of recent alumni from IOWA set up a consulting firm and charge moneys to help young writers.

i wonder. lol.



15 thoughts on “Po-Bizzy: MFA, ALC, ASS, LOL

  1. Palabra, c st p. The only thing: you could have gone to SFSU and we may have been colleagues or at least had a semester of overlapping time! Grr! Imagine what possibilities that could have had!

    Still, yes and yes and yes on the things a lowly MFA applicant can actually do for her/himself when s/he really just wants to learn and expand, even if s/he can only afford to apply to very few programs.

    And yes and yes and yes on what free and low cost workshops community arts orgs offer – this is what we should be supporting, helping promote, etc. That's the part of "po-biz" I appreciate the most: gift economy, accessible resources and venues, and I should add, the rigorous quality of many of these.

    (word ver: torkshe)

  2. When I got my MFA I was blown away at how rich the students were. They went to these fancy colleges that cost more than my parents made in like 2 years. They were also all white. I think I saw 3 black people in Montana. I came from UCLA so this was a real change. A lot of them wrote very white poems about living in small white places. When I left Montana I moved to San Francisco as fast as I could. I wish Seth would have written their poems because maybe they would have been more interesting.

    Seriously, anyone who is so naive as to think that there is some sort of "purity" in the application process needs to be in the poetry world for about 2 more weeks. I think Seth is super smart to cash in on this. Frankly, I hope that he writes the poems for the applicants as a neat postmodern experiment.

    Rich kids will get ahead in the poetry world simply because the poetry world tends to reflect the social sphere that created it.

    But thank god the poetry world has nothing to do with poetry.

  3. b,

    i totally wish i knew you back then! we wouldve rocked the house!

    yes and yes–i love all the comm arts org, as well as the ethnic arts org that give free to low cost help to many many writers. they deserve our support, not some expensive consulting firm.


  4. sandra,

    wow–LA to MT is quite the difference! the program at USF was quite diverse…tho there was a semester when i was the only male poet in class. and most of my classmates were actually all working at the same time…again, USF if a good program for those who also want/have to work during their MFA.

    yeah, i totally agree re: "purity" in the app process. sad but true about the social sphere & poetry.

    and yes thank god that poetry can free itself from the po-bizzy!

    p.s. enjoyed your book!


  5. Seth,

    You must at some point admit to being obsessive. How else could it be that you show up here, railing against Massey, an old foe? You must remember what an ass you were back then, right? I mean, it's old news. You were really rotten. You can't stand the idea that in the end you are a suck poet and a suck mind. You have the bonafides, the IA MFA, the Poetry magazine award, the POD book, but seriously, how much more bullying are you going to engage in to ensure your rep? Have fun typing 5K responses to this post.

  6. joseph! you're alive!

    ah, so that's what happened. how innocuous.

    nothing wrong with a little hetero-man-crush.

    p.s. i LOVE your book.
    xoxo, call me!

  7. seth,

    is that not what happened? i'm so confused. LOL!

    the new white thing is as cool as the new white metarealism!


  8. Seth,

    Let me offer some non-constructive feedback. You're a fucking douchebag! Love ya, buddy!


  9. tony, i'm all about constructing feedback!

    joseph, it's cool–better to do so before *someone* threatens legalese


  10. Craig, I've just been catching up with your blog. I'm dying with laughter reading this. Unbelievable. I feel way less sad about this office life now. Thanks! Hope you are well. xo

  11. haha so good to hear from you! glad to bring some sunshine into the office 😉 hope to see you soon–and will be in touch soon about your chappy chap!


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