Converse College Low-Residency MFA: A Program to Watch

S.C.’s Only Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing to Hold Open House May 31

Spartanburg, S.C. — Discover why Publishers Weekly named the Converse College Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing “a program to watch” in 2015. Join us at our Open House information session on May 31, 2015 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Barnet Room of the Montgomery Student Center on the Converse campus.

Meet current students, published alumni, and faculty, including Robert Olmstead, Denise Duhamel, Marlin Barton, Leslie Pietrzyk, Susan Tekulve, Albert Goldbarth, C. Michael Curtis, Suzanne Cleary, and program director Rick Mulkey. Learn about the program’s new concentrations in Young Adult Fiction and Environmental Writing, plus scholarship and Teaching Assistantship opportunities, along with information on recent alumni successes in fiction, poetry and nonfiction. Then stay to mingle with current students who are on campus for their summer residency, enjoying live music with Nashville-based folk rock band The Hart Strings beginning at 8 p.m.

More information on the Converse College Low-Residency MFA is available at www.converse.edu/mfa.

About the Converse College Low-Residency MFAConverse Summer 2014 002

As South Carolina’s only low residency MFA program in creative writing, the Converse College MFA offers students opportunities to focus in fiction, Y.A. fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and Environmental writing, plus opportunities to pursue internships in publishing and editing through our C. Michael Curtis Publishing Fellowship at Hub City Press. MFA students may also participate in editing opportunities with the program’s national online literary magazine, South 85 Journal, and pursue teaching opportunities with our Teaching Assistant program, a unique opportunity for low residency students.

“One of the strengths of a low-residency format is how it introduces students to the real writing life,” said program director Rick Mulkey. “Most writers have family and career obligations in addition to their writing. While students spend part of each academic year on the Converse campus during the residencies, they continue work on their writing and academic projects during the rest of the year without disruption from their family and career.  Plus they study in a true mentor/apprentice relationship with a gifted writer. It provides both an intensive learning environment and the flexibility that most of us need.”

Converse MFA faculty members include National Book Critic Circle Award winners, best-selling novelists, award winning short fiction writers and essayists, plus some of the top editors in the country. “In addition to being outstanding writers, our faculty are energetic and dedicated teachers who have been honored for their classroom instruction,” said Mulkey. “In some graduate programs, a student enrolls to discover that the writer she planned to work with only teaches one course a year, or is on leave while the student is in the program. Here you have the opportunity to work with a large number of writers, editors and agents in a very personal mentoring relationship.”

In the last few years, Converse MFA graduates and current students have distinguished themselves with honors and awards including the AWP Intro Award, a Melbourne Independent Film Festival Award, and the South Carolina Poetry Initiative Prize, among many others. In addition, they have published work in a range of literary venues from Colorado ReviewShenandoahPloughshares, and Southern Review to such noted publishers as William Morrow/Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Random House, Negative Capability Press, Finishing Line Press, and others.

REMORSE by Gary Beck

Men of purpled cloisters
I see your heavy robes of 3:00 a.m.
guttered on Fifth Avenue
as the long night passes
to a woman’s frightened scream.
O woman who I love
whose gift is pain,
in my midnight self
I cry in secret horror
at my abusive hands
which give you hurt.
If I could tear my granite chest,
pluck my pulsing love,
you would see my madness die,
the marks of cruel fingers fade.

Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director. Published chapbooks include: ‘Remembrance’, Origami Condom Press; ‘The Conquest of Somalia’, Cervena Barva Press; ‘The Dance of Hate’, Calliope Nerve Media; ‘Material Questions’, Silkworms Ink; ‘Dispossessed’, Medulla Press, ‘Mutilated Girls’, Heavy Hands Ink and ‘Escape to Cyberspace’, Writing Knights Press . His poetry collection ‘Days of Destruction’ was published by Skive Press; ‘Expectations’, Rogue Scholars Press; ‘Dawn in Cities’, Winter Goose Publishing; ‘Assault on Nature’, Winter Goose Publishing. ‘Songs of a Clerk’ and ‘Civilized Ways’ will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His novel ‘Extreme Change’ was published by Cogwheel Press; ‘Acts of Defiance’ was published by Artema Press. His collection of short stories, ‘A Glimpse of Youth’ was published by Sweatshoppe Publications. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.
.

KLEE’S ANGEL by bz niditch

Like moving
the wings
and cloudletsKlee's Angels
of our history
the futurists
turn back to
acknowledge
the high art
embodied
in you,
Angelus Novus
speak to us
of all possibilities
on an unshaven
earth time span
where the voice
of fern and grass
belongs to us,
the ocean is clear
for salmon
whale and dolphin,
unpolluted city masks
now familial
be removed,
for wheat and grains
to again grow
on threshing floors.

 

“When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd

When The Heart WaitsWhen the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions
By Sue Monk Kidd
ISBN-13: 978-0061144899
$10.21 Paperback

More than simply relaying Kidd’s personal journey through the mid-life experience, this engaging piece of non-fiction work takes a closer look at the art of waiting. Rather than avoiding or rushing life experiences Kidd suggests entering and experiencing changes as we are faced with them, even and especially when it is uncomfortable or painful to do so.

Kidd draws on myriad biblical parables and familiar childhood fairy tales and fables to illustrate her well-placed points. Additionally, she builds on philosophies developed by the likes of Jung, Erickson, Campbell and Eckhart and the theology of Merton, St. Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen. The book’s overarching metaphor is that of the metamorphosis of the butterfly, particularly the cocoon stage. More than any other symbol, the cocoon best illustrates the act of waiting while changing, all the while suspended in darkness – a position that requires neither foresight nor action.

In the first of four parts, Entering the Question, Kidd defines midlife as a transitional period between morning, when we develop our relationships with the outer world through ego, and afternoon, when we investigate the inner world. The midlife experience is likened to a time of reinvention and reflection. But regardless of the relative discomfort these realizations may bring, Kidd invites us to view this developmental stage not as a time of burnout, but as a summoning to enter a spiritually deeper life; a difficult choice given our compulsion to keep up with society’s accelerated pace.

In Passage of Separation, the book’s second, and perhaps most important section, Kidd introduces the idea of “diapause,” a concept she discovered while researching metamorphosis of butterflies. She learned that “…caterpillars don’t yield themselves to the cocoon at the same rate. When the moment to spin the chrysalis arrives, some of the actually resist and cling to their larval life. They put off entering the cocoon until the following spring, postponing their transformation a year or more. This state of clinging has a name; it’s called the “diapause.” There’s a natural diapause in the human journey of transformation – a time when we hold onto the self we know. It seems that at the moment of our greatest possibility, a desperate clinging rises up in us. We make a valiant attempt to “save” our old life.

Section three, Transformation, explores the question, “How do we fashion an environment in which we become stripped and stilled, in which the ego patterns of a lifetime begin to move away from the center and our innermost spiritual life is [rebuilt]?” Kidd suggests we look to God by looking within and “weaving an environment of prayer.”

The fourth and concluding section, Passage of Emergence marks the moment when the newly metamorphosed butterfly emerges from its cocoon; when the cocooned soul begins to attempt flight with new wings. Kidd advises that because this is a time of adjustment, continued patience with ourselves during this stage is crucial.

Midlife is a waiting process and features three distinct phases: separation, transformation and emergence. The life of the soul evolves and grows as we move through these three cycles and, as Kidd points out so eloquently, life is full of cocoons. “We die and are reborn again and again. By repeatedly entering the spiral of separation, transformation, and emergence, we’re brought closer each time to wholeness and the True Self.”

Because of varying perceptions on life, no book can entirely capture a midlife experience or provide a definitive guide to any developmental stage of life. Yet I found in Kidd’s writing a kindred soul and found if not answers to, at least comfort in, some of my own burning questions regarding the meaning of life. I especially appreciate Kidd’s constant reminder that both God and the Christ life are within us and her consistent reminders that revealing our True Self is neither instant nor easy. Certainly Kidd’s midlife experience is filtered by some distance and the objectiveness that arrives with writing about such an experience and I suspect that, if her experience was anything like mine is shaping up to be, there are at least a few ugly scenes that have been polished or left out of her book entirely, giving some passages a feeling of romanticism. Still, I recommend her book to anyone experiencing a developmental life-stage or any form of crisis or turmoil. More than a just a helpful guide, Kidd’s book is a worthy companion.

How I Arrived Here by Karen Neuberg

When still young, I left
the safe home of myself
and ad/ventured into
a waiting, twisting thread

of freedom
and misinformation.
The original speck of entry
opened, became my new home,
where I found

I wasn’t a total stranger
to myself. I still carried
my barriers, my fences, walls,
doors, battlements, weaponry,

armor, shields…
At first, they transported.
easily as a cloud of feathers;
but over time they turned
to stone, to ice.

What else to do
but carve and chip
and make the most
of sun and rain.

Karen Neuberg holds an MFA from The New School. Her chapbook, Detailed Still, was published by Poets Wear Prada, and her chapbook, Myself Taking Stage, is newly available from Finishing Line Press.

A Cursory Response to “Against Fogetting” edited by Carolyn Forche’

 

Against Forgetting

Against Forgetting

In the introduction to her anthology, “Against Forgetting,” Carolyn Forché writes that a poem of witness is both “an event and the trace of an event” (33), which suggests that in addition to acknowledging that an event took place, the poem is in and of itself an event. Forché also points out that while the former is rarely entered into voluntarily, the latter most certainly is. Responding to traumatic events over which the poet has little or no control through a voluntary and overt act, such as writing a poem, therefore does at least two things: it acknowledges the event (instead of denying it) and initiates a new event, one that both normalizes the initial event and allows the poet to exert some control over the event’s effects.

Siegfried Sassoon’sRepression of War Experience,” illustrates well Forché’s idea of the poem as an event. It translates the very personal space of a soldier’s mental landscape into recognizable images that bring this specific war experience into the realm of the social. The speaker’s actions, “Now light the candles” (1) and “light your pipe” (10), are as common on the battle front as they are in the living room. Likewise, familiar images like books “Standing so quiet and patient on their shelves” (18) or the garden that “waits for something that delays” (28) harken the cozy atmosphere of home, an image any reader can easily visualize (made all the more poignant by the speaker’s distance from home). Sassoon’s ability to tap into the universal experience of trying to avoid certain thinking patterns is also effectively rendered in lines like “it’s bad to think of war, / When thoughts you’ve gagged all day come back to scare you;” (5-4). The reader, like the speaker (and the moth that inhabits this poem) can all easily “blunder in / And scorch their wings” (2-3) on those gagging thoughts and find themselves “driven out to jabber among the trees” (8). The universality of these specifics can be translated to other traumatic events and could be revised to reflect the experience of a mother with postpartum depression, or a child who is abused by a parent or school-yard bully. But the poem at hand is about neither of these things. We know this from poem’s title as well as such lines as “You’d never think there was a bloody war on!” (34) and “Those whispering guns” (38) (a particularly striking juxtaposition of images). “Repression of War Experience” is a response to a specific event experienced by the poet and is in turn a specific event that is the poet’s experience. The universal language of witness allows us to appreciate another’s experience without diminishing an its distinctness and we understand that this poem is “a specific kind of event, a specific kind of trauma” (Forché 33), separate from our own.

Denise Levertrov illustrates the personal struggles of one who has lost her right arm in “Weeping Woman” by presenting it in simple language. The reader is able to breach the distance between themselves and the speaker of the poem through a series of vivid and carefully chosen specifics. “She cannot write the alphabet any more / on the kindergarten blackboard” (1-2), conveys a true sense of this injury’s debilitating effects on the woman. Being able to write the letters of the alphabet is a fundamental skill for most of us, one we often take for granted. Without it, the woman is infantilized; she has been reduced to status of a young child. The image of the kindergarten blackboard reinforces this idea while also suggesting the woman’s efficacy as a teacher, as a parent or as a vocation, has also been drastically compromised. The line “She cannot hold her baby and caress it at the same time” (6) illustrates the debilitating affects her injury has had on the tender bond between mother and child, a consequence most readers will recognize as a tragedy. Equally disturbing is the observation that the woman “cannot use a rifle” (12) so cannot bear arms to defend herself or participate in the active rejection of the oppression to which she is victim. She is helpless in a way none of us hope to experience. Finally, Levertrov brings the poem into the social context, that “place of resistance and struggle, where books are published, poems read, and protest disseminated,” by observing the complicity of Levertrov’s adopted country, the United States:

Cruel America,
When you mutilate our land and bodies,
It is your own soul you destroy
Not ours.’

firmly placing this poem in the “sphere in which claims against the political order are made in the name of justice” (31)

Forché also observes that “[b]ecause the poetry of witness marks a resistance to false attempts at unification, it will take many forms… [i]t will speak in the language of the common man or in an esoteric language of paradox or literary privilege” (46), to which Ezra Pound’s “Pisan Canto LXXIV” belongs:

The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant’s bent
shoulders
Manes! Manes was tanned and stuffed,
Thus Ben and la Clara a Milano

            By the heels at Milano
That maggots shd / eat the dead bullock (1-6)

exemplifies Forché’s assertion that “[e]xtremity […] demands new forms or alters older modes of poetic thought [and] also breaks forms and creates forms from these breaks” (42).

Against Forgetting” is a seminal, and moving, addition to America’s poetic cannon that preserves and brings to light poems of witness for a broader audience and includes such preeminent poets as Nemerov, Akhmatova, Hikmet and Milosz. In addition, Forché’s introduction effectively refines the definition of political poetry for poets, teachers, critics, and activists in the field. As long as there are humans, there will be acts of atrocity.  Even as I write there are seven countries listed on “Genocide Watch” that are actively exterminating people based on race or religion. As Nemerov aptly observed in “Ultima Ratio Reagan,”

The reason we do not learn from history is
Because we are not the people who learned last time.

We know that we know better than they knew,
And history will not blame us if once again
The light at the end of the tunnel is the train.

While there is much more to discover and learn about the poetry of extremity and the processes behind writing such poetry, Forché’s continues to be the conversation to which poets and critics must refer to and cite for years to come, just as these are the poems that best exemplify the poetry of extremity for the twentieth century.

Three Tanka by SuzAnne C. Cole

summer garden show
at Hampton Court Palace
drunk on color
I pass parking lot sign—
please stagger your way home

***

travel dilemma—
walk faint trails, enter dark caves
trust most strangers
or stay at Howard Johnson’s
safe with other tourists

***
young girls yearning
for status not yet theirs
pinch off fireflies’ gold
adorn grimy fingers
with circlets of light

—-
SuzAnne C. Cole writes in the Texas Hill Country. Both a juried and featured poet for Houston Poetry Fest, she’s won a Japanese haiku contest.