November 16, 2009

Gilding the Funnel

The Poems Out Loud blog of W. W. Norton has just posted my take on the whole kerfluffle over MFA rankings. Here's an excerpt from "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making: Life Outside the Poets and Writers ‘Top 50 MFA Programs’"...


Given to the language of intoxication, as so many writers are, I think of the writer as a wine bottle. The label is your career—magazine credits, books, prizes—the place where you brag and brand. The liquid is your sloshy, messy, creative self.

An MFA program is just the funnel. It’s a transport of bulk resources, pre-vintage, readying you for future pours. For some the funnel is an expensive tool, monogrammed, sides pitched for maximum efficiency. For some the funnel has as many kinks in its tubing as a beer bong. Either way, the funnel is just a preparatory stage; if it makes it on the label at all, it is in the fine print of “Distributed by…”

Your degree does not describe who you are as a writer. If it does, that’s not a good thing. So why all this hoopla and indexing? Why do people keep gilding the funnel?

Read the rest of the essay here.

9 comments:

jeannine said...

Really enjoyed this article. I agree with you - it's not med school, it's not law school, it's a freaking degree in creative writing! Why all the obsession with rank? Why not go with the place you love, the faculty you trust, the program flexible enough to let you work (key for me, too)? Because, no matter which program you go through - or whether you go at all - you can still be a real writer.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

I think most creative writing undergrads (versus those of us who came to writing from less traditional places, or those who really had their shit together when they were 20) probably don't have the faintest idea which place they'd love, who the faculty is where, etc. I think that's why the discussion of the nuts and bolts of programs is important--not as a guide to what you should think, but what you should at least think about. Carefully considered rankings are best as a way to get into looking at programs, not as the end result or a bible.

Collin Kelley said...

Great column, but makes me even more resolute that I will NEVER seek an MFA. I'd rather be shot.

Bernadette Geyer said...

Yay! Here's to doing it wrong!

Justin Evans said...

I've been doing most everything I do as a write the wrong way. But then, most everybody already knew that. I hadn't even heard of an MFA until after I graduated from college and had my first teaching job. See? Wrong again!

Marie said...

Ahem. Any time spent with Buffy could never be considered squandered.

Also: Your non-poetry works are especially impressive vis-à-vis your sub-par MFA program.

Very much enjoyed.

Jehanne Dubrow said...

Sandra, such a great essay. You had me amen-ing (and laughing) the whole way through. As Bernadette says, here's to doing it wrong!

Jessie Carty said...

i loved your article and it got quite a few great comments when i posted the link on facebook..mostly involving drinking. i loved getting my MFA but mostly because i am introverted and it forced me to build a wonderful writing community

Greg said...

Hey Sandra! You got linked from Poetry Hut blog today!
http://www.poetryhut.com/wordpress/
(Scroll WAYYY down.)