First, I'd say the week of the MFA residency was rushed and hellish. Every moment on campus felt like I was being followed by a swarm of bees. Like every fire alarm in the city had been pulled. I saw a dude's sweat drip into his coffee, followed by his creamer. Loose leaf paper wandered the school, looking lost. It coagulated in the thresholds of every door. I imagined it clogging, blocking students and lecturers, piling them up in fleshy messes through the halls, only to break and seize, giving the institution a mild stroke.
I'd planned my entire week around poetry. Twelve hours of poetry, bees and paper. I fetishized the MFA itinerary. I thought about Louisville erupting from the inside, flooding Bardstown Road with writers and coffee and name badges. I'd been to music festivals and comic conventions in Texas; this would be smarter and cooler and radder. It was gonna be Wonder Boys in real life. Everyone would be meditative and intense and challenging. I anticipated getting my ass kicked in some style lecture for my juvenile comments, and I was excited.
The first day, “Ways of Seeing”. I sat next to you. We were listening to someone tell us how to brainstorm. I heard you giggling and scribbling. I thought about leaning over, stealing an idea you had, then putting it in this paper to impress you. Half way through my glance I realized “I wont be able to read it anyway”. I immediately starting taking notes twice as fast. I was racing you. Out scribbling you. The lecture sounded like a scribble. I was told to transcribe entire chapters of my favorite novels. To cut poems into paper puzzles and move them around on my carpet. To do any sort of awkwardly contrived trickery in an attempt to coax timid pieces of writing from our stomachs.
I began to worry. A fear arose from my paper, up into my face. Being less dense than air, it floated out over every listener. It was an inky smog. A cartoonish speech bubble, burped from a notebook. It said “Snake Oil”. It began to drip. I wrote the rest of my notes with it.
My cynicism can be a rather haunting specter. Something of a nagging cough. It drags me outside to smoke in the parking lot. It helps me predict the countless ways this next week could possibly suck. My itinerary looks less like a spank mag and more like a “To Do” list. I listen to Kanye West, eat an apple and smoke again while sitting on a rail next to the library. I decide to have my poems bright and ugly like neon fanny packs.
Diane Aprile is standing behind a podium reading down into her chest. She wrote this story while she was on a magazine assignment. My notes say “The 150 yr old Proto Abbey.” I remember listening to her and thinking “I'm not going to remember this.” I don't. When thinking about it, I see my newly disappointed self staring blankly at the stage, unable to take notes. I remember wanting to meet the people who would like to have stories told to them this way. I remember imagining this book's cover. It's of a book on an endtable that is covered in a lacy doily, surrounded by candles. Vaseline was on the lens when they took the photo. The piece moved arduously through vanilla images of boring landscapes. Everything worried me.
Greg Pape was next. He was supposed to read poetry. In actuality, it was a story. No matter what he says. It has something to do with being young and hurting himself somehow. I remember an image of blood whirling in the bathroom sink. In my notebook, under his name I wrote : “what are you trying to make me feel? If I feel it, will I be less bored?”
As Jody Lisenberger shifted through her papers on the podium, I was answering several different text messages. I was eating part of an apple and a NutriGrain bar. I was doing nothing that could be mistaken for paying attention. She starts cussing. I look up. Her story is two women arguing in a kitchen, after the funeral of a man who has committed suicide. Someone was gay and someone else covered it up then someone killed themselves. The room was sweaty and anxious. The women were in real pain. It was a great story. I wrote : “wonderfully caustic at points”.
The rest of the readers were more of the very painful same. Instead of listening to them, I spent the time reflecting on my poetry. I tried figuring out what exactly it was that made them so boring. I began to worry I was too. Boring in a way I couldn't detect.
Philip Deaver is a poet. He is in front of me, smothering me in the most overwhelming narrative I have ever heard in a poem. Here, I think about poets incessantly recording their lives. Breaking bits and pieces of their experiences into nicely rounded morals. They constantly reflect. Their existence is one meta narrative. That wasn't a metaphor. Here, I'm deciding to be even more bizarre with my pieces. I start to worry about being too dada. I think about all the postmodern pranksters. I think about Koons sculpting famous pets of pop stars, then doing his porn star wife. I write down this quote from Jim Kuntsler : “Irony was the ethos of the 20th century. In the future, it'll prove to be a luxury we can't afford. This shit isn't funny anymore.” He's talking about peak oil. I thinking about peak art. I feel pretty moderate.
The first day of the residency is over. Casey pokes his head in through the double doors at the other end of the auditorium. He sees the table of snacks and water and reading assignments. He grabs a bag of goldfish, waves at me and walks back out.
I can't honestly say the rest of the week was much different. I went to a few graduating student lectures. They all kinda meshed together, like a week of book reports. Langston Hughes' biography. Nature poems. Short films that inspired shorter poems. I listened in as the students prepared to go to the Speed Museum. Writing poems about art about poems about art. The entire week felt that way. A simulacrum. The handouts were copies of copies.
I started to worry about being a writer. I thought about my craft, and smoking, and my girlfriend, back home in Texas, all summer. Kanye West. I was not looking forward to the student readings.
I was at the student reading. I didn't write down any of their names. They washed into one another. I heard stuff about skate boarders from a thirty something suburban mom. An awkward girl in huge gothy raver pants, covered in zippers, read an excerpt from her fantasy novel. It was mostly not-very-creative-non-fiction. I think that might actually be a genre study for the MFA. I was thinking about these students trying out the countless tricks and gimmicks they noted in other lectures. I imagine the goth girl in her pajamas, remixing medieval plot elements on colorful construction paper, on her carpet, with her cats, listening to ambient techno, trying to solve a puzzle.
I should mention Greg Pape again. Sometime during the week, I went to his lecture on “Shaping the Poem”. He was addressing the use of “forms” in poems, to, I don't know, make them better. He kept saying “I like to say analogue forms”. It sounded like a term he had defended in the past. He gave us examples of poems written mimicking the structures of other things, not poems. A recipe. A train conductor. A police report. I suddenly thought the word “ShamWow” then “OxyClean” then “WonderPoemWritingThingy”. This is the only time I addressed a professor, directly, all week.
“Isn't there a concern with these 'analogue forms' dominating a poem, rendering it's voice a little contrived?”
The remainder of the residency was left to readings and other random presentations. The last day, I was to meet up with Mary and Tatum in the unitarian church. They are both nice and nothing like me, something I think they are well aware of. This was the most pleasant day of the week. Everything seemed over. The church was cool and relaxing. The organs and stained glassed. We were here to worship, I don't know, something. Which , actually, is a rather suiting sentiment for a unitarian church.
I sat there, looking at my notes. I drew little robots and filled their thought bubbles with abstract shapes. I'm scribbling over everything. I'm transcribing my favorite Kanye lyrics. Im wishing he had a song called “Snake Oil”. I'm texting random lines of a new poem to friends. I'm looking at the itinerary, thinking about my week, in a church, with some robots and some poems. I'm watching the students file in, taking their seats. I'm listening to a speaker talk about her book tour. I'm reaching into my bag to adjust the name badge on my work shirt. I draw myself, as a robot, in a creative writing lecture. I'm wearing a blue Walgreens polo shirt. I have a speech bubble.
“We Can Still Be Who We Wish We Is”