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grad school program advice:

1. dont get in debt over it, teach your way thru or get grants

2. academic creative writing programs are a pyramid scheme, cranking out would be writers by tens of thousands who have some expectation they will have academic jobs teaching creative writing but there arent any (and even where those jobs exist, they may degrade the would be writers ability to write useful, interesting work—look at how many CW professors there are in any given urban area, and look at their low level productivity, look at the minimal stuff they write—)

3. an mfa program is a two year hiatus from ‘the real world’ where you get a chance to meet like-minded sparkly-bright young would be writers, some small percent who will later do actual writing, like maybe 15% or less, it’s a chance to spend two years focused on being artistic and talking about aesthetics and politics/economics of aesthetics

4. but you should know that for you to function long term as writer you need to develop a poetics or aesthetics related to some actual community “in the real world” and not only functioning in the hothouse of academia—that’s a question MFA programs never address, which the aspiring writer faces before grad school, and then after

5. often, for example, poetry programs don’t even note or address simple community-related topics or issues such as giving public readings and developing some idea of local audience;fiction programs don’t address publishing beyond the idea of getting an ny agent to peddle your stuff—their thinking is often subconsciously and not, aligned with corporate publishing out of nyc: which is to say academic MFA ideas for writer-reader relationship are often hierarchical, business-oriented, traditional, restricted, ossified, staid or undynamic, undialectical, irrelevant, and that inflects their teaching instruction, since often MFA “instruction” consists of polishing or packaging poems and fiction as products to sell at auction in NYC, adding subtracting phrases and ideas, adding and subtracting fiddly little parts to commodify the writer’s vision into saleable product—which is not to say that isnt useful, sometimes (but not all the time)

6. my daughter did her undergrad at the california maritime academy, got her third mate’s coast guard license, went to arctic to work tugboats and made in her first four or five months out of college the same money i make in a year after 3 decades teaching, i’m just saying—

7. i recommend you keep your independence of mind, regardless of major field in grad school. your poetry and ultimately any originality as a thinker depends on that—on not just becoming a functionary academic bureaucrat cowed into conforming to the tiny prevailing breezes at some little college. (many academics think if they don’t speak their fear, they can be unafraid—but they remain afraid. few walk outside the lines. that’s death to creativity of any kind.)


wheerever you are, seek out and value local intellectuals of every kind in the community (outside of academia), whether they are old cranks who read piles of newspapers or bookstore owners or community activists running community centers or journals, garrulous beer drinking porch sitters or old ladies who run reading circles or wannabe writers or idealistic students or any original thinker who happens by. rudimentary, frank, rude, and ordinary discourse from varied democratic viewpoints has to have some part in our production, in our process, in our thinking.


 it’s true that to remain intellectually alive, you gotta participate somewhere, some way. universities are the system of monitoring and controlling that. certainly make use of their facilities, but don’t deed them total ownership of your mind…


September 2013