Just one way to unearth your writing…

posted in: Good Advice, The Journey | 4

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Not long after I graduated from college, I set my sights on earning an MFA in writing. Of course, I was twenty-one years old and newly married, therefore more than an MFA, I needed to get a job. Off I went into the world of teaching high school English and, well, my writing was relegated to spiral notebooks that I cracked open after I graded 150 to 200 papers twice each week.

As I got older, the dream of an MFA never went away, but it seemed so impossible. How would I put my life on hold for two-three-four years while I went back to school? How could I ask my partner to uproot his life so that I could go to a program that was four states away? Impossible. But I kept writing. I kept reading.

When I turned thirty-five, I felt like I had reached a point in my life where I either had to make a commitment to my writing or I had to admit that I just wasn’t going to. I started considering an MFA again. I wanted a reason to have my feet held to the fire, deadlines to create or else. I wanted a community of writers who were as serious about their work as I wanted to be. I wanted to learn from poets whose work I admired, who were in the “poetry trenches.” But back then (lo way back then, in 2000), there were just a very few low-residency MFA programs, and when you live in Alaska, the idea that you’re going to fly across the country a couple times each year is a ponderously expensive proposition.

I kept waiting for west coast programs to pop up, and yes, they finally did. I was teaching high school again, and I knew that if I didn’t have some reason to keep writing, I’d let the tide of paper grading and class preparation sweep over me. I did some research, sent out my applications to the still small number of low-residency programs on the west coast, and then I waited for rejections. But instead, I was accepted to all of the places I applied! Yahoo!

Flash forward four years later, and I am standing on a small stage in Tacoma, Washington at Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop, sweating through my dress. After three years of intense work, I am walking away with an MFA, or in this case an empty diploma cover (they did send the diploma later). But what I was really leaving with was:

  • a large group of amazing writer friends who are part of my vibrant far-flung writing community,
  • a group of established writing teachers who were so kind to help me along my way and to this day still help me every chance they get,
  • an incredible education in the theory and practice of writing poetry,
  • a manuscript that I had spent hundreds (and hundreds) of hours creating under the guidance of three talented mentors,
  • a rock-solid writing practice that I follow to this day which allows me to integrate writing into my insanely busy work schedule,
  • a commitment to myself as a writer and to my poetry,
  • a map to a life of words.

Flash forward eight years, one published book (with a chapbook on the way this fall and a new book on the way next spring), countless hours reading and writing poetry, countless hours teaching poetry at the college level and at conferences, and I will be joining the University of Alaska Anchorage Low-Residency MFA program.

As I prepare for this July’s residency, these are my thoughts: please let me help my students be the best writers they can be, but more, please let me help them find their own map to a life with words. I cannot imagine what my world would be like without the practice of poetry. It is my north star. My solace. My vexation. My continual journey.

If you ever want to ask me questions about the program where I’m teaching or about the program from which I graduated, please feel free to send me an email.

4 Responses

  1. Hear! Hear! my friend. Our stories are so closely tired before AND after PLU/MFA. One of the best decisions I ever made. So glad you did too.

  2. OK, I meant “tied,” but ya know tired is true too!

  3. Anne Caston

    Erin, I cannot express my delight that you are joining our faculty this summer. I do SO look forward to writing, teaching, and working alongside you! Anne

  4. So inspiring, Erin. And congratulations!

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