Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Franz Wright Critique of the MFA Generations

Background: the post of mine he’s specifically reacting to can be found here: http://jjgallaher.blogspot.com/2010/03/blurb-as-argument-platform-ii.html. But his critique, that he posted in the comments section of that post seems large enough to warrant a bit more time and space, so here it is, the Franz Wright critique of what I guess might be called the “MFA Generations”:

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“Empire building.” Do you realize how your generations has bought into the vocabulary of stark naked capitalism and/or crude popular culture? After the ubiquity of the MFA programs was accomplished, and the bar was so lowered that per year maybe hundreds or thousands of pieces of paper (if you paid your tuition, or were a good low-level instructor slave) are issued stating that somebody in his or her mid twenties is now a MASTER of the art of poetry. Then you get the insane self-consciousness of the internet going, and put it all together and you get a couple or few generations of the most abject mediocrity, not in thought—anyone can blabber intellectually—but in the art of the poem which is made of out solitary silent meditation, made out of everything that is the opposite of what you kids daily invest so much importance in. You poor dupes.

One of your generations will produce a reaction, a generation of children who will rebel against your constant need to check in with each other on your computers to make sure you aren't missing out on anything, and who will withdraw back into the desert from which real art comes. You all are lost.

I see what the best of you have produced, and compared to the American poetry, arguably the best in the world, that was produced pre-MFA ubiquity—that is, before the late seventies—you don’t make good toilet paper. You can still choose, those of you who are young enough. You can turn away from the writing programs, the blogs, all the self-conscious ways to destroy the silent solitary spirit of lyric poetry. Maybe. I doubt it. But there may be one or two of you out there with the balls to do it.

And by the way, any blurb I have written has generally been for younger poets I feel are doing just that, and whose work I admire, and whose future I have hope for. There are thousands of people now in this country who actually call themselves poets—that astounds me. How many poets do you think even the greatest literary periods in history produced? FW

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This is an opinion I’ve heard before, and it’s easily dismissed as a “hey kids get off my lawn” argument . . . but behind every reactionary there is a bit of truth, or so I’ve heard. Is there a bit of truth in what Wright is saying about these post-70s generations? And if so, what is it and what does it mean?

Has the ubiquity of MFA programs done something to diminish the quality of writing being done today? I can imagine it could. Some situations and times are not conducive to the artistic sensibility. But poets of lasting value are always rare for any time period. Are there really fewer than before? Are we “allowing” too many voices into the choir? There is a critique that I often hear and kind of agree with, that there are simply too many books being published. It makes it impossible to find the hay in the needle-stack. But as soon as I think to myself, well, what would I propose, I back away from my criticism, because it would mean denying participation by someone, and who knows what might be lost then? (Probably nothing much, but still, the possibility is enough to keep me from getting all reactionary.) Beyond that, what has the MFA done to harm anyone? Mostly, from what I’ve seen, it’s just people sitting around talking about each other’s poems. I suppose that could be damaging to a young poet if the people were saying really dumb things, but mostly I’ve seen that the things said in workshops are rather benign, and were often constructive, especially when talking about how to read poetry as opposed to how to write poetry. Really, I think the MFA structure is a scapegoat, a convenient way to dismiss people without having to engage them.

Wright didn’t mention this, but it often follows the above: And what of AWP? What has the AWP influence been on the production of poetry? I’m sure there has been one. One thing it seems to have done is that it’s created—along with MFA programs—a cult of the young, the new, the first book. And how could it not? The bookfair has all these books. And much of Stevens’s best work is in the public domain. Some of this, though, is because people of a certain age opt out of the AWP conference. If you decide not to talk to people you have no one to blame but yourself when they don’t think of you later.

The other AWP critique is that the panels are too “professional.” That argument sometimes has traction with me. I prefer panels on poets and poetry to panels on careers and structures. But there are plenty of panels for me to go to, and those who want to go to the other panels can go.

Thinking about this, how we tend now to focus on NEW NEW NEW, I recently went back to a few of my favorite books from the past, and had a wonderful time reading William Carlos Williams’s selected poems as well as Max Jacob’s selected poems. One of the things I was struck with (as many have said already, this is not new) is how much it seems the poetry of right now is influenced more by the poets of the early part of the 20th century than by the poets of the later part of the century. Could this have something to do with the dismissal of much of current poetry by Franz Wright (and others . . . Wright is not writing in a vacuum). Suffice it to say I see little common ground between Wright’s version of where we are and mine.

The language of power dynamics—the avenues to power—that Wright says the younger generations have created is not saying that these generations created the dynamics, just that they brought in the taxonomy. Perhaps he’s right about the way these things are talked about now, but that seems to me a good thing. It’s time these things were named what they are. These relationships were not made up by this generation, they were here already, and to argue against, well, the whole Internet and MFA structure, is to argue for a different order of power, one that was in place when Franz Wright was starting out. Wright promoting Dickman is an aspect of the old economy of poetic ascendency: well-known press, senior poet endorsement, and large distribution print journal (The New Yorker, etc). These are pre-Internet structures. They are ways that a few (editors and senior poets) can control what happens next. Blogs, Internet-based journals, websites, etc, throw a wrench in that economy. That economy still exists, and I would argue is still the fundamental way that poetic reputations are made (one need just look at the trajectory of the Dickmans’s careers so far to see it in action), but it is no longer the only game in town.

I was highly critical of Franz Wright’s blurb on Michael Dickman’s book for many reasons, but, in the end, my feeling is that such a blurb does a young poet like Dickman no good. Certainly it’s great to be called the cure for what ails poetry. It’s a tremendous ego boost. But what happens next? The poet has to write another poem. “Come on, genius, write something,” the voice whispers, much like in James Tate’s poem “Teaching the Ape to Write Poems.” It’s a terrible place from which to make art. I would argue that a blurb such as that is concerned more with the career and attitudes of the one writing the blurb than it is the poet it’s written about.

Think of, as a counter-example, a poet like Zachary Schomburg, who arose without any help whatsoever from any of the old ways of endorsement. No famous poet blessing. No large-circulation journal publications. No well-known press. This sort of thing would not have been possible without these other avenues of publication and participation allowed by the Internet.

Is this sort of thing better? Is it worse? Who knows. It’s all still a system of mediating structures. Think of Mrs. Turpin in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” (I’m going from memory here, so I may be off, apologies), where she sees the dead walking off to heaven in a great parade, with the great unwashed leading the way . . . “flip the ladder and put the bottom rung on the top and you still have a ladder with a top and bottom rung” . . . is a paraphrase of her complaint against God. It’s a good complaint, one to keep in mind. It’s always US vs THEM, and, as Pink Floyd would have it: “In the end we’re all just ordinary men.” (As a side note, it’s hard to get away from the MALE-ness of this. It seems every time I come across one of these issues it’s older males talking about younger males. What’s up with that? you might well ask.)

What matters, and here I will partially agree with Wright, is the quality of the art. So I challenge Franz Wright to make a list out of this: “I see what the best of you have produced, and compared to the American poetry, arguably the best in the world, that was produced pre-MFA ubiquity—that is, before the late seventies—you don’t make good toilet paper.”

I’d be fascinated who Wright thinks the “best of you” is (and with a nod to the fact that if he thinks it’s Dickman, he’s just now consigned Dickman’s poetry to the bathroom), and who the best from before the late seventies is, for comparison. I believe (which is not at all a new assertion) that the greatest American poetry so far was written around the 1920s, and that the next couple generations were less inspired. But if he’s going to do a generation throw-down, I’ll take that bet. I think some of the best poetry written since the poets of Modernism has been written since 1980.


At 5/11/2010 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm always confused at the antipathy and righteous, mouth-foaming anger at MFA programs from men (Wright, Donald Hall, Kleinzahler, Hoagland) who have gained so much--jobs, readings, book sales, cash awards--from MFA programs. Wright advises young poets to turn away from the writing programs--but he doesn't. And he certainly doesn't turn from the blogs! Kleinzahler wrote an especially vicious anti-MFA essay for POETS & WRITERS--trashing his former students and colleagues -- yet he, still, never turns down a gig. But of course--there's nothing new here. In Tomkins' bio of Bob Rauschenberg there's an enlightening "scene: in 1962 the important gallerist Sidney Janus held a show called The New Realism (including work by Johns, Warhol, Yves Klein, Rosenquist, Lichtenstein, Tinguely and R). Janus only dealt blue-chip moderns--so this was a big moment for "pop" art. But many of Janus' star ab-exers--Rothko, Motherwell, and Gottlieb--quit in protest, because this new generation wasn't serious. The only major ab-exer to attend the show was de Kooning --who, apparently, hated the art, but genuinely like the artists. Motherwell's comment: "Nice to see these young folks having such a good time!" Not so different than today! Oh, well.

At 5/11/2010 8:33 AM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

Just to play devil's advocate on one point ... Zach's book was blurbed by James Tate and Donald Revell. Not exactly unknowns. :) But of course they had no hand in getting it published.

At 5/11/2010 8:34 AM, Blogger KD BOLT said...

i agree with anonymous, esp. where hoagland is concerned.

you wrote something in the post that started all of this about whether The MFA Wars were "just a boy thing"? i think that's especially pertinent here, as wright is working from v. outdated traditionally masculine models of creativity (the solitude that generates good lyric poetry must have been tough for charlotte smith, for example, who wrote to support her twelve children. she managed to revive the sonnet in english anyway.) it's hard to tell whether wright is bothered more that this generation of young poets is maturing in a communal environment or that it's plugged in to the constant access and communication overflow of the internet. regardless, literature is evolving. it doesn't get written by lonely, starving young men in garrets anymore.

i'd be curious to see a reaction from him and people like him to zachary schomburg, who you brought into this debate quite intelligently - and let's face it, dude's a total dreamboat - and who's doing a masterful job of pushing boundaries in a soulful, accessible way. but then the discussion edges into Experimenters vs. Sincere-ists, which is the only debate in modern poetry more tiresome than the one about MFA programs. I RAMBLE. thanks for this blog.


At 5/11/2010 8:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


That does kind of put a hole in my point, but hopefully not enough to obscure it. It's Scary, No Scary then that came out without blurbs? Or am I wrong twice? I can't seem to locate my copy just now.

I see that there was also one by Rohrer as well. Well, there I go trusting my memory.

At 5/11/2010 10:14 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


I have a slightly different question: Are we only discussing this because the argument is being advanced by Franz Wright? We all (or at least many of us) respect Franz's work, what he's done for poets and for poetry, and so on. It is tempting therefore to give what is at base a shockingly -- dare I say disconcertingly -- vapid argument far more purchase in our discussions than it deserves. Were it some unknown scribbler arguing that everything new is worse than everything old (be it poetry, poets, popular culture, the culture of the artist class, technological advances, advances in the patronage system for poets and writers -- Franz decries all these and more) would we really be discussing it? Would we even hear about it? When it comes down to it there's simply no "there" there, John. This same argument has been made every decade, by more or less respected writers and critics, regarding not just poetry but -- well -- everything. The guy who says my 1957 Ford is more reliable than your 1986 Civic. The guy who says lawnmowers don't run like they used to. It's the background noise the forward march of time gives off.

I mention not to join the argument, because it's not worth joining (and really, by the standards of "argument" no actual argument has been advanced, just rhetoric and bluster and ornery grumping), but because it's why I'm so excited about poetry: Here in Madison we had 75+ attendees for three poetry readings on three consecutive nights -- during the week -- all of which readings were related to the MFA here. One reading was a group of young writers (many in their early to mid-twenties), whose final position as compared to their predecessors simply won't be known for another 40 years (by Franz or anyone), another was a joint poetry/fiction reading in which John Murillo brought down the house with poetry as fresh as any I've ever heard in my life. One poem -- "Ode to the Crossfader" -- which you have to hear in person to believe, would not even have been possible in the 1970s because, like so much poetry of today, it is alert and responsive to concerns which were only a glimmer in anyone's eye when I was born in 1976. I can't speak for how exciting it was in the 1950s, when there were only a few score poets of any note in the U.S. (very few of whose poetry has survived), and almost nowhere to publish, and nowhere to find a poetry community except NYC and San Francisco, and no one was reading poetry, and so on, I can only say that this is a terribly exciting time to be a poet. Neither I nor Franz nor anyone here has read, I'd guess, more than 5% of what's out there -- go to the current March/April SPD "top" list and you may recognize, what, one name, two names, three names? -- and I find that thrilling. The whole point of finding a needle in a haystack is the thrill of discovery. I don't want someone to torch the haystack so I can find the needle. That'd be like shooting deer in a pen and calling it "hunting."


At 5/11/2010 10:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hey Seth,

I'm responding to FW because he posted this in a comment on my blog, but yes, it holds interest mostly because it's FW doing the writing. People do write such things all the time, but these are people--John Barr also comes to mind, and well as David Wojahn and Tony Hoagland--who have a certain power. In the end there is a real fight behind such, as you say, vapid arguments. The fight is about what gets published and what gets talked about and how it's talked about. Plus, I hate bullies.

A better thing (yes!) to talk about about is where you and I are in agreement: Poetry is diverse and healthy right now. I completely agree with you. As is music. The new album by The National is amazing. I'm listening to it as I type. I adore it.

At 5/11/2010 10:40 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Here's Justin Evans on this:


At 5/11/2010 2:08 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Hi John,

I think we may only disagree on one thing, then: I believe, and I'm not sure you do (yet), that the fight is lost, and it is Franz, Barr, &c who have lost it. Their way is not the way, and it has never been the way, and had their view prevailed in the early 1900s all that came after would never have been. We need simply continue as we are for poetry to thrive -- for it is thriving, it does not need fixing -- whereas the others must get our attention. I could spend the next thirty years writing poetry in isolation -- or eating popcorn -- and it would do as much to further my own view of things as arguing with Franz, Barr, &c. They have lost, and thank god for that, but that's really all there is to it. Michael Dickman got his start by meeting and befriending Dorianne Laux, then a professor at the University of Oregon MFA program, and then he attended the University of Texas MFA program -- where he was given, like all UT MFAs, $85,000 in no-strings-attached fellowship money -- and since then he and his brother have enjoyed the benefits of the post-MFA fellowship circuit. During that same time thousands of scribblers scribbled away in darkness and isolation and alienation just as Franz has proposed -- and as almost none of them had any contact with other poets, or received advice on who they could be reading, or studied anything of the history of poetry, or were part of any community in which readings and salons and friendships amongst poets were happening, the work such isolatos produced has been, is, and will forever be, in all ages, pap. Garbage. Franz is the best argument against Franz; were we to locate someone who had actually taken Franz's prescription to heart, a latter-day Emily Dickinson -- but in a world where one must be half-mad to escape the influence of society, far different from the 1800s! -- we would be astonished to realize they had read nothing of poetry, knew nothing of poetry, and cared nothing for poetry. For only one who reads, knows, and cares nothing for poetry would exist as a writer in total isolation. Franz knows this well: it's exactly why he takes on pupils in precisely, identically, the fashion of an MFA professor. It's just that Franz respects only Franz's ability to teach, and not, say, Michael Dickman's other teachers -- like MFA professor Laux, MFA professor A. Van Jordan (of UT), and all the MFA professors with whom Franz is personally friendly. And I can understand that feeling: artists are egotists, on some level we are always at least tempted to think we know best. That's one reason to do an MFA rather than consider oneself a prodigy in no need of discourse with any other poet: to learn how little one knows and how much there is to learn.

But one who believes they have nothing to learn from others -- not even to attend an MFA to get (as is one of the primary uses of an MFA) reading-lists of poets to check out? Well, such a person would, I imagine, be writing Coleridge knock-offs on a napkin somewhere to get some girl into bed. No, we can safely take Franz's recommendation and view Michael Dickman -- in every sense possible a product of what Franz claims to detest -- as the poster-child of our age. And what's wrong with that? I think Michael's extremely talented. It's, ahem, the other one...


At 5/11/2010 4:07 PM, Blogger Collin Kelley said...

I'd love to know what Michael Dickman thinks of being at the center of this. It's not the first time he and his brother have been made an example on poetry blogs. They are either revered as the second coming or the end of it all. Michael, are you listening?

At 5/11/2010 5:10 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


I think Michael and Matthew are very different poets. That they're spoken of so often is likely because no two family members have received as much money from the nation's new MFA and post-MFA institutional system as they have -- literally hundreds of thousands of dollars -- nor as much institutional support from other sources (The New Yorker, BlueFlower Arts, mentors who've stepped out of the woodwork for no apparent reason to assist them [Laux, Wright, and others], &c), so they really are a "test," as it were, of just what we're building here in the U.S. in terms of -- no, not empire, not in any sense whatsoever -- but rather a national community with not just the desire but the means (financial, spiritual, logistical, &c) to promote poetry and poets in a culture traditionally disinterested in both.

That they are twins, and very different poets, probably completes -- in an interesting way -- the metaphor. But the fact that they're twins probably means, too, that one would be quite willing to defend the other should someone like me, say, opine that Michael has much talent and Matthew's work is derivative and inauthentic. But hey -- I would defend my twin too, I would defend my family. I respect that.


At 5/11/2010 5:52 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

I think the biggest flaw in a deeply flawed argument is that Wright wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be able to say that nothing this "MFA generation" has produced is worth toilet paper compared to what this mythical past generation produced, but he also wants to praise certain members of the generation and have them be outside the system solely due to his liking them. Whatever one thinks of Michael Dickman's poetry, does anyone really think he's not part of the "MFA generation"?

Also, the O'Connor story you're talking about is "Revelation," right? Unless you meant "Everything That Rises Must Converge" as the collection, in which case never mind.

At 5/11/2010 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Naturally you will find my argument "vapid" --"reactionary"--etc, oh you dangerous little revolutionary sheep you. You HAVE to disagree, as you are all or at least nearly all products of the MFA machine. I would have been called vapid and reactionary in the U.S.S.R. too if I had dared say anything against--well, you get the picture. You have no choice but see me this way. And some of you no doubt make your living teaching in these programs, and so I am virtually attacking the manner in which you pay your food, rent/mortgage, feed for the little ones, etc. None of us will be around for the final reckoning re all this, but I do not find it difficult to foresee. Either the world will wise up (doubtful) or will continue to crank out worse and worse writing. THough I am not really afraid of that. There will always be a couple people willing not willing to go baaing along with everyone else. FW

At 5/12/2010 1:58 AM, Anonymous Radu Prisacaru said...

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At 5/12/2010 4:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yes, I think whatever fight there might have been around the granting of degrees in creative writing is over, and I can’t see how it will be revisited. So in that way there’s no more fight, just dismissive and wildly inaccurate arguments like the ones FW makes. It’s also a conversation I’m really not interested in having, it seems so worthless. I’d be interested in having a conversation with someone less hostile and self-absorbed than FW about how one might envision advanced degrees in creative writing differently, that might be helpful, but his sort of apocalyptic rhetoric is simply worthless. There are arguments to be made regarding the improvement of creative writing programs. There’s always room for improvement. We can all be part of that conversation, even those like me who don’t teach in one.

But there is a fight that’s behind this, a fight around aesthetics, that I think is not over, far from it. We’re in a time where art is under great pressure, I think. It’s an exciting time, full of wonderful poetry (and some terrible poetry), but it’s also full of very loud voices trying to control it, and one of those loud voices is FW. Perhaps we shouldn’t take him seriously, but some do. And this fight might be lost at some point, the way the fight was lost after the first rush of Modernism, when we foundered into the reductive, university version of New Criticism. Or the way the fight was first won by Modernism…

There’s a reason why some people make reactionary, nostalgic arguments. And they don’t always fail. And when they don’t fail they always come back repressive. I would throw FW’s comment from this morning back at him. He’s making a political analogy, pretending that there’s something about MFA programs that is like Institutional Communism, which I don’t see, but what I do see is that he sounds like a dictator in exile.

At 5/12/2010 5:04 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I’ve tried, when talking about the things people say about poetry, to keep their own poems out of it, as it would lead to a secondary evaluation, one that would potentially swamp the point I really want to make. In that way, I don’t consider Michael Dickman to be the center of this. The blurb on his book is the center of this (in my mind!). It might be splitting hairs, but at least that’s my intention.

At 5/12/2010 5:07 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You're right. I tend to conflate her titles. It's all one story . . .

And I also think you're right about these sorts of aruments, they tend to be hypocritical.

At 5/12/2010 7:57 AM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

I do like that of the named people on this thread, we have two people without MFAs, someone who initially wrote poetry with a law degree and without a creative writing degree, someone who works in online marketing, and someone who teaches in a non-MFA undergraduate program. Yes, very homogenous MFA-industrial-complex of us.

At 5/12/2010 8:56 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Steven, great point. The first summer I wrote poetry I spent my days in a rumpled suit, kneeling on the gritty floors of courthouse lock-ups talking to court-assigned clients through a Judas slit. I'd do nonconcurrent felony arraignments for indigent criminal defendants for hours, and then go home to my little shithole apartment and write poetry. I didn't know MFA programs existed--I had never heard of them--and I wouldn't attend one for a decade. And when I did, it was because I thought there was a chance someone might pay me to do it and because I wanted to sacrifice more for poetry. I turned my back on a legal career so I could have more time to write. Yet the first time I recall being in a conversation like this one someone (ahem) told me I hadn't sacrificed anything for poetry. The level of coercive misery I believe some would like to visit upon others is the only (even potentially) workable Communist analogy I can see in this thread, and even then to compare anything in CAP to Communism is an insult to those who suffered under the actual thing.

John, aesthetically speaking I think the argument has been lost also (by Franz &c). We won't be going back to the isolation of the artist that produced the excesses of the Modernists (e.g. Eliot's dictatorial control over British poetry, Pound's fascism, Tate's New Critical empire) or the self-indulgence of the confessionalists, who left us, really, with very little of value in my view (Plath excepted, but she wasn't, actually, a confessionalist). The Deep Image poets Franz favors--and who I do love also (Levis, Wright, &c) were an exception in being as isolated as they were. What started happening with the Beats, The New York School, BMC, LangPo, &c (all before the explosion of MFA programs Franz describes, which didn't happen until 20 years after he thinks it did) was that the most abiding poetry began to be produced by those tapped into in-person communities of writers (though the Snodgrass, Plath, Lowell, Merwin, &c nexus produced a locus of great poetry also in the late 50s/early 60s, and, as to Merwin, thereafter). The MFA boom came about for a simple reason that Franz still doesn't seem to want to hear: folks in Kansas were pissed off they had to travel to NYC to find a community of like-minded artists. And so communities of poets were founded around the country, and the MFA system was a way to gather, fund, and organize them. But they were all attempts, and are attempts, to replicate what Ashbery, Koch, Schuyler, and O'Hara had, except with a more reliable income stream and less military service and menial museum jobs. It's that simple. But the point is this: 20 years ago one would have been reading Lowell in an MFA. Now at the more progressive MFAs you read Ceravalo, Coolidge, Taggart, Spicer, Creeley, Olson, Koch and even at the less progressive ones you're reading the sort of middle-of-the-road post-confessional poets Franz is pushing upon us. In other words, those seeking to push poetry forward have flooded both the blogosphere (with its attendant real-life bohemian niches, salons, &c) and academia. Young poets are restless to at worst replicate the most innovative writers of the day, and at best innovate themselves.

But if Franz is romanticizing Modernism--a product of its time that cannot be repeated--or the tepid verse of the 40s/50s, no, we are not going back there. Franz's comments boil down to "I like what I like and I know what I like"--but there can be no doubt that there is a greater variety and range of poetry being written now than ever before, and most of it is being produced outside the purview of the mainstream institutions where Franz and others have their most clout. Who's going to stop Black Ocean, Tinfish, Graywolf, Octopus, Action Books, &c? Nobody, that's who. The new system is designed to be untopple-able by the Powers That Be.

At 5/12/2010 8:57 AM, Anonymous Nick Courtright said...

An excellent and intriguing, though at times frightening, discussion, with my incredible respect for Wright's work juxtaposed against his seemingly codger-ish opinion of the current: even when he's right, the bitterness of his tone isn't exactly welcoming believers on board.

Also, for all the folly of the internet-world, I find myself hard-pressed to deny the fineness of its democratization of higher art---without it, woe to the poor and unconnected, not to mention those not related to winners of the Pulitzer.

At 5/12/2010 9:05 AM, Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

Hi John, it seems like this back-and-forth about the good or harm that MFA programs do, how there are too many MFA grads or too many poets who teach (or who want to), has been going on forever. Well, it feels like forever.

Personally, I can't see what harm it does if a lot of people want to participate in MFA programs (or not) and write and try to publish poems. God knows, there are worse things they could be doing!

And no one really knows which poems or poets of this generation (or of FW's) will be revered or even remembered 50 or 100 years from now anyway. This has all been said before -- in fact, I think I'm just agreeing with you and other sensible folks here -- but if anyone doubts it, they should take a look at a list of early winners of the Yale Younger Poets Prize, for one example, to see how many names of poets once deemed the stars of their generation are no longer read or remembered.

Richard Ford commented on this very ongoing discussion (14 years ago!) in Ploughshares, and this view still makes sense to me:

"...plenty of American pseudo-mandarins natter on about this subject, too -- usually toward the point that altogether too much writing's going on, that there're scandalously more writers than readers, that the writing gene pool is somehow being diluted and the world flooded with mediocrity, that the real writers don't teach, that editors are going brain-dead, on and on and on and on again. But unless I'm wrong, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O'Connor both went to Iowa. Barry Hannah went to Arkansas. Ken Kesey and Robert Stone attended Stanford. And as a group, these satisfy my requirements for being wonderful writers, their books wonderful books. What difference does it make where you learned what you learned, if you learned it well? If every holder of an M.F.A. isn't quite as good as these people, what's the harm, really? It seems like a victimless crime. Maybe they'll all become better readers of other people's good books. Plus, everybody has to be doing something, don't they? Would we rather more people were out in California designing video games?"

I thought you'd like that for the Flannery reference, among other things. And here's the link, if anyone wants to read the whole article:


At 5/12/2010 9:16 AM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

Matthew, I like that quote, except for the implied dig at video games!

I also agree with Nick about democratization. Trying to keep the masses out of the sacred halls of literature meant only for the chosen few is such a fearful, elitist, racist, sexist, etc. mentality.

At 5/12/2010 9:43 AM, Anonymous Tony said...

That is a great quote, Matthew--and--if I'm not mistaken, in that Kleinzahler jeremiad that ANONYMOUS mentioned, Mr. K says that anyone with half a brain isn't writing poems--they're working on video games! I couldn't tell if he was joking... or, rather, was he criticizing our world as much as MFA programs?

Not to get personal, but--let's note the 2-ton elephant in this room--Franz Wright's father! Forget about blurbs--I mean--talk about owning keys to the club! It takes chutzpah to call young people careerists for going to college, when you have Mr. F's pedigree! I know, he didn't choose his Pa, but a little humility might help make his point.

At 5/12/2010 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting and thoughtful discussion on your blog here, John, as always.

One quick point or maybe an aside:

With all due respect to Seth, lawn mowers don't run like they used to. They fire up these days on the first or second pull. Both the young and old, I bet, can appreciate that, yet one may feel this fact more acutely, may be more heartened by it, if one is older, at the end of the rope when lawn mowers actually ran like they used to.

And no, I don't think this perspective will make you righteous but it can make you feel oddly more perceptive in part about life and/or passionate about your position on certain things, a passion typically reserved for the young or the no longer exactly innocent, and thus the MFA wars are born.

I'm not even taking into account the self-propel mechanism or, obviously, the electric start.


At 5/12/2010 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From facebook:

I've been arguing, albeit into the moaning wind, about the same thing for years. The MFA -- and now bloody-useless PhD! -- programs have in fact taken the poet out of the world, mired her/him in mediocrity and regurgitated offal, and created a self-aggrandizing culture that wouldn't know originality if it poked 'em in the eye. Having studied with Larry Levis at the cusp of this shift (in the late 1970s), and he pleading with us to get out of the "profession" if we were able to lest we die inside, I've watched poetry move farther and further from the world-at-large, to contemplating life from inside the latex-painted tower walls. This past week I've been unpacking over 3000 books and felt the same dissappointment and disgust as FW as I looked at the years of great past literature which is now forgotten and the present of great literature which is seldom read. Young poets may not realize it, but there is a terrible kind of death in the academy -- read William Gass's The Tunnel -- which is why I have tried my best to not consider myself an academic but rather a traveler.


At 5/12/2010 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from facebook:

Well, sure, there are more poets now than there were in 1950, or 1973. There are also more dentists, actors, dog walkers, hair stylists, and arborists. I've always had mixed feelings about MFA programs — no one needs an MFA, but I teach a program, and I love it. I also have an MFA and loved my program. (I was also just on a really fine AWP panel — John, you should have been there.)

For those of us who must write, and who love to gab and write about poetics, MFA programs aren't the Great Satan. I'm more concerned about undergraduate creative writing majors. I'll happily teach them, even as I tell them to go away, for the love of God, and major in French. Even better, become an arborist.


At 5/12/2010 10:46 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


My lawn mower currently isn't working. It's very depressing. I blame whatever schools the lawnmower makers went to. Ah, the good old days, when we made our own lawn mowers from chickenwire and broken spokes, reaping away, singing the classics . . . !

At 5/12/2010 10:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I loved the 1920s. Far and away the best decade in American poetry. Maybe FW would agree with me on that.

You write, in paraphrase, "one of the primary uses of an MFA is to get reading-lists of poets to check out." I absolutely agree with you, which makes what Debra says here so depressing:

"I've watched poetry move farther and further from the world-at-large, to contemplating life from inside the latex-painted tower walls. This past week I've been unpacking over 3000 books and felt the same dissappointment and disgust as FW as I looked at the years of great past literature which is now forgotten and the present of great literature which is seldom read."

When I was in an MFA and then the PhD, I took mostly literature classes, where I we read deeply into WCW, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Bly, and many others, including Paz, Freud (which I could've skipped), Moore, Ben Johnson, Shakespeare, and on and on. And then recent books by Charles Wright, Jorie Graham, George Steiner, Ihab Hassan, Rosmarie Waldrop, Michael Palmer, and really, that's just scratching the surface.

I can't imagine what was wrong with that education. What Debra is saying, and what FW is saying more wildly, just doesn't ring true to my experience. What am I missing?

At 5/12/2010 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, I blame everything these days on either Briggs & Stratton or Al Gore.

Sorry about your broken lawn mower. You can actually hire the grasscutting out now, I hear, but be careful who you call, as you might get some dopey kid with an MFA who takes down your flowers.


At 5/12/2010 11:02 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

On thing I will say in slight support of FW's position, is that I've met some graduate students who are crazy about Zachary Schomburg's poetry but who don't know much about James Tate, and more, have never heard of Russell Edson.

All that really means to me is that they should be directed to these other writers. That's a problem easily taken care of. They need the BIG reading list.

Print journals are no better at remembering the poems of the past (Max Jacob, for instance) than are blogs. We all need to do a better job at that.

At 5/12/2010 11:07 AM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

I think it's equally important to read both (stuff from the past and stuff from the present).

Sorry to wheel out democratization again, but when you only read work from the past, your list tends to be skewed heavily toward white American men, or at least white men from the US or Western Europe.

At 5/12/2010 11:55 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Dear John, Keats was a baiter of bears.

At 5/12/2010 12:16 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

I'm incredulous at Debra's comments -- I really think we only credit such remarks because we don't really think about what's actually being said. I was "taken out of the world" for thirteen years between K through 12, and then "taken out of the world" again (horrors!) for four years by getting a B.A. I'm guessing Debra has no objections to such seclusions. Doctors who clamp their hands down on patients' stomachs to keep them from bleeding out -- real enough for you? -- spend ten years "out of the world," and attorneys who try homicide cases spend three years "out of the world" in law school. The typical MFA student spends 20 months "out of the world" doing pretty much the same stuff those bohemians "in the world" are doing down the street -- scrabbling for cash, spending time reading, writing, and discussing poetry. The MFA does not equal a professorship -- it's ironic that those who conflate the two are also those who will later claim that MFAs are the ones doing the conflating (in fact they don't -- they more or less say, we're kicking you to the curb, "out in the world!", in 20 months, and only a very, very small percentage of MFA grads will ever teach full-time). Side note: If I have to hear one more "back when I was in the Academy I remember ______________ telling me how bad the Academy was," I'll scream.

Sometimes I hear these "arguments" from people -- which really don't say what they think they say, and don't prove what they think they prove -- and my first thought is, you know, maybe more time in school would have been good for you. I'm sorry, but graduating with an MFA at (say) 23 years old leaves you with decades of poverty, misery, depression, alienation, self-doubt, and maturation ahead of you "out in the world." No one is being taken "out of the world" for more than an extended writing sabbatical better measured in months than years -- get over it.

P.S. The MFA boom started in the 1990s. Go to any used bookstore and you'll find shelf after shelf of crappy collections from now-obscure 1970s and 1980s "prize-winning" poets.

At 5/12/2010 12:23 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

P.S. To the extent this discussion is worth getting worked up over it is only because being a poet in America is hard -- emotionally, financially, logistically, spiritually -- and for a small group of individuals to come out and snipe at twenty-somethings who want just twenty damn months of financial security and a near-by poetry community in their whole uncertain hardscrabble lives... well, honestly I think it's sick that these kids (and they're largely kids) can't be cut a break for even one minute by those who'd rather see them suffer. And let's make no mistake about it (and Franz has actually said this explicitly) what is desired for and hoped after, here, for young poets is not merely that they suffer for decades, but that they get no respite from suffering -- not even 20 months. Again, that's some sick, sadistic nonsense right there. --S.

At 5/12/2010 12:37 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Dear Jordan,

I heard he was a master baiter.

At 5/12/2010 12:43 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I agree, especially when so many of the people who call for the classics or the cannon want just that sort of ONLY reading. Maybe that is why the argument is made almost only by white males.

I don't want to implicate FW in this, though, as I don't see him specifically making that kind of argument, but his movement from the 70s back, does leave out much of the explosion of non-white-male non-heterosexual art.

At 5/12/2010 12:46 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...



"Grace to be born and live."

I remember reading that several years ago, and I've gone looking for it since, and never found it, until now.

At 5/12/2010 12:50 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I don't think the MFA has done anything to change the percentage of good poetry being written. Such things are subjective, but I think FW (etc., as I hear this argument OFTEN) is just looking to when HE was more into what was being written . . . we tend to look back at our seed-time as the golden age. Which is probably why I adore so many of the late 80s, early 90s books by Ch. Wright, Michael Palmer, Martha Ronk, Jorie Graham, and Rosmarie Waldrop, etc...

But, you know, those books WERE glorious. Ah, I'm trapped in my own rear-view mirror.

At 5/12/2010 1:22 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

"As variously as possible."

Here to help, John.

At 5/12/2010 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From facebook:

I don't have an MFA (an MA in Creative Writing/Poetry) instead, but maybe we can infer that such degrees are only for people who can't get born to major poet fathers.


At 5/12/2010 3:57 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


You write:

"No one is being taken "out of the world" for more than an extended writing sabbatical better measured in months than years."

It reminds me that I supplemented my MFA through working newspaper delivery. What an interesting story that was for seven years seven days a week from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.

I felt quite a few times like THAT was where I was being taken out of the world. The people I worked with, etc.

And then there was the stint as a holiday meat packer, and then the Wal+Mart distribution center . . . even through an MFA or PhD program, one still must do something in the summers. It's a few years of being constantly broke.

At 5/12/2010 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

from facebook:

JD, you acknowledged the elephant in the room. Geesh. Also, these writers who feel so strongly about how bad the academy is for literature, how can they in good conscience profit like they do from writing programs? Reading series, literary journals, residencies, book sales, etc. It doesn't seem genuine to suggest that MFA's and PhD's are useless and then proceed to enjoy the benefits of the literary audience these programs provide....


At 5/12/2010 5:28 PM, Anonymous Debra Di Blasi said...

John, you ask, "What am I missing?" My answer (gently voiced) is there is more than poetry for a poet/writer to read, witness, experience. Where's your fiction, your science, your anthropology and archaeology? Where's your entymology, ornithology, psychology? I get depressed talking with writers who know only literature & theory, who cannot relate the finer points of, say, the newest theories of entanglement to literary structure, or, never mind relating, just leave out the literary and talk about entanglement and what it may mean to the way we "be" and "been". I know far too many poets who really are not very well read outside of their discipline. As a teacher I desire that my students first become better human beings, which is the point of literature anyway, is it not? And if not, then what? At conferences I've met people who went from high school, to undergraduate, to MFA, to PhD, and then enter the academy to teach. Much of their knowledge of the world they put into writing comes from books, not living widely; thus their writing is saturated with "the idea of" humanity and nature rather than humanity and nature. And because most judging their work are also in the academy, well, that sort of writing/thinking is judged okeedokee. The good thing about the flood of MFA & PhD graduates is that there will never be enough academic jobs to support them, so they will HAVE to enter the world, to ponder life and death and the delicious flavors in-between from a Kafkaesque desk or Weltyesque front porch.

At 5/12/2010 5:45 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I can handle that critique, because it doesn’t apply to anyone I know. I can imagine it applies to some people (I say people, because one can be as narrow as a dentist or member of the Peace Corps as one can be as an artist), just not the people I know and respect. There’s a problem looking at the work and knowing that, though. “Is this real or is it Memorex?” is a difficult question when looking at the work, but it becomes pretty apparent when talking with the person.

If the question were asked of me directly: “Where's your fiction, your science, your anthropology and archaeology?” I would answer however I felt at the time, anywhere from “here in this poem, I hope” to “on my bookshelf” to “go soak your head” depending on who asked. Now, if you were to ask, I’d answer with the first one, as I respect you. Everything that someone is becomes a part of that person (yada yada, as they say), but it does not need to be overtly engaged at all times. I had a wonderful time speaking with an astrophysicist a few weeks ago as part of a museum project pairing writers and scientists. One fo the things I liked best about it is how she considers her work to be a form of “creativity” and “imagination” and how some of her colleagues roll their eyes at that. It’s a wonderfully plural world. I think an MFA or PhD can be part of that. And that can be part of an MFA or PhD.

Here at my little university there’s talk of wanting a BFA. There’s a lot of support for it, but I’m mildly opposed, unless I get to force a few things into the curriculum, namely art history and figure drawing, as well as a reporting class. My degree is in journalism. I think that’s important. At least as important as “literature” classes. So I guess I agree with you, I just see a different outcome for these thoughts.

At 5/12/2010 5:48 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Oh, and PS. !

Besides subscriptions to a few literary journals, I have subscriptions to:

Scientific American
The Economist
The New Yorker

I encourage my students to do something of the same. I call it research. Or word hunting. Or whatever they want to call it. It widens one's perspective.

At 5/12/2010 5:56 PM, Blogger Elisa Gabbert said...

I get grouchy hanging around people who only seem interested/educated in one thing, too, but I don't think MFAs are the cause of that. Specializing in one thing for a couple years doesn't prevent anyone from reading widely for the rest of their life. I wasn't an English major and my MFA years were the only time I focused primarily on reading literature and writing poetry. (I don't teach.)

At 5/12/2010 6:05 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I think your story is more common than the other, the insulated story Debra's thinking of. Perhaps, though, because when one comes across the other story, as we all do now and then, it's so bothersome it makes us forget it's not the dominant story?

One could also make similar arguments about region, right? About the insular nature of NY and Boston or wherever? I've seen that just as often.

At 5/12/2010 6:06 PM, Anonymous Debra Di Blasi said...

Yes, John, but you are indeed an exception, as I already knew by our talks and via your poetry that, as you also know, I respect and love. One of the new MFA models in visual art is that students must double-major: (1) their visual art discipline and (2) something else, like biology or history or chemistry, and they must also take many electives in other fields outside of their chosen two. I do something similar in my teaching, though as you know I only teach undergraduates (for the most part). What I've seen at some of the conferences, like SLSA or the one at Truman a few years ago, are students simply too mired in the "profession" (i.e., writer as occupation) rather than experimenting with living. There will always be people who will disagree with me on this because it is, of course, the philosophy by which I've [tried to] live[d] my life. I'm glad for this discussion, since one of the AWP panels I may be on next year is a pedagogy panel. :-)

At 5/12/2010 6:15 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I only teach undergraduates as well, and my situation is further complicated by the fact that we don't have a major in Creative Writing, so all of my creative writing students are people majoring in other things already (about half are English majors, but half aren't!) . . . I feel a little distanced from these conversations, therefore . . . but I've heard of a lot of CW teachers in MFA programs who do all sorts of science / art / service learning / internship (non-literary) things. Or at least they tell me they do!

I'd like, sometime, to teach in one of those places, just to see how the other half lives. I hope it's not as dreary and myopic as I hear some say.

At 5/12/2010 7:53 PM, Anonymous Debra Di Blasi said...

You're probably doing more for humanity by teaching undergrads -- starting them off on the right foot. Though nevertheless I hope someday you find a better geographic location. You deserve as much.

At 5/12/2010 8:29 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/12/2010 9:56 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

I have six MFA classmates. One is a professional in-line skater who's ridden the rails all across the U.S. and traveled widely (and lived) outside the U.S. Another spent three years teaching English to locals in Micronesia. Another is a former high school teacher from Houston's inner-city school district. I was an attorney for seven years and represented more than 2,000 indigent defendants in two states. The talents of the others in my class are endless: one was a disc jockey and music reviewer in Scotland and (I believe) used to sing opera semi-professionally, another has worked in publishing, &c &c. I do think this notion of the poet with no knowledge of or interest in anything else is a boogeyman -- in fact I've seen it much more amongst those who've never been through the wringer of trying to get into an MFA program than those who have. In part because MFA programs are looking for people they'd want to be in a community with as well as study with, and being an isolated troll writing poetry in a broom-closet just doesn't cut it.


At 5/12/2010 10:28 PM, Blogger KD BOLT said...

debra, i mean, right. honestly. to support myself through undergrad and my MFA i've done the following: made coffee, run cash registers, canvassed (asked strangers on the street to give me money for various progressive causes), managed an office, cleaned apartments, read tarot, sold cosmetics, been awake for 5 a.m. shifts and gone home at 3 a.m. after close. i've fallen asleep with a pen in my hand because i couldn't wait to get back home after all this earning my living in the Real World (because that's where it happened) and WRITE, because WRITE was all i wanted to do. life demands everything of you, unless you're independently wealthy, and even then it gets so crowded in your head. the chance to spend several years doing what you love with people around you who also love it is a wonderful gift, and even then it comes with a steep price tag (folks from my program are leaving with 50, 60, 80k of debt). the notion that bc Real Life takes place outside the academy, any involvement with the academy puts you at a hopeless remove is pretty unrealistic.

going into an MFA program is a bold choice. it is saying, "this thing i love is worth these two, three years. it's worth familial ridicule and the constant questions about what i will do with my degree. what i will do with my degree is do this thing that i love, better, and maybe someday help others do the same." no crimes against poetry there.

At 5/12/2010 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before all you kiddies came along, before the ubiquitious writing programs (pre-seventies, I guess), just as many people wrote poetry as do now. But they did not have MFA programs, mediocre teachers in MFA programs, themselves the product of MFA programs, telling them how wonderful their work was; they did not have the five million mediocre journals they all started to jerk each other off with, etc. Writing poetry does not make someone a poet. Most of you are just like the poor cranks who wrote poetry secretly in the past--if they had attempted to publish their work with the few serious literary journals or publishers interested in real poetry, they would rapidly have been disabused of their self- and mass-induced delusions. Do you not see that. No, how could you. But I see you. FW

At 5/12/2010 11:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should add that I am delighted by anyone who loves poetry. But I feel nothing but contempt for all of you who have dumbed it down, thinned it out, cheapened the very term "poet" by filling the nation with a fog of mediocrity so thick very few of you even have the technical or moral ability anymore to distinguish good from bad poetry. You have nothing but your little cliques and opinions and grotesquely delusional self-importance. Those cranks in the past who just had to write poetry did not have this effect, because there was no degree for them to get, no job teaching it, no place to publish it. The best lyric poetry in the world was written in America until right up about , oh, guess when? Right about the time the universities and colleges saw the chance to pull of one of the great capitalist scams of all time. And you all fell for it. The poets of the past you claim to revere would scarcely even know how to laugh at you, they would simply shrug and turn away in embarrassment. FW

At 5/13/2010 1:07 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Franz, you're a better man than this, and you and I have conversed often enough over the years for me to not only know that that's so but to know that you know it also. You need to find a way to promote poetry that is generative, not destructive, and until you do the emotion you should be feeling is not rage, but shame. --S.

At 5/13/2010 4:19 AM, Blogger Joe said...

I think Walt Whitman would weep over this conversation, and I'm guessing people are having it face to face, in print, and electronically. I mean the idea that writing poetry--good verse or bad--is ever a negative. Look, I never really had too many delusions about my abilities once I started my MFA in poetry, never called myself a poet. However, my student loan bill is monthly and very painful reminder of how naive I actually was about it all. Maybe I should have asked FW (if he is indeed the real Franz Wright) if I could clean his pool in exchange for poetry lessons, or maybe wash his Acura. Anyway, before I get to hateful, I gotta go to work. Verse is democratic and poetry is (can be) for all people.

At 5/13/2010 4:30 AM, Blogger Joe said...

PS even for those of us who make so many mistakes in writing and in life.

At 5/13/2010 4:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From facebook:

Good article/argument, John. FW's argument is really Joseph Epstein's "Who Killed Poetry"" argument, updated. I didn't get the point of that one, either. Should everyone stop writing? Should MFA programs shut down? Is the only reason such things as Internet poetry blogs etc., and MFA programs are in existence to produce "geniuses"? William Stafford said famously, "I want to be on my guard against writing good poems." The more over the years I've studied that comment, the more it means to me, and the more sense it makes.


At 5/13/2010 4:56 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Having a blog has been a way for me to test my ability to stay reasonable, which I first learned working in restaurants twenty years ago. But when people say things the way you do, I feel the urge to reply in kind. I will not do so.

But you need to know that you are nothing more than a cheap bully, and what makes it worse, you're paranoid. Nothing you have said here - or anywhere else I can find - has been the least bit constructive. You are helping no one and nothing, in fact, your continued behavior is only hurting those things you say you love, as you're giving all of us who disagree with you the opportunity to dismiss you and your position.

You do NOT see me or anyone other than yourself looking. You are not a prophet. You're standing in a room of mirrors hating only yourself, full of doubts of your worth.

Take your own advice and spend more time on your poems and less on spewing hate.

At 5/13/2010 6:28 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Poets exist mainly to stop other poets from writing.

At 5/13/2010 6:42 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


It depends on what these poets are trying to stop others from writing. I wish I could keep people from writing really reductive things about poetry in essays and blurbs. But to keep them from writing poetry? We do that at our peril.

At 5/13/2010 7:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know--I'm reluctant to enter a conversation in which one of the major parties says things like "You all are lost." My goodness.

I am, though, interested by the blurb discussion, John. One aspect of blurbage yet to arise here, I think: its role in legitimating a book to library-buyers, bookstores, etc.--the market, so called, for poetry. Maybe especially library-buyers or customers who are interested in poetry but not otherwise inclined to read X, Y, or Z. Then it becomes a form of branding, like the Oprah's book club sticker.

There. That should irritate someone.

At 5/13/2010 7:15 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Yes! That's the topic my first post, way back when, was regarding. There is a reason why blurbs are on books. And there are different reasons why people write them.

The first, from the publisher, is economic. But the second? Why people write them?

At 5/13/2010 7:51 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Anxiety is a powerful drug, John.

At 5/13/2010 8:40 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


True, but when you say it like Yoda, more fun it is.

At 5/13/2010 9:31 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

And when you say it like FW doing a Rick James impression?

At 5/13/2010 9:44 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Then you have a Neil Young reference, as Neil Young was in a band briefly with Rick James, called the Mynah Birds.

At 5/13/2010 10:18 AM, Blogger Jordan said...

Wait, FW and Yoda were in a band?

This collaboration of ours is getting an awful lot like one of those fog-of-mediocrity poems.

At 5/13/2010 11:56 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Let me get this straight, by “FW” you do mean “forward” right?

At 5/13/2010 1:39 PM, Anonymous Larry said...

Let's all sing some LCD for Franzie:

Yeah, I'm losing my edge.
I'm losing my edge.
The kids are coming up from behind.
I'm losing my edge.
I'm losing my edge to the kids from France and from London.
But I was there.

I was there in 1968.
I was there at the first Can show in Cologne.
I'm losing my edge.
I'm losing my edge to the kids whose footsteps I hear when they get on the decks.
I'm losing my edge to the Internet seekers who can tell me every member of every good group from 1962 to 1978.
I'm losing my edge.

To all the kids in Tokyo and Berlin.
I'm losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.

But I'm losing my edge.
I'm losing my edge, but I was there.
I was there.
But I was there.

I'm losing my edge.
I'm losing my edge.
I can hear the footsteps every night on the decks.
But I was there.
I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City.
I was working on the organ sounds with much patience.
I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band.
I told him, "Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime."
I was there.
I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids.
I played it at CBGB's.
Everybody thought I was crazy.
We all know.
I was there.
I was there.
I've never been wrong.

I used to work in the record store.
I had everything before anyone.
I was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan.
I was there in Jamaica during the great sound clashes.
I woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.

But I'm losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent.
And they're actually really, really nice.

I'm losing my edge.

I heard you have a compilation of every good song ever done by anybody. Every great song by the Beach Boys. All the underground hits. All the Modern Lovers tracks. I heard you have a vinyl of every Niagra record on German import. I heard that you have a white label of every seminal Detroit techno hit - 1985, '86, '87. I heard that you have a CD compilation of every good '60s cut and another box set from the '70s.

I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real. You want to make a Yaz record.

I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.

I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.

But have you seen my records? This Heat, Pere Ubu, Outsiders, Nation of Ulysses, Mars, The Trojans, The Black Dice, Todd Terry, the Germs, Section 25, Althea and Donna, Sexual Harrassment, a-ha, Pere Ubu, Dorothy Ashby, PIL, the Fania All-Stars, the Bar-Kays, the Human League, the Normal, Lou Reed, Scott Walker, Monks, Niagra,

Joy Division, Lower 48, the Association, Sun Ra,
Scientists, Royal Trux, 10cc,

Eric B. and Rakim, Index, Basic Channel, Soulsonic Force ("just hit me"!), Juan Atkins, David Axelrod, Electric Prunes, Gil! Scott! Heron!, the Slits, Faust, Mantronix, Pharaoh Sanders and the Fire Engines, the Swans, the Soft Cell, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics, the Sonics, William Matthews & the Sonics....

At 5/13/2010 2:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well if we're going that way, I'd go for "All My Friends":

And if it's crowded, all the better,
because we know we're gonna be up late.
But if you're worried about the weather
then you picked the wrong place to stay.
That's how it starts.

And so it starts.
You switch the engine on.
We set controls for the heart of the sun,
one of the ways we show our age.

Or, more to the point, there's the wonderful song from Clem Snide, "Encounter at 3a.m." words by, and spoken by, Mr. Wright. It's a good moment. Look it up if you don't know it. It's much better than what we've gotten here from him.

At 5/14/2010 4:05 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Anonymous, if you want to post a link to a news article, I think that's fine -- but to anonymously make that kind of an accusation when a Google News search for Franz's name and the university he's working at brings up zero hits... well, I think that's over the line. There's a lot that can be said here without making unsubstantiated accusations. Again, this is the Internet Age -- if there's been a valid accusation along those lines there should be a link (because there should/would be a news article). Otherwise, we're just scraping the bottom of the barrel here. And that's just not fair to him. Whatever he's done, here or elsewhere, there's no need to throw our own integrity to the wind, too.


At 5/14/2010 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am once again flattered by the obsessiveness directed my way--and long ago grew accustomed to envy--but there are actionable statements in your blog, and I intend to take action. The idea for example that I was let go from Brandeis (I was not teaching at Brandeis this year, by the way, I was there as an unpaid visiting scholar) for "molesting a student". Where this kind of thing comes from, I have no idea, but I have an idea of what I am going to do to you, John, for publishing it, so get ready.
Oh yes, and my entire career as as a writer has to do with the fact that my father was James Wright. If any of you nonentities knew anything about the literary world, and had any experience publishing in REAL literary journals or with ACTUAL publishers, you would know that a famous parent makes it far more difficult to publish. And the remarks obviously directed at Alice Quinn, one of the most beloved figures in the ACTUAL literary world, as opposed to the masterbatory delusion most of you function within, is further proof of your having had no contact with it whatsoever, of remaining like children with your noses pressed to the glass of candy store windows and fogging it with your snot. If you could possibly conceive of the ugliness and obviousness of your envy, the slobbering and naked envy and hate that comes with every word directed against me, and realize just how flattering it is to me, you might think twice, But that would require an ability to think, wouldn't it. The Brandeis thing is going to haunt you, though, bet on it.

At 5/14/2010 7:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it must be strange to lead such utterly unexamined lives, but I will point it out for you all once more. 95 % of you "poets" writing and publishing today would have been completely unknown cranks in the pre-MFA, pre-million billion mediocre nowhere "poetry journal" days (approx. pre mid-seventies). And as Louise G. recently pointed out, all of you will sink like stones. You will be forgotten before you are dead. Why not do something useful with your lives?FW

At 5/14/2010 7:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting to see in all of Franzie's posts the repeated angry references to children. The first move he has when he's pissed is to compare someone to a child. He hates. . . children.

At 5/14/2010 7:38 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

I've just received a note from John that he is in an airport in Puerto Rico and temporarily unable to monitor comments. I expect he will be in a better position to take action regarding Anonymous's comments shortly.

At 5/14/2010 7:43 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

At 4:08 in the morning, with one eye open, and posting on the blog solely to tell you that your anonymous post lacked integrity... well, under those circumstances I'll both split infinitives and use hackneyed phrases as much as I like. Or, actually, at any other time -- blogging ain't poetry. I've told Franz this and said it many times on blogs: I don't like anonymous posters who make accusations behind the veil of anonymity -- I think it's cowardly. When the Walcott thing happened, a) I made comments under my own name (as I always have done), b) my comments were based on publicly-available data, and c) my only point was that he might not be a good candidate for a professorship -- the quality of his poetry was not an issue, nor did I make any personal attacks on him beyond what had already been reported on and known by the public for more than a decade.

At 5/14/2010 8:33 AM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Of what possible value is an anonymous comment like this? It’s just hateful gossip and can not be taken seriously. I don’t think John should be held accountable for it, but it does highlight one of the more despicable aspects of the internet. This kind of thing reminds me of the high school electronic bullying issue (except, theoretically, we are all adults here). Anonymous remarks like that should simply be ignored. As we used to say, consider the source.

At 5/14/2010 8:33 AM, Blogger Aaron Apps said...

This whole thing is comical. MFA programs have their problems, sure. It never seems like anyone says anything interesting about those problems. Month after month, people just spew a bunch of hyperbolic rubbish.

I would just like to point out that it is likely, rather, that the famous poets of the “pre-MFA… (approx. pre mid-seventies)” would be a lot less famous if they were trying to irk a place in the poetry landscape of today… rather than the other way around. There are simply more people reading and writing poetry in a serious way. I think it is funny, really, that people’s romantic notions of "genius" are being torn apart. Good riddance.


At 5/14/2010 11:58 AM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Despite what everyone has said about the good--and the bad--that professional (official) workshops do--a few facts deserve to be remembered:

One) Workshops don't exist because people want them to, or want to attend them. They exist because the institutions that run them make money off of them, and reap the rewards of notoriety and promotion, much as football teams are designed to do. This economic fact continues to be true, regardless of whether or not you believe that workshops do some real good for their participants.

Two) Most workshops are taught by people who can't earn a living solely through their writing. IOW, workshops are a way of subsisting through a system that exists primarily to support the institutions that run them, and secondarily to support their paid participants. IOW, results don't count as much as the mission, which is the perpetuation of the department.

Three) Good (or better) writers don't need workshops to succeed. In fact, the "failure rate" of MFA programs is truly astounding. For all the participants (students) who graduate with an MFA, certainly less than 1% gets a book published, publishes a poem in a major literary periodical, secures a job teaching literature as a craft, or goes on to write anything of consequence.

Four) Seth Abramson never misses the chance to remind us how miserable he would be had he never discovered the workshop system. He'd still be slaving away as a lawyer, and--no doubt, by this time--would have found his way into private practice, and would be making a handsome living at it. He might have become embittered at not having enough time to write, or having sold his soul to mammon. So the argument that a workshop system that could support him at what he really thought he should do with his life becomes an argument in favor of a system which was NOT created as a middle-class alternative to the "dirty" work most of us do. IOW, it wasn't invented for Seth's benefit. The fact that he enjoyed the opportunity, and that it may well lead to a rewarding alternative career, isn't an argument in favor of workshops as producers of literary talent. Lots of doctors and lawyers would really prefer to be writing fiction like Grisham and Canin do, but the workshop system wasn't set up and maintained to make that possible. Writing carries a certain glamor, a certain freedom. You don't have a boss, and the personal sense of accomplishment may be many times greater than the things one does for money. Workshops hold that kind of temptation out to their applicants, even though most probably realize that this is a pipe dream. Pipe dreams are fine, but we shouldn't be deluded into thinking that the MFA system is, for the most part, any more than a fantasy camp system that has few real successes to recommend it.

The influence of the MFA upon the writing scene is neither good, nor bad. It doesn't create writers; and it doesn't do much to facilitate the development of writers who would have made it anyway, with or without a workshop system. I think this is Franz's point, and the fact that he himself may participate in the system doesn't in any way subtract from the probable truth of his accusations. I suspect that most workshop teachers--if their livelihoods didn't depend upon it--would admit the same thing. Workshops can foster mediocrity just as certainly as they can foster excellence. At the very least, I think the jury's still out on that. And in any case, art isn't about financial success and getting ahead. There's lots of terrible art (and terrible writing) that gets celebrated and rewarded and bought. There NEVER has been any direct correlation between economic gain and artistic value.

At 5/14/2010 12:24 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

I thought Franz Wright's letter and its addenda were, like his poems, terrific. Riveting, unlike most online writing. They reminded me of blunt, pre-pc days when people weren't so timidly conciliatory, when people called a spade a spade.

Maybe I should add that I went through an MFA program. But I never for a moment thought I'd emerge a Master of the Art of Poetry, though I was very young. I MFA'd because I was fresh out of college and didn't know what to do other than bookworm and fill journals with moony balderdash. I thought, hey, I'll do what these people who're doing what I want to do do. Move to a cool college town with lots of books and hard-to-find rock 'n roll, hang with William Matthews, meet girls who write poems, maybe learn how to finish my attempts at poetry. It wasn't such a bad way to go. And if any of you want to wipe your ass with any of the poems at my blogs, I'd be most gratified.

Someone who'd been unfavorably reviewed by Randall Jarrell said, "I felt as though I'd been run over by a truck, but not hurt." That's how FW's letter made me feel.

At 5/14/2010 1:35 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


You are -- what's the right word? -- delectably full of it. When you're not running around telling people on blogs and elsewhere that I enjoy arguing just for the hell of it, you're running around on blogs doing just the opposite, in two ways: 1) by arguing that, in fact, I really do mean what I say, I'm just wrong; 2) by proving that you literally can't be instructed, and (therefore, one presumes) are just hanging around blogs to argue.

None of your "facts" are "facts" -- in fact they're the opposite, inasmuch as they're entirely inaccurate and merely the product of your own agenda.

One) Far and away the largest number of workshops in America are not hosted by universities. The workshop system is endlessly replicated in small groups of poets, both online and off, all across the country. You continue to have a fanciful notion of the MFA workshop as hierarchical -- and therefore you see moderated online workshops (which is where I got my own start), private salons, and public meeting groups as fundamentally different. They're not. I don't know when you were last in a workshop, but in my experience there's a small number of professors who run their classes with an iron fist, and then the 95% who don't. And that remaining 5% would be a total bear even in a wholly non-hierarchical online or offline private workshop. So, no: the workshop structure exists because hundreds of thousands of poets have found it useful in the last 75 years, including those -- like you -- who I'm sure pass your work around to peers, ask for their feedback, and then pretend you're not workshopping. Let's be clear: the opposite of workshopping is showing no one your work. Anything else is a brand of workshopping, with as much variation in form as, say, the Iowa Writers' Workshop workshops have from the workshops at University of Wisconsin-Madison. It's a totally different experience.

Two) You know very well, as I've told you many times, that one-third of full-res MFA programs fully fund 75% or more of their students, and the other two-thirds often fund many of their students. More than two-thirds of all applications go to the fully-funded programs and these are also the highest-ranked programs. Most MFA programs with any sort of reputation either do not make money for the university or make no more than these universities' anthropology departments do, and I don't hear you saying anthropology is a scam. If MFAs are a scam any university that charges tuition to anyone is a scam. MFA programs are better funded, now, than almost any other form of graduate program (law school, business school, dental school, medical school, engineering school; they're more or less tied with humanities Ph.D. programs at this point). To the extent universities make money off of Teaching Assistants, welcome to America, Curtis -- a TAship is employment, and every single employer that hires anyone in America is making money off that employment or the job wouldn't exist. Why don't you go around and ask MFA-studying TAs if they're rather work at Starbucks. You're living in a fantasy world. There are so many paper tigers in your jungle no wonder you're shooting with a rubber-band gun.


At 5/14/2010 1:54 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Three) Many fiction MFA professors could quite possibly earn a living off their writing, given the size of trade-press advances -- the reason fiction-writers still teach is that they don't want to have to apportion their six-figure advances over a period of years by living frugally, and/or would rather know where their next paycheck is coming from. As to poets, no poet besides Maya Angelou and a couple others can live off their writing, so it's a straw man -- as well to say that poets work as baristas because they can't live off their writing, or secretaries, or delivery-persons, or whatever. Repeat: statistically well over 99.9% of poets can't live off poetry, so it's just a question of how we're going to be employed otherwise. There's no causal relationship, therefore, between Academy employment and some sort of "attitude" toward poetry.

Four) That you want MFA programs to be obsessed with "results" is a sign that you are acting in bad faith, Curtis -- as, in my experience, you nearly always are. MFA programs don't often sell themselves based on "results" because they candidly tell applicants that they can't teach them how to write, and that being a poet or writer is about artistic integrity and not about "results." If MFA programs were obsessed with "results," as you're demanding, you'd be slamming them for that too. You're arguing both sides of the point and that's BS. MFA professors are poets and writers and as anti-institutional as anyone -- this notion that they're teaching students (many or most of whom are not "paid participants" in the sense of paying tuition) with an eye toward serving their institutional masters is absurd. I want you to write Lyn Hejinian right now, you coward, and tell her that she doesn't care about her students and is only trying to make money for the public university she works for. What an imbecilic argument this is. Even you don't believe it.

Five) Nobody "needs" a workshop to succeed -- that's why MFA programs never tell applicants that they can't succeed without an MFA. I've studied MFA programs longer and in more depth than anyone in the U.S., and I've never once come across a program that told applicants or current students anything different than what I've just said. You are a propagandist, which means facts don't matter to you. Like this one: the notion that 1% of MFAed poets publishes a poem in a literary periodical is... well, Jesus, it's just an astounding admission of not only ignorance but, again, bad faith. Around 1,600 poets graduate from MFA programs every year, and 1% of that is 16 poets. In my graduating class at Iowa nearly 100% of my classmates (that's 20-21 people at a single MFA; there are 199 other MFA programs) had already published work in at least one major literary periodical. And at University of Wisconsin-Madison that figure is 100%. Jesus, Curtis, when I came to Iowa I learned right off that 50% of the fiction class that had graduated 6 years earlier had already published at least one book. You are full of it at a level that is jaw-dropping.

Six) Next time you see me face to face I want you to say -- to my face -- that I would have sold out and gone into private practice, you little jerk. I went to law school solely to be a public defender, never even interviewed with any employer that was not a public defender, and left the law in part because I could see doing nothing else and was losing my mind from the stress of public defense. You absolute coward -- to the extent Franz loses his you know what on these boards I'm sure it's in part because people who have never met him start talking about his personal life like they have a clue.


At 5/14/2010 1:57 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Seven) "The 'dirty' work most of us do." What do you do, Curtis? Aren't you like a librarian or something? The MFA students I know have lived, I'm sure, just as hardscrabble a life as you have -- and I certainly know that when I was an attorney I was making less, and struggling more financially, than you were, unless you were working at a Dairy Queen. How does 33K/year sound to you, with 145K debt? At least two friends from MFA programs in just the past two years have, as their post-grad plan, jumping on trains and traveling the country on a couple dollars a day. One is homeless. For you to speak from your middle-class comfort of things you know nothing about really irks me beyond words. I was rolling pennies for dinners in New Hampshire because of my commitment to public service while you were dining out, I'm sure. So don't you pull this class BS on me.

Eight) Many of the best poets of this generation attended MFA programs -- "no real successes to recommend it." Are you insane? Why do you do this, Curtis? What do you have to gain by spreading things you know are false? Is it fun for you? Because I literally cannot think that you could be this much of a jerkoff.


At 5/14/2010 2:28 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


Perhaps I should revise my remark about your professional prospects as a lawyer. Anyone with as little emotional self-control as you show, would never make it in the pressure of a live courtroom.

I must confess that I am indeed one of those poets who doesn't "show his work around"--I wrote seriously between 1967 and about 1980, then gave it up for over twenty years, resuming gradually beginning in about 2002. I don't feel the need to get feedback from my peers, and I don't think my "work" such as it is, suffers to any measurable degree, from this lack.

In addressing the question of institutional workshops, I'm obviously not including those "informal" ones to which you refer, since these do not proffer professional degrees, and don't "count" in the spheres of advancement and official recognition.

Unlike Franz Wright, I think you DO tend to confuse your own involvement in the workshop system (as being somehow providential) with some presumed value of your own literary efforts, and this authorizes and entitles you to speak as an expert in/about it. I think Wright is stepping outside the sphere of his own involvement to criticize a system that he sees as corrupt and perpetuating a closed-system of creeping mediocrity. That may make him hypocritical, but it doesn't necessarily make his accusations wrong.

Unlike you, I DON'T tend to equate professional advancement as a proof of aesthetic value. As I say in the last sentence of my post, "There NEVER has been any direct correlation between economic gain and artistic value."

The value and purpose of workshops is really a matter of opinion. You have made a personal study of the workshop system, and have concluded that it serves a social good, that it really does foster and facilitate quality literature. I disagree. But my disagreement isn't based on a capitalist equation. I don't think art and commerce necessarily converge. The "results" which you're anxious to cite mean nothing, in the end, unless one can distinguish between the value of the product and the value of the process. Good poems may just be a residue of the workshop system. Does the workshop system produce more good poets than would otherwise exist? Does the workshop give some writers the leisure to write more good poems than would otherwise have been written? Or (drumroll) are these completely irrelevant questions in the argument?

There is nothing about the biographies you cite that would convince me that workshops make possible the creation of a superior product. There's nothing about the value of salaries and grants and TA'ships and prizes that convinces me that any of it makes possible the creation of a superior product.

Workshops are a great thing. You get to keep going to school for a couple more years, and no one "fails". Straight A's for everyone. A lot of grant and work-study money is thrown around. Wow. You get hooked into the grapevine of promotions and recommendations and literary gossip, and you get to add the degree to your resume. You might even meet that special person who'll share your life. It's all good.

But the poems? Ah, that's another matter entirely.

At 5/14/2010 3:09 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


A blog is not a courtroom. Proof of that is that you, as an internet Troll of some repute, would be taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs by two elderly sheriff's deputies if you tried to pull in a courtroom what you pull here. I don't exhibit emotional self-control here because this -- the blogosphere -- is a lawless enterprise where people like you spread misinformation for the pure hell of it. In a courtroom, a single affirmative misrepresentation can get you disbarred. So no, you needn't worry about how well I did in homicide trials in New Hampshire, Curtis -- I think it's your own ability to survive a real-time environment where facts matter that's at issue here, if anything.

I admire your consistency -- if you believe all feedback is unnecessary then several things are true: 1) you do have more integrity than I thought, and I commend you for it; 2) you're in a minority of serious, hard-working poets to the tune of something like 2% to 10% (the rest of us do share our work); 3) in the U.S., the largest group of "poets" who write poetry as you do is called the "poetaster" -- you meet them at parties sometimes (if you're in college) and they tell you that they secretly scribble poetry in their diaries and/or use it to get laid. They are "poets," and by and large their view of the utility of feedback is the same as yours -- we know they're not serious about poetry because they claim to know everything they need to know about poetry already and to be their own best teacher. They also think they can assess their own work from an unbiased standpoint -- that's why most of them are writing unmetered "sonnets" that ape Shakespeare. They never knew to read contemporary poetry, never asked for guidance from anyone, and always felt self-sufficient as "poets" writing in the delicious isolation of their moleskin commonplace books.


At 5/14/2010 3:12 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Your initial comment said that "Workshops don't exist because people want them to, or want to attend them." My point, which you don't dispute, is that in fact people "want" to attend workshops in large numbers -- and institutions offer one site at which that can be done, but they are fulfilling a need and a desire that in fact pre-dates their programs. The "workshop" model, even back in the 1930s, was intended as little more than a better-funded version of the literary salon that had existed since -- well, forever. As far as what "counts" in the spheres of "advancement and official recognition," I think in putting the issue this way you are revealing your own bitterness. While an MFA is a pre-requisite for a college teaching position (in exactly the same way a teaching certificate is required to teach at a public high school, or a Ph.D. is required to teach anthropology at a university full-time), it does not in any way "advance" one's writing "career" and no one thinks so. Editors don't care if someone's gone to an MFA, Curtis! Nor should they! And you know that. Nor does an MFA student get any special "official recognition" for attending an MFA besides the degree. Much like my J.D. -- it wasn't worth anything until I passed a bar exam somewhere and went into penury to be a public servant, my singular goal in doing so being to get harassed on multiple blogs, across many months, by someone like you. No: only the work matters, I have always said that, and again you've read me say that many times.

As to what "authorizes" me to talk about MFA programs, Curtis -- well, I suppose I should stop there, because maybe you really don't know. Find any MFA student and ask them who the national expert on MFA programs is. I don't say that out of hubris -- there's neither much money or notoriety in being an expert on MFA programs, and I get to deal, again, with people like you on a regular basis in consequence -- I say it because it's a fact. So no, when I speak about MFA programs I'm going off the hundreds of interviews I've done with MFA applicants, students, and graduates since I first starting researching MFA programs years ago (this was before I wrote one-third of the top-selling MFA-related book on the U.S. market, Curtis). Again, in a courtroom ethos matters, on a blog it's gauche to discuss. You force my hand here, but yes, I'm an authority on this, for whatever that's worth. I do, as a matter of fact, know exponentially more about the subject we're discussing than you do.

I have never equated professional advancement as proof of aesthetic value -- this is preposterous. That I attended Iowa says nothing about my writing skills, as I have to prove them day in, day out just like anyone else. Again, I assume you make this accusation because you don't realize that I am actually an expert in this field quite apart from my MFA experience (which is precisely, as you say, anecdotal, and mentioned here only because it serves to show that I don't even need to go to my national expertise to know everything you've said is false!).

"The value and purpose of workshops is really a matter of opinion" -- yes, of course, because workshops are experienced personally and not as a group phenomenon. Different people have different experiences. You'll note that I haven't accused you of being "wrong" for disliking workshops personally, I've objected to your dishonest attempt to throw "facts" around that are not, actually, "facts." Anyone reading this thread can see that you were trying to establish ethos without facts -- we don't do that in courtrooms, Curtis, but it doesn't work well on blogs, either.


At 5/14/2010 5:43 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


Let me respond by correcting your misconceptions about me.

I am not in the least "bitter" about Workshops. Nothing that happened to me when I attended them led me to feel that I had been cheated, or ignored, or otherwise slighted. I attended Iowa between 1969 and 1972.

In order to understand how I view the workshop system, I have to back up a little and explain how I conceive of them as a social organization. Workshops are rather like many academic program departments: There is a power hierarchy, and there is a pecking order. Favors and attention and rewards are based partly on worthiness, and partly on favoritism and partly on politics. "Instructors" seldom agree on rankings, or applications--and the situation basically breaks down into camps of willing disagreement(s). There is nothing unusual about this at all.

The practice of an art, like poetry, is most easily measured through the demonstration of a command of materials. Accomplished technicians usually are the easiest to credit, since their ability is the clearest demonstration of "promise". The workshop system, historically, has been built around this craftsmanly precocity because it's almost impossible not to use such criteria. Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot would have been recognized immediately by workshop readers, because they had mastered traditional forms at a very early age. What this means in terms of workshop bureaucracies, is that there has historically been a self-confirming investment in conservative formality. (This may have--certainly it must have--changed by now, since the names I see on faculty lists now include people who would have been considered quite "far-out" "in my day" etc.) Nonetheless, what workshops do, is perpetuate the tastes and proclivities of their faculties. Faculties change over time, so the institutional taste may gradually change over time, too.

What was immediately apparent, within a matter of about two weeks of my arrival at the workshop, was that the faculty had already "mapped out" the social and aesthetic structure of the "student body" before we had arrived, and had firmed up (confirmed) this within a matter of hours of meeting the new candidates. IOW, candidates for the plum TA positions, applicants for the prize submissions, and so forth, were already "tracked" before classes had really begun. Of a total "class" of perhaps 75 candidates, 6-10 were earmarked for professional encouragement, and the rest were there, really, to support this select group. Politically, conservatives got the most bennies, and the "radicals" got the left-overs. The conservative wing was in power, and they saw to it that their favorite designees weren't discouraged.

In addition, the workshop system was a social machine in which self-promotion and aggressive ambition played a key role in getting ahead. Regionally, "visiting" poets brought their programs with them, and carved out areas of influence and preference. In the years I was at Iowa, the "Goddard College" contingent had extraordinary influence, and nearly every one of its representative candidates were honored and singled out for recognition--even before they had arrived. I could name names, but that would be gauche.

End Part I

At 5/14/2010 5:45 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Part II

When I arrived, my work was in a state of complete flux. I had abandoned "craftsmanly" efforts in favor of avant styles. This put me at an immediate, automatic disadvantage. But I could see, from an aesthetic point of view, that this had nothing to do with the ultimate value of my work, or of my competitors--it was a social, institutional fact of life, with which one dealt, as in any other corrupt bureaucracy (all bureaucracies are corrupt--you'd expect me to say that).

Feedback is perfectly fine. I've never felt that my work, or anyone else's, is necessarily better or worse as a result of getting more, rather than less, frequent criticism(s). In my experience, the best lesson to be gained from workshops is the acknowledgment that people can actually hate your work for the same reasons you might think they should love it. Ultimately, there's no reason for one to change to suit other views of your work: I doubt whether Robert Frost would ever have changed a single word or punctuation mark to suit anyone else's taste. Despite the possible range of talent and value of work across the spectrum, I think that should be anyone's position: You write the way you want to, and if people don't like it, fuck'em. It may sound tiresome to remind people that Dickinson and Whitman and Hopkins and even Williams (early on) not only didn't have an audience, but didn't give a fig what people thought. There is no correlation between the "privacy" and "amateurishness" of writers, and the quality of what they produce. Which is why I think equating workshops with the production of quality art (literature) is false.

In my experience, MFA's, and the system of which they're a party, DO influence editors and committees and judges. There's a grapevine of gossip and whispering and correspondence that guides the whole network of literary advancement in America. Because our nation is so big, key people in key positions generally will do what they can to promote their agenda, and that of their confederates. Aspirants for the Lamont or placement in The New Yorker or nice assistant visiting lecturer positions are usually vetted "outside" the official procedures, just as they are in corporations.

What that means is...well, just as I said above: It's about politics and who you know and how much charm you possess.

End Part II

At 5/14/2010 5:49 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Part III-

Finally, with respect to courtrooms and blogs, the skills you brought with you from the law don't necessarily serve you in poetry, and I don't think they serve you on blogs, either, to judge by your behavior. You may think your reputation is of a mean-tempered, hard-nosed straight-shooter, but more often you come off simply as blustery and contemptuous. No matter how hard you've studied the American workshop system, that doesn't buy you a license to insult people.

In the last analysis, I find your preoccupation with workshops to be a distraction from your work. I thought, when you closed down your blog, you had finally seen the light, but the attraction seems irresistible to you.

Here's an intuition: The law didn't nourish whatever it is that you're lusting after. The lawyer in you is angry, and the poet in you isn't. You may be struggling with this for the rest of your life.

At 5/14/2010 6:24 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


I'm happy to confirm what I'm sure you've suspected -- that the workshop is 2010 is nothing at all like the workshop you've described, which was last (at best) extant in the U.S. four decades ago, from whence your single anecdotal account comes, if I understand right.

There are as many ways of viewing the workshop experience as there are MFA students; you treat MFA students like rhetorical foils, that's why they're always acting in such an unsatisfying way in your accounts of them. O'Hara said that he always used any feedback he got in the next poem -- he did not re-write current poems based on feedback. In that sense he used feedback just as one might use a new book of poetry you've read -- it all goes in the file that is the psyche. Many MFA students have this attitude, and one of the most conservative books on teaching pedagogy, Triggering Town by Richard Hugo (of Montana's MFA), begins by telling students to ignore anything he says that they don't find useful. That book came out 20 years ago, Curtis. So again, your views are from the Nixon Administration.

As far as your commentary on laurels and such, again, the bitterness comes out there. You and Ron need the American poetry community to only have (at most) 10,000 people in it so you can weave your conspiracy theories. That in fact there are somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 active poets in the U.S. means that, no, most poets actually don't know most other poets, and Ron's read only a fraction of what's out there. Is there seediness? Absolutely. But this idea that everything is mapped out in advance is bizarre -- whether we're talking about MFA programs or CAP generally. Yes, a few people, like the Dickmans, have worked the system to death (and I could think of some others, too) and they've "positioned" themselves. Most of the rest of us just write the poems and follow our passions -- there's no secret plan in a manila folder somewhere.

I have no idea what my "reputation" is on blogs. In the same way you're not bothered by having a reputation as a comment-field Troll, I'm not bothered that you think I am "blustery and contemptuous." By volume, about 5% of my correspondence with poets happens in public -- the other 95% is me spending countless hours writing amiably to fellow poets, usually younger poets. And besides a few Trolls online, I get along fine with most people.

As to insulting people, Jesus, Curtis, I think you have no idea, do you, how many times you have insulted me. I insult you because I am angry at you for all the times you've insulted me. Nonsense like this -- "The law didn't nourish whatever it is that you're lusting after. The lawyer in you is angry, and the poet in you isn't. You may be struggling with this for the rest of your life." -- is so blindingly patronizing I'm amazed you can't see it. I'm an attorney in my mid-30s, I don't welcome psychoanalysis from some guy I don't know who acts like I'm 12 years old.

I also am confident -- very -- that you don't know anything about my poetry, or who I read, or what I want to do in poetry, etcetera. You've neither read much (or any) of my in-MFA/post-MFA poetry, nor do you care to (which is totally fine; I'm not offended or bothered by this, I promise you).

Stop going out of your way to insult me -- you opened your participation in this thread with, "Seth Abramson never misses the chance to remind us how miserable he would be had he never discovered the workshop system" blah blah blah -- and I promise you'll find me perfectly cordial.


At 5/14/2010 7:45 PM, Blogger Jason Bradford said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/14/2010 8:29 PM, Blogger Jason Bradford said...

I'm curious where the Low-Residency MFA sits in this debate. It seems to me a beautiful middle-ground where students aren't "taken out of the world" but for about 2 weeks, depending on travel method, while still gaining a sense of community and feedback from experienced writers (notice I didn't attach any quality to the experience).

At 5/15/2010 4:03 AM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


My comments on the workshop system have relevance because I did participate in it. My (quite limited) authority derives from first-hand (what you call anecdotal) experience. I don't claim to be an expert on it, just someone with opinions. I have the luxury of not having to be responsible, because I have no stake in it, as you seem to.

Unlike you, I haven't set up as an expert on the workshop system. Why anyone would want to do this is quite beyond my comprehension. What is most apparent, in your pronouncements, is your willingness to wear your own experience as a lawyer on your sleeve. I doubt whether anyone in the blogosphere cares whether you were happy or sad about having previously been a lawyer, just as they're completely uninterested in my experience as a landscape architect: It's simply irrelevant to the discussion at hand. YOU keep bringing it up, so it must mean something. You huff and you puff and out burps this big bitter horse pill about having slogged away in Massachusetts as a public defender. So which is it?, Seth, should you have stayed in the game, stuck it out doing something that inspired your very considerable mental powers, or left it quietly and happily behind?

Your vehement arguments about the democratization of art are all perfectly fine. It's wonderful that there are--as you claim--lots more people writing and reading and being heard and recognized. I'm not interested--nor is Ron, as I understand him--in curbing this development. My point is that the regional eclecticism--which has been America's main artistic strength and value--is subsumed within an "official" culture of taste and access that determines in large measure what we're allowed to think of as worthy. Which is why for every Jack Gilbert or Richard Hugo there are hundreds--thousands--of aspirants, all lured into the workshop system by the dream of participating in an illusion. These people should make their own scene. Scribble like mad, make little magazines, have readings, give each other prizes. God love'em. But for the most part, the reading public doesn't give a fig about them and there's no reason it should. 90% of the poetry scene is made up of just these well-intentioned, well-meaning folks.

What poetry needs, and doesn't have, is an audience. There's a fairly tiny reading audience, and there's a fairly small internet contingent, which follows a slightly different movie. I doubt whether the workshop system is likely to make any inroads into that problem. In fact, it might actually make the situation worse. Typically, periodicals that have any cache get overwhelmed with submissions, and end up summarily tossing 95% of everything sent to them because the load's overwhelming. The same is true of publishers. They become de facto taste-makers and cultural arbiters. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? For my money, workshops don't have a corner on the marketplace of taste, any more than local police departments have a good hold on local crime. Charles Bukowski--whose work, for the most part, bores me--was nevertheless a real writer with a real subject who sprouted like a flower in the crumbling concrete of the LA skid-row. The workshop scene didn't need him, and he didn't need it. I find that an inspiring fact, despite (as I say) not particularly liking what he wrote.

This is kind of a tiresome debate, so I think I'll split now.

At 5/15/2010 7:55 AM, Blogger Norm said...

"We’ve got a nation of teenage poets cultivating a rich crop of sensitivity. Where do I get my soldiers?" --from Adriano Shaplin’s play, Pugilist Specialist
This is all about the longshoreman bitching about his union because he paid union dues and expected a steady stream of dock work.

Poetry is now officially sausage and the factory workers are whining because the vast majority of the population has moved on to scrapple. Now, is society ill-advised to dump sausage for scrapple? Perhaps. But when you jumped on the MFA boat for career/economic/ vocational purposes, you tacitly bought into the American service sector economy where the customer is king and his sceptre tends towards stuff like porno and video games. Who today would enter an apprenticeship for buggy whips? Only mascochists, fools and yes perhaps the occasional poet. So the utter career suicide of an MFA degrees hints at the negative capabilities of a true poet. So there is hope --albeit for a spate of unintended reasons.

As for MFA programs...it's not the MFA part that troubles me, it's the program part as in 'getting with the program' 'programmatic diagrams' etc. There have always been like-minded poets and schools of one sort or another. But why gird this naturally human impulse to seek out like-minded souls with matriculation, credit hours --if not perhaps to kill it? Why not gather on Tuesdays nights around an unaccredited coffee table?

The currency of poetry is eccentricity manifested through inventive image and language. It screams solitude and weird unassimilable loners. It's not a coalition-builder or a market-maker. If cats can indeed be herded, look again, because they ain't cats. They're cows in cat costumes.

Nw the cows are mooing for green pastures when they should be stalking mice like proper hunters. Here's the worse part: they don't know who they are. They are abysmal self-listeners. They lumped the poet with the butcher and the baker. Or they thought the moniker of poet could be conferred by outside agency. Suddenly they are hungry and this art stuff isn't all that cool anymore. The best that can be hoped is that this rendezvous with hunger might birth a poet or two of stature. Because tenure can't do it.


At 5/15/2010 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

a few of you really need to get laid

At 5/15/2010 8:29 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

Er...actually, Curtis, you were the one who came into this conversation and made my prior employment a major issue. I'd mentioned it only to echo Steven's point -- which was a direct response to FW's assertion -- that everyone in the discussion was a product of the MFA system and therefore couldn't think outside of it. Seemed reasonable to point out that no, actually, many of -- wait a minute... landscape architect...? Think I'll have to go back and revisit all your sour references to the middle class...

Clearly the better way to have this conversation is to the list the hundreds -- probably thousands -- of talented poets with MFA degrees, with an emphasis on those whose work is experimental. But there's the problem -- it's no longer a question of which innovative poets do have an MFA, it's a question of which don't. The only reason this "tiresome" conversation lasts as long as it does, every time it pops up, is that opponents of the MFA are permitted to speak in obscure generalities. Ask them to denounce anyone by name -- to say that Lyn Hejinian, Forrest Gander, Jorie Graham, C.D. Wright, Rae Armantrout, Joshua Clover, Dean Young, Keith Waldrop, Alice Fulton, Prageeta Sharma, Ray Gonzalez, A. Van Jordan, Matthea Harvey, Lucie Brock-Broido, Philip Levine, Christian Bok, Peter Gizzi, &c &c &c &c -- are all just institutional zombies following the marching orders of their capitalist masters, and suddenly the game doesn't seem so fun anymore, because MFA detractors can only operate in an atmosphere where none of their friends know about what they're saying or will/can be offended by it. Hell, Ron Silliman himself studied in a creative writing Master's! The bottom line is that this conversation can only be had in a kind of Candyland, because back in the real world too many people MFA detractors respect and fear went to or teach at MFA programs. The same thing goes for the best young poets: FW praises Michael Dickman, who attended the MFA at Texas. Ron Silliman praises MFA graduates constantly. Any list of the nation's most interesting -- and experimental -- young writers will include many (perhaps a majority) who studied at MFA programs.

So at best this conversation isn't worth having because the MFA doesn't move the ball one way or another. At worst people like Curtis who were last in a workshop four decades ago are shouting "You kids get off my lawn!" to a younger generation that wants just a few months outside the daily grind in order to better orient themselves toward a life of suffering as a poet in the United States.

Then, once they graduate from the MFA, they can go become landscape architects.


At 5/15/2010 9:42 AM, Anonymous terri said...

Please, Jason! How rude of you to interrupt Seth and Curtis--wait for the boys to put away the ruler and pull their pants up.

At 5/15/2010 12:30 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


Through tall grass two stones fly
from opposite directions, simultaneously.
Kill the same rabbit!
Two men, surprised, look up through the grass
from opposite directions, instantaneously.
Then at the rabbit.
Circling, both approach slowly, slings dangling,
curious, suspicious, eyeing each other,
then look at the rabbit both sought.

Both hungry under Neolithic skies,
each has need of what the other’s got.
Both move, drop slings for spears and throw!
One man dies. One eats, one not
for two have claimed one rabbit.

Copyright 2010 - Ponds and Lawns, Gary B. Fitzgerald

At 5/15/2010 12:54 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

I don't know when it happened, but at some point argument got coded "masculine." That's self-evidently misogynistic -- and so I'd prefer, Terri, if you said, as I know you think, that we were acting like idiots (or even that only I was) rather than implying we were acting like men. I've been in some vicious arguments with women as well, often in courtrooms -- and there were no rulers or penises being pulled out.

Sorry, I should have written "Terri," i.e. put your name in scare-quotes -- as of course you're courageously posting under an anonymous account.


At 5/15/2010 1:23 PM, Blogger Louise Mathias said...

ok Seth, you're acting like an idiot.

(not terry, btw).

At 5/15/2010 1:27 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


Fair enough.


At 5/16/2010 9:11 AM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

When women argue, they're defending the faith.

When men argue, they're just riding hobby-horses.

Sexual innuendo aside, I thought we were talking about workshops, but I guess we were really just brawling.

That's like confusing the soldiers with their uniforms.

I.e., all German and Russian and Afghan soldiers are bad, and all American and French and Finnish soldiers are good. Killing is fine as long as the other side is evil. And it always is.

Do wars have moderators? If they did, then we could chastise all the participants for having erectile dysfunction. Or maybe they're just all wet.

At 5/17/2010 8:52 AM, Blogger R. Sanford said...


As as long-time lover of Franz's work, and as someone in an MFA program, I feel some need to chime in here.

What this entire thing (comments included) comes down to for me, honestly, is that I don't really care what anyone thinks about MFA programs except for me.

Franz is my favorite poet, and I can say without exaggeration he is reason I fell in love with and am still writing poetry. I love his work and look forward to whatever more of it comes, but let me repeat: I don't care what he thinks about MFA programs or my being in one. I don't care what Seth thinks, what John thinks, what anyone thinks except for me. I know why I chose an MFA program and I know why it's important to me and I have my own personal beliefs on what I'm 'getting out of it'.

If a writer isn't 'talented' or whatever, no MFA program will make her amazing. We can agree on that, yes? But it's also true that if a writer IS talented, really talented, has a genuinely singular voice and persistence, no MFA program (or anything else for that matter) will stop her or 'taint' her; to say so is very insulting.

I agree with others here: MFAs are neither 'good' nor 'bad', they're just another rock in the landscape, and I think people (on both sides of the very old and boring argument) who take those rocks and call them mountains are revealing qualities about themselves they should probably not be interested in revealing.

I love Franz for his poetry, not his personal opinions on MFAs, the presidential elections, global warming, or really anything else.

Franz The Poet and Franz The Blog Commenter are not the same person to me, is what this comes down to. Guess which one I value? This goes for every other person commenting here (and not commenting here, as the case may be).

The only real 'danger' I see in MFA programs is the same 'danger' I see in blog posts / comment wars precisely like this one: too many writers talking about writing instead of writing (or even in addition to, of course). The danger here is thinking too much, calling too many rocks mountains & sometimes seeing value in scaling them.

Every time I see a writer I respect (or might be interested in) get involved in one of these things, I feel disappoint & annoyed 100% of the time. Obviously this isn't the case for everyone but it is for me. I realize I'm being a bit hypocritical by being involved in the discussion, but sometimes one has to scratch that itch. I hope I didn't betray myself in too many ways I'll dislike later.

I can't quite say I don't see 'value' in these discussions, but I've yet to read one where I didn't feel everyone involved was wasting their time, getting 'into it' with one another when they could be writing a poem, or reading a book of poetry, or teaching a class, or going for a fucking walk. Anything but this.


At 5/17/2010 12:14 PM, Blogger c.harris.stevens said...

Dear Doorbell of Comment Number 105,

Ted Berrigan's casual discussion works as a dialogue with Herr Wright's criticisms. This is a poem. This is a walk.

At 5/17/2010 1:23 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

RSS, good points, but I think people can walk and chew gum at the same time. Like probably most folks in this thread, I spend the greater part of every day writing or reading or discussing poetry in real-time, and once every few weeks get involved in a blog discussion. Just because we don't have much of a window into one another's lives doesn't mean those lives don't exist.

As to whether the MFA is worth fighting over or not, I'd say you have the luxury of taking neither position on the issue in large part because others have fought for the MFA on your behalf -- if you think it a foregone conclusion that the MFA will survive, that it will not be wiped out by those with a mind to do so, those with the authority to poison the well against it (largely by demagoguery on the issue directed at younger writers), you need to think again. If no one were shaming the programs into funding students, they would not fund students -- and fewer and fewer people would be able to or want to attend, and MFA detractors would find before themselves a rhetorical field ripe for the picking.

I am thrilled you are enjoying your MFA. But don't begrudge too much those of us who are trying to insure that those who come after you will have the same opportunity you've had. MFA programs are "good" not because they change how poets write as the result of some hierarchical process -- I've said many times I don't believe that -- but because they do no harm to bad poets and give good poets the time and space (notice I don't say "instruction") to get better. If the "good"/"bad" debate were really about aesthetics, it would be, as you say, pointless. But it's not -- it's about money, access, time, community, and all the things you're enjoying right now in part because people are fighting over these issues and the good guys are winning across the board.


At 5/17/2010 1:36 PM, Blogger R. Sanford said...

The MFA's 'survival' seems a hilarious notion to me, considering how many there are / how many are funded / how many keep popping up.

Sure, I'm glad the funding is there, I'm glad 'the fight' was won, but I guess I'll sigh and put myself across the line in the sand and say it there weren't funded MFA programs, there'd just be more people meeting in houses / cafes / bars / whatever and discussing / workshopping / whatever.

I think the 'place' they create is important, but that 'place' was there long before MFAs, and it'd be there long after if the funding went away. The place is important, not where the place is (ivory tower vs. French cafe, whatever).

My point being I'm as glad as anyone it's there for me, but 'it' would always be there for me, no matter what, so I'm not going to start in with the feelings of obligation / agreement that the 'fight must rage on'.

Just scale your rocks, don't tell me which rocks I should scale. (Or which mountain-climbers I should consider myself indebted to).

Again, I get the impression people think these blog discussions do more than they do, perhaps. Aren't you likening this little comment storm to 'insuring those that come after...' etc.? Doesn't that seem a little silly? If you're teaching at XXX University and they're about to cut your MFA funding / program altogether and you want to riot, I'm on board with that. Once more, this is rocks not mountains.

At 5/17/2010 1:40 PM, Blogger R. Sanford said...

Also, just to be clear, I never stated specifically that I was 'enjoying' my MFA, just that I knew why I chose to attend one and what I hope to get out of it. My qualms with MFAs at large is a discussion for another time, but I'd be glad to have it, with whoever. #1 though is the assumption that 'community' has some kind of intrinsic, objective truth to everyone (or should).

I can't tell you how many MFAers I've met that told me that they're in an MFA 'for the community, not for the writing'. That idea makes me nauseous.

At 5/17/2010 2:44 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

RSS, I didn't tell you who to be indebted to -- you are in debt, that's the point, and who you're in debt to is immaterial and not something I care about whatsoever, as I'm only replying to your sense that the MFA was inevitable and that it changes nothing.

The MFA boom happened in the mid-1990s. At that time virtually no fully-funded programs existed -- but the economy was good. The economy got bad, the job market got even worse, the attack on MFA programs persisted in print and online, and only recently have enough fully-funded programs emerged to get us close to a tipping point beyond which the MFA cannot be dialed back and can only continue to expand (with unfunded programs feeling sufficient pressure to become fully funded that they do in fact make that change at the still-glacial rate of two or three a year).

Yes, poetry existed before the MFA and could exist without it. And yes, in the 1920s a kid in Kansas could run away from home and try to make it in New York City or San Francisco, the only places at that time with substantial communities of poets meeting and doing all those nice things you describe. The MFA system helped nationalize poetry, made it something other than a localized phenomenon -- and I'm not speaking of publishing, which has always been more or less national, but community, which has only recently become possible a) online, and b) because of MFAs, almost anywhere in the country, including places young people can actually afford to live. Now a working-class kid from Nebraska can get a full ride to study in Bloomington, Indiana, rather than getting disowned by his parents after he runs away to live in a shithole and work in a sweatshop in Queens. There's a history here, and whether or not you know it doesn't make it go away. I'm glad that you look around you, see MFAs everywhere, and consider it "hilarious" that they should ever have been under threat. Of course -- and I realize this is an over-stuffed analogy but it makes the point anyhow -- if you're in America right now you're also standing on ground that was under threat of national dissolution from the 1620s through the 1870s, so I'm not sure how or when one gets taught that if a thing exists now no one had to work to make it that way. Your sense that without MFAs nothing would be different is wrong but again harmless, as you're not called upon to do anything to ensure the MFA's survival and clearly had you ever been called upon you would not have heeded that call, in which you're joined by more or less everyone. Why not take the fruits and leave the gardening to others. You just want someone to give you the money -- and that's fine, I did the same thing with law school myself, I didn't fight the pedagogy (Socratic method, case method, &c &c) that leads to a 50% burnout rate in the profession within five years. I probably could have, many of us could have, but we didn't, and so the law puts thousands in debt who later wish they'd taken a different path (incidentally, I'm not one of those).

That you don't think public discourse over time changes history is astounding. Perhaps you went right from cradle to MFA, but I think it's self-evident that blogs are one of the many places that this conversation is being had. It's had elsewhere and I participate in those discussions too -- e.g., in print, next year at AWP, speaking with MFA directors on the telephone, on discussion boards that are not blogs, in face-to-face interactions. Again, I'll repeat, you don't have to care about any of this. I just think going out of your way to shit on it isn't the way to go, either.


At 5/17/2010 4:24 PM, Blogger R. Sanford said...

I never said nothing would be different, did I? But there remains a difference between 'different', which can mean basically anything, and 'different enough that this discussion is vital'.

Someone not agreeing with you != they are shitting on you, but the more condescending you get, the looser my bowels.

I never said they were 'bad', did I? I never remember saying anything other than that they weren't 'vital', which you seem to agree with (everyone seems to, actually), so why the hysterics?

They aren't vital. They aren't evil. Both 'sides' have way too much obviously invested on a very personal level in feeling that they're right to be listened to with anything resembling objectivity.

For every poor Nebraska boy getting disowned there is a tenured good ol' boy with a couple books telling graduate workshops that anything but a sonnet isn't a poem (true story).

As far as I'm concerned your Nebraska boy has my sympathy and I get your point, but I see as much 'harm' done by the 'good' of the MFA as 'good', so it's all a wash to me, so peddle the anecdotes elsewhere.

You actually have me mostly convinced with the 'nationalizing poetry' bit, I'm on board with you there, but the 'vitality' MFAs served in that way has been one-upped by the simple existence of the Internet for many years now, and it's even cheaper than a funded MFA.

At 5/17/2010 6:01 PM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

RSS, I didn't say you were shitting on me. I don't think you are shitting me. And I'm not trying to be condescending so if it feels that way I apologize. I said you were shitting on the difficult path the MFA has had -- by which I meant minimizing it. And, ah, I'm not hysterical. Is it possible you're reading tone wrong? In any case, you're clearly worked up, so I'm happy to stop here. I argued for a living for years -- I can go all day without my pulse quickening though clearly you've surmised (wrongly) otherwise. But it's not that way for everyone, I get it. I'm guessing you'll have more luck going forward if you don't enter into conversations where you more or less think the conversation's a waste of time, everyone sincerely invested in the conversation is a whackjob, and there's nothing positive to be gleaned from or produced by your own participation. But I'm just spitballing. Cheers. --S.

At 5/18/2010 7:52 AM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

I'm wondering what--if anything--was wrong with the old "salon" system, or the friendship system, or the editorial system--all of which pre-date the workshop system.

The great thing about private philanthropy is that it isn't democratic. I mean, if some rich person gives you money, you have no responsibility but to your own conscience. The "taste" part is nobody's business but the philanthropist's.

The problem with "public art"--of which the workshop system is an integral part--is that there must be the appearance of "fairness" and objective quality. As everyone knows, there's no such thing as objectivity in the media, and no such thing as objectivity in workshops. That includes the choice of instructors, the choice of students, the judging of work, and the familiar system of recommendation and promotion which institutions are designed to facilitate.

Art isn't fair. It isn't objective. It isn't respectable. It doesn't exist to make some people famous, or rich, or proud, or dignified.

MFA programs don't exist to bring "better poems" into existence. Because--ultimately--the "better" part can't be specified. It's all taste.

At 5/18/2010 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Wright,

I agree with a lot of what you're saying regarding mediocrity and the widespread disregard for the kind of prolonged solitude poetic creation takes. I like to believe that I am one of the few of my "generation" that takes care to carefully monitor his internet time, who does not own a TV, and who spends hours upon hours every day chanting poems aloud over and over to myself, steeping myself in the work of past masters. I'm only 22, but I suspect in say 30 years or so that I might be able to write a few decent poems. (I don't plan to publish until then; I have no need to.)

However, Mr. Wright, your own poetry is only a hair above mediocre. If you're going to take this stance—and if you're going to take it so ruthlessly—then I'm sorry, but your work has to back that up. I haven't seen one poem from you yet that will still be read in 100 years. And, you know, until you've got some notable work behind you to back all this viciousness up, then I suggest you go a spend a little more time in poetic solitude and, frankly, simply shut the hell up. Right now you're making a complete ass out of yourself.

-Ryan Pardieck

At 5/18/2010 6:44 PM, Blogger Rich Villar said...

I think Kenny Goldsmith should retype Franz Wright's comments word-for-word and show us all some AVANT GARDE blog commentary.

Rich Villar
Live From the Peanut Gallery

At 5/19/2010 7:06 PM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...


Good for you.

Good for the patience with publication. Good for the inculcation of models through oral repetition. It may well bear fruit.

At 5/20/2010 12:33 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I'm just now back from a little family vacation to see that things have taken a few turns.

I'm quite certain I'll never have another blog post that gets this kind of comment trail.

WV: supro

At 5/20/2010 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Franz Wright disdains the MFA, then he needs to put his money where his mouth (or take away his money) and refuse any more well paid MFA residencies. he should also refuse to read at schools that offer the MFA. I was going to suggest this to him on Facebook this morning when he posted something about MFA's, but he unfriended me after I responded to his initial post with what I thought was mild humor. So it goes.

Al Maginnes

At 5/20/2010 12:49 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


What Poetry Foundation thing is he talking about? I don't see it when I go looking.

At 5/21/2010 4:58 PM, Blogger Julie B said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5/21/2010 7:39 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Julie B said:

"But our students need it, because this is the only chance they may ever get to be creative."

Wha...? A person can't sit on the back porch on a Saturday afternoon with a pen and piece of paper and be creative?

At 5/22/2010 9:39 AM, Blogger Curtis Faville said...

Excellent point, Gary.

Workshops perform the same function that introductory encounter groups do, to encourage people to have the confidence to express themselves, or have the audacity to show it (their problems, their poems) to others.

But none of that necessarily leads to good art. Confidence, or audacity, in themselves, aren't crucial components of artistic quality. We can have half the population writing poems, or doing finger-paintings, and it's all good and friendly. But that doesn't make great art. The real criteria is a critical environment which fosters aspiration, and sets standards. It may seem contradictory to advocate standards, when "standards" by definition are derived from past models. Nevertheless, mere approbation never succeeds in raising the bar. In fact, that ends up lowering it.

At 5/22/2010 10:12 PM, Anonymous thomas brady said...

Gary, you rock!

R. Sanford, I swiped your phrase for an article:



At 5/23/2010 3:00 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

I find it regrettable that Julie B has deleted her very informative and well-written comment. I hope she didn’t take my remark as being mean-spirited. I pulled the line I quoted above out of her post with the intent of sparking a little debate. It was obvious, though, that she knows a lot more about the subject than I do.

At 6/10/2010 2:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have one little request of Seth, after taking another look at the astonishing outpouring of defensive bullshit my simple opinion regarding the destructive influence of the ubiquitous MFA programs. Seth, do not address me as if you knew me. I don't know you, don't want to know you, and where does a punk subdoormat writer like you gets the balls to give me advice (to suggest I feel "shame"!?). I am the son of James Wright. I personally knew as a child Theodore Roethke and John Berryman. I have published over twenty books. My father and I have the historical honor of being the only parent/child Pulitzer Prize winners in poetry. You little fuck. Do not ever, to me, or to anyone else, behave as if you had a right to speak to me in a personal manner, as if we were friends. You aren't my friend. I am not in the habit of befriending lawyers, for one thing, for Christ's sake--and I shy away from contact with those of you who suffer from an almost clinical state of delusion regarding your position as "poets." There is not a single person in this whole absurd exchange who deserves to be called a poet--do you think I have not looked up your "poems". For God's sake, leave me alone, will you. I have written two books in the past year--the prose book I have coming in 2011 will just fuck everyone up, I promise you. It makes no difference what you think of me. I am writing work that will survive, and I am proud of the thirty years I spend in poverty, sometimes homelessness, sometimes mental breakdown in hospitals, to keep faith with my calling. I have no degree. I am a poet, I don't need a degree that says so. I have earned the fairly august designation, poet. You little cocksuckers can have all the fun you want with my name. My name is the one, compared to people like you for sure, that will be remembered, and for a reason. FW

At 6/10/2010 8:38 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...


I write this not for you, but for others, who might read what you've written and take it at face value. As you know, we've periodically corresponded for years now -- an interaction you initiated when you e-mailed me a poem one night back in '05 or '06. Since then I've received many abusive private e-mails from you, usually followed by an apology and a request that we "start over" and an offer to send me more of your work. You have de-friended me on Facebook and then, when I asked you not to contact me again -- due to your wildly abusive comments -- you have asked whether I'll be your Facebook friend again, an offer I've always accepted for a reason that bears on your second remark: that I am not qualified to give you advice. In fact I am qualified to give you advice, in fact I trained to -- and spent seven years -- giving advice on a professional basis to those who suffer from many of the same personal issues (which I need not enumerate) that you do. Usually people do not define their eligibility to receive advice on the basis of their singular strengths (e.g., your excellent poetry) but rather on the basis of those myriad personal struggles which, natch, are commonly the subject of requests for help. I've put up with a lot of privately-transmitted abuse from you, Franz, but as was the case with the 2,000+ criminal defendants I've represented -- many of whom have personal biographies identical to yours except that they were born into more honorable professions than "poet," like mechanic, roofer, HVAC, &c -- if you continue to contact me unsolicited through backchannels I'm going to treat you with both the empathy and sense of responsibility (i.e., both the responsibility of being firm and the responsibility of distributing much-needed advice) that I have treated hundreds of others with your conditions, which I by no means place below you in dignity (or beneath myself) merely because of their struggles or forms of employment.

I will say again what I've said many times privately when you've slagged off on attorneys. Every single public defender I ever worked with did more good, each day, before lunchtime than I believe you have ever done for anyone else in your entire life, if your online contributions to the American poetry community are any indication of the tenor of your other modes and means of group participation. That's not as harsh a condemnation as it sounds, for indeed poets, as you so often and in such colorful language remind us, and as your behavior here so richly illustrates, both believe and act as though they have no obligation to anyone else in the world -- but rather to Art only. I will continue to address you as an equal because I've earned that, for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with poetry, as you would well know if you'd lived a life in which you placed your worth and your integrity at the level of your service to others, not your service to your own demons. I'll also now say, again -- publicly -- what I've said privately, which is that I don't want you to contact me again privately if this sort of nonsense is what I can expect from you.

Finally -- as I always have in our private correspondence, no matter how much I've had to chastise you for acting like an ass -- I will again wish you the very best. You have struggles many of us don't have, and it's the longest battle any of us could possibly imagine. I know this, and I know it's also part of the reason why (quite possibly) you are not merely trying to feign lack of familiarity with me but perhaps actually do not remember our years-long history -- not as friends, as I generally shy away from friendships with those who are pathologically self-destructive, but certainly as individuals who have corresponded on a number of occasions and not because I initiated those contacts or (thus far) have profited from them except to receive reams of abuse I did not deserve.

Be well,

At 6/10/2010 8:44 AM, Blogger Seth Abramson said...

P.S. In response to your recent decision to "block" me on Facebook -- which I'm thrilled by, however absurd it is, given that you just begged me to become Facebook friends with you again not one week ago -- I've, in turn, blocked you back. Something I should have done years ago, as my repeated back-channel statements to you to the effect of "don't contact me again" were clearly not effective in keeping you at bay, and my forgiving nature prompted me to repeatedly take you back as a Facebook friend and backchannel correspondent in the manner I've done to at least two two many ex-girlfriends. Again I wish you the best -- but I also urge you not to un-block me, ever, for I will not accept a "friend request" from you going forward. Fool me once, shame on you, &c &c. I'd also urge you to never say in my presence any of the things you've said to me online, either about me personally or about public defenders. That would be unwise.


At 6/10/2010 12:19 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Mr. Wright:

I’ve want to keep my blog focused on art and issues surrounding art, not personality. So these sorts of personal attacks, I really don’t know what to do with. My only complaint with you was with a hyperbolic blurb you wrote for Dickman’s book. It was a pretty minor thing. And I’ve had similar complaints with David Wojahn and Tony Hoagland. I thought your blurb did neither you nor Dickman any good. I wasn’t commenting on the value of your work or his. Just as I’ve not commented on the value of Hoagland’s or Wojahn’s work.

I also don’t see in what way I’ve been the least bit defensive in this. I’ve very little stake in the MFA argument, as I don’t teach in one. In fact, I teach in a small, regional university where we don’t even have a creative writing major. I mostly teach composition courses to first-year students.

I also don’t find “cocksucker” a very useful term for you. Oral sex is nothing much to get worked up about. And if what you mean is that we’re all homosexuals or something, well, that’s just presumptive, and also, not the least bit bothersome to me. I might or might not be a homosexual. Why is that any of your concern? Is there something wrong with being a homosexual?

As for looking my work up. If you’d like, I’d be happy to send you a book. Or all three, if you want them. The first one’s out of print and difficult to find. If you want I can send them to you through Field, so you don’t have to give me your address.

None of this was worth the level of your response, by the way. All that I think needs to happen is that we need to stand up to bullies like you, no matter what your value as artists.

As for Seth Abramson. I don’t know him well. We met once, briefly (less than five minutes). But I will say that, in this, I believe he has acted nothing but honorably. I doubt that you’ve ever acted honorably, at least I can find no record of it. That’s depressing.

At 6/10/2010 2:23 PM, Blogger c.harris.stevens said...

I'm in suspended belief as to the persona that claims FW as speaker. Claiming such an untenable position seems certainly out of the purview of an articulated psyche concerned with being and suffering. A therapist would stop to turn inward and question oneself and ones motives prior to espousing so much scattershot bitterness. I could articulate more on it, give it some more time, but shouldn't we all save our time and attention to someone (real or imagined, persona or vulnerable being) that honors that time and attention? even if that honor is a concise dismissal? "our dignity is not in what we do, but in what we understand." surely this rings true to those that gravitate towards poetry and literature. i refuse to believe that such a vision may be possessed only by the naively optimistic.

At 6/12/2010 5:14 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...



I know that you’ve transgressed
for haven’t I, as well?
You have sinned, as have we all
for aren’t all of us but human?
All feel the sorrow and the rage,
the joy and pain.

We’re all sometimes selfish and petty,
thoughtless or vain,
but also forgiving, often kind.
We help others try and understand,
feel sympathy and pity.
But still we get angry!
We hurt them anyway!
Aren’t all of us but human, after all?

It’s just that some of us
are more human than others.

Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns, Gary B. Fitzgerald

New and Improved Version.

At 6/15/2010 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, what are you guys trying to do, make me cry?
BUT vastly more important: what's wrong, were your parents hippies or something?
What in God's name produced a generation of puling straightlaced puritanical illiterates and semi-idiots like yours? I will never understand it. How terrified you must be. Terrified to step out of line, say the wrong thing, consider the colloquialism "cocksucker" a reference to homosexuals (you can't really be serious about that one, please, I beg you, tell me you're not), Do you not see what they have done to you, how the manipulation of the cost of living has put you all in such a state of terror regarding correct adult deportment at all times (or lose your job), that you have all turned into what Kennoth Rexroth feared encountering whe n he said he was afraid of one aspect of teaching: "constant intercourse with mediocre minds" to which I would add, "scared to death, puritanical and conformist". You'll be replaced, hopefully, when your own children react in horror against you, but that will take a while. Meanwhile, R.I.P. and try to do something adventurous with the rest of your gray little groveling lives. FW

At 6/15/2010 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. to Gary F. (and John G.)
That thing I suppose you would call a poem is the most staggering piece of doggerel as well as being the embodiment of everything a poem is not, that I have ever read in my life, and man I've read some.
John, aren't you just a little humiliated to have something like that on your blog? Good Lord, if I saw it on mine (that is, if I ever considered wasting a considerable amount of my writing energy on a form of writing that is slightly less ephemeral than a soap bubble) I would howl with embarrassment and delete it immediately. This is just one more thing that makes it impossible to take you guys seriously. As I said earlier today to some other blogging nosepicker, you're the fleas Yeats mentioned afflicting him. It's a drag, but there are worse things, some of which you might be addressing rather than continuing this bullshit with me. However, once again, thanks for the obsession with me, it is very flattering. FW

At 6/15/2010 11:37 PM, Blogger Red Light! Green Light! said...

Your assumptions reduce everything into a tight package you can simply tie up with a ribbon of shit and not have to deal with it anymore: GOD forbid there be any complications to your view, if you actually invested any sincere interest into this generation, your role in it, your choice of poets to translate, let alone your investment into us, or our investment into you (beyond our forwarded flattery for which we still hold the receipt). You seem to believe that there exists a higher world from which your point of view emanates, a world wholly apart (by what? years? experiences? Your unique individual thought?), with your alcohol and suffering. Yes, this generation has no poverty. No addictions. No seeking to fill or empty an unfound absence. The static sounds like music, its been on so long. This high-low dichotomy is dead, Mr. Wright. Fucking dead. Finally fucking dead. Lay with a corpse long enough and you wont believe it stinks. The difference in our generations is marginal; your view has simply broadened to see more than your own egotistical solipsistic and masochistic youth allowed you to at the time. We too are littered by selfish fathers. Your generation was no less unholy, no less self-centered; simply more private. Identity is the question of our generation: the relation between the social and the individual reinvestigated, perhaps the most rigorous since the young hegelians. You sound like schopenhauer. A groveling modernist on the dry wagon. Has your asceticism really brought you so far as to see only your own hand in front of you in this fog? Is your only contribution a rage to man and apology to god? We do not beleive in your first person. We do not trust your sense of autobiography (oh, the pun). We do not trust your intent, or the grounds desire to not crumble beneath you. We will give you flowers. We will thank you.

Epitaph - Salamun

Only God exists. Sprits are a phantom.
Blind shadows of machines concealing the Kiss.
My death is my death. It won't be shared
with the dull peace of others squashed beneath this sod.

Whoever kneels at my grave- take note-
the earth will shake. I'll root up the sweet juices from
your genitals and neck. Give me your mouth.
Take care that no thorns pierce your

eardrums as you writhe, like a worm,
the living before the dead. Let this oxygen
bomb wash you gently. Explode you only

so far as your heart will support. Stand up
and remember. I love everyone who truly knows me.
Always. Get up now. You've pledged yourself and awakened.

At 6/16/2010 5:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Mr. Wright,

I’m not in the habit of deleting comments. Actually, the only comments other than spam I’ve ever deleted were the couple in this comment stream that made unfounded accusations about your employment.

It’s funny, in a way, that you would suggest I delete that comment above, as I’ve had three requests (one from someone who claims to be a friend of yours) to delete all of your comments from my blog. You are a disturbed man, they claim, and you will, later, when you get healthier, be deeply embarrassed by your behavior here.

When I first posted that bit about what I considered your unnecessary polemics in that blurb on Dickman’s book, I really wasn’t prepared for the level of your attacks. I thought I was being reasonable, and that if you did respond, it would also be reasonable. I am deeply sorry for mentioning your name, for your name, and your comments on my blog, have taken this conversation away from poetry itself into your private world of pain. I promise not to make that mistake again. I might or might not write about something you’ve written, but I certainly won’t use your name on my blog again.

When I responded to your use of the term “cocksucker,” I really didn’t know what you meant by it. I’m still not sure what it’s a colloquialism for, or why you think talking like that is helping you make a point. But I do get that you think I’m an insignificant person, thinker, and poet. Please go away now.

At 6/16/2010 9:28 AM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Dear Mr. Wright:

Thank you for your comments about my poem, above. After over 45 years of writing poetry and six years publishing and posting them here and there, you have, perhaps unwittingly, granted me my very first genuine review. I would note that you are much kinder and more gentle than Mr. Logan.

I am now going to run down to the Drug Store and buy a picture frame so I can properly preserve and display my first review by a famous poet.

Thanks again,
Gary B. Fitzgerald

P.S. Fuck you, too!

At 9/10/2010 5:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this. I am a reactionary--but I hear Blake, Rimbaud, Hart Crane,Jack Kerouac and Hunter Thompson and many many others laughing their asses off at your MFAs, and taking turns trying to piss on them! Best, FW

At 9/10/2010 6:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I know it's worth fighting about something one believes in, but really, the MFA or not to MFA isn't worth your energy.

This stuff is all insignificant compared to one's health and the art itself.

At 11/27/2010 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, girl, it is a serious problem, but you'll let it slide like everything else (I have yet to see one organized protest against any of the shit we'vev been eating in this country on any college campus I have been on for years--and you all going to pay for it someday, too., Boom.
Meanwhile, I do indeed take seriously that one of the great capitalist scams in this country, the writing program-enriching the school and having all the little grad students teach lower level courses (which destroy their time and spirit) for shit wages--they're actually grateful--and in general what Rexroth called "constant intercourse with mediocre minds"--there are real writers, young ones, out there, pal, and
they know the score. The quality of poetry in this country (35 years ago among the greatest in the world) as become so atrocious that we can't really even be considered in the running internationally for poetic achievement. None of you fucks born thinking the mFA programs just simply always existed can conceive of how bad your work is, I think. I really believe if you had any tallent in the first place and took it to an MFA program--well, I have taught a few semesters of them, when in deep financial need, and what I saw was the hip followers of whatever fashion was ephemerally going on (I've seen about five waves of you come and goi) mock roll their eyes and ridicule the genuinely sensitive student who, God knows, might have something more in him than a slender book written by a sheep to get a job in another MFA program. I am imploring every young writer I come into contact with not to buy into this. The mind, the subconscious in its twenties is not ready to be dug up and dissected every week. It dies. You all seem so pleased about it, too. Oh Christ, what is considered the best poetry, in big time magazines too--you read it KNOWING you will never return to it. And everyone who hates poetry can look at it and feel justified. Because it is coming out of a group mentality, the need to conform, to be liked, rather than that solitary furnace where the real work might, might get a start. I can't call you a fool, you smug shiteating self-righteous motherfucker who cannot even write interesting prose. No, the argument is no big deal to you--because you do not have the extremely rare deep, daily obsessive love for poetry tjat is required. So since you don't, what's the big deal. You;ll all vanish, people in fifty years will wonder at a generation or two who--as POETS--could think of no higher aspiration than spend the rest of their lives in COLLEGES. Don't you have any shame at all?

At 11/27/2010 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. Hi bitch, I forgot. Yes, boy, take care of that health, God damn! You'll notice this is a constant trait in the greatest artists of the past, a solid preoccupation with their health. What did we do?? How were you born this way>>

At 11/28/2010 9:09 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Once again, I don't see why you've decided the MFA thing is worth your time. Great art will survive and bad art will fall away, regardless of one's education or occupation.

I get it. You think everyone writing now (except yourself) is a terrible artist.

Point made. Now please just go away.

At 12/07/2010 3:24 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


"I know what I know.

I'll sing what I said.

We come and we go.

That's a thing that I'll keep in the back of my head."

- Paul Simon


At 2/18/2011 3:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guys, what you're seeing in the behavior and responses of FW is illness. Really, really grave and serious illness. It's one of the saddest things I've seen in a very long time. Hopefully it won't end up killing him. I know it's hard to feel empathy for someone who is behaving so irrationally and maliciously, but try to. He is truly to be pitied in this case.

At 2/20/2011 3:10 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Based on my previous personal communications with Mr. Wright I can say that, indeed, he is crazy. . . like a fox!

Don't be distracted by the mythology, folks.


At 8/11/2014 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love Franz. Like RSS said, I don't care what he thinks about MFA, but I love his work. Kindertotenwald, the book that he said will fuck us up, he was right. That book is amazing, so is F. The guy has more credibility than anyone else in this forum. He's an asshole, but so what. Don't meet your heroes, right?

I hope he is well and recovered from cancer. I know he has another book in the works, can't wait for it.

Many of the people I have met in the MFA program I will be attending are pretty lame. Many arepretentious. Wright is guilty of boasting, but he has the success to boast about. I feel like what he is really trying to get at is more that a lot of the students in MFA programs suck. They suck at writing and for many of them its an image thing. They're hip, and want to portray themselves as writers. They're not writing because they have something to say, its not about that. Even many "pros" write bad things. A lot of things that get published are mediocre, even in Poetry magazine and in the New Yorker, both journals Franz has been published in. (Paul Muldoon, the poetry editor of the New Yorker, has got to be the most pretentious poet alive.)

Thats whats really wrong with poetry. The pretentiousness and the fakery of it. A bunch of pseudo-intellectuals. Watch Michael Dickman readings, he says the same things over and over. Listen to his New Yorker podcast with Paul Muldoon, the one where he reads Voigt's poem Cow. Its so fake. Muldonn makes an observation, then Dickman runs with it like he's had this idea all along as well. It's so off-putting. He's a fake. His poems are good, mostly for his use of form, but he's very inauthentic. A lot of his success his based on how he acts and who he knows.

MFA programs help to spread this pseudo-intellectualism because they give these people something to fall back on for "credibility."

Yet, on the other side of this argument, other than writers retreats, which are for established "early-career-poets," where else can aspiring writers get this kind of readership? Where else can a person wholly dedicate their lives to this craft in such a way? Where else does life slow down and tell you to focus on your writing like in an MFA program?

Thats why I'm attending one, because it's the only place where someone like me, a young person writing poems, can get the time to stop and think about myself and my writing like that.


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