Dead Bees

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Rachel

Today was my first REAL thesis meeting with Marty. Since I’m on the two year track (already having a Master’s degree), I’m lucky enough to begin working on my thesis my first semester in Georgia College & State University’s MFA program. I LOVE this. As happy as I am with my MA thesis, it really came together at the last minute, and I know that as a “book” it still has a lot of revising that I need to do. Having the opportunity to at least think about my thesis from Day One is so awesome! Even if this is just a little voice in the back of my head, I am aware from the get go that I need to be working towards a bigger project.


I have poetry workshop this semester with Laura Newbern, and so I’m working with Marty on my thesis to 1) give the opportunity to work with two people, 2) give me the opportunity to figure out who I will work best with. So he isn’t my set in stone thesis advisor in case something happens, or even in case some shuffling around needs to be done in terms of balance. He is working with (I think) five thesis worker/people right now, four creative nonfiction and me.


The most important thing for me to do right now is generate work. I totally understand this, and we met and talked about it a couple weeks ago. I gave him a copy of my MA thesis, which he read, and this is what we discussed today. So Marty took the time to look at the bulk of my work, and he wrote me some really really useful and insightful comments (and we talked about all of these ideas for about an hour today) in terms of how I can get better during my MFA work.



I was also sort of shocked/excited to find out the three poems that he thought were the best/had the most potential in my thesis. He pulled out my actual MFA application this morning, and his “favorite poems” of mine were right on top of my manuscript—these were the poems that got me into the program—these were the kind of poems that made him/the application committee people think that they could work with me. I spent hours and hours figuring out what poems I wanted to send out with my MFA applications (as I’m sure most of you did choosing short stories/essays, whatever), and to actually find out which poems were the ones that “did it” is really interesting!


Two of the three are poems that I originally wrote as prose poems and relineated to fit the visual format of my thesis, and this definitely makes me think I need to revisit prose poems. If that’s something that I do well, or if maybe it is a form that forces me into different places, I think I definitely need to be reading some Maxine Chernoff and getting myself into the mindset of “Toothache.” (I couldn’t find this poem online, as she’s primarily a fiction writer, but please please please if you ever get the chance to read “Toothache” or “Hairdo” DO!)


If you aren’t familiar with the prose poem, I’d say the two main characteristics are its shape and its surrealism. I have a lot of problems with poems shaped into perfect cubes that lack surrealism. Why not just lineate it?




See this poem, “A Story About the Body” by Robert Hass:


The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she mused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity-like music-withered quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl-she must have swept the corners of her studio-was full of dead bees.




What a kickass poem. I love it. I apologize for mostly butchering the shape, but I can’t adjust margins on a webpage. This would ideally be a perfect square. But after reading it, you see that this poem is working on another level. It’s not just any poem. There is something otherworldy here that needs the shape to function. You couldn’t just smush some Whitman into a prose poem. It wouldn’t make any sense.


But off this prose poem rant and back to the thesis meeting. We talked about rhythm, line breaks, stanza breaks, useless/redundant words, my poem endings (which he sympathized with, since endings are the hardest parts). I already knew a lot of this about my poems, but I didn’t realize to what extent I did it. Even then, when he commented on my similes and “like addiction”, I told him, “I’m getting better! I just looked at some poems from my senior year of college and was so embarrassed by my likes. I had six in one poem!” So much of improving takes time, but, if I improve in the next two years how much I improved in the last two years, I’m excited to see what directions I end up taking.


I’m really looking forward to writing and even going back and revising old poems. I’ve said several times over the last few weeks “I think I’m in the right place,” but I will say honestly that my meeting with Marty today really sealed the deal. I came out feeling so lucky that I made it here.


  1. Ok, I want to see what my program thought of my writing sample ASAP! lol You are sooo lucky to have gotten that experience. Also, I think you can justify that prose poem in your post with this html code: align=”justify”

    I’m into prose poetry too, mostly because it fits a more narrative style. It’s cool you’re into it too. I just read “Toothache” and “Hairdo” on Google books. Wow! Gonna check out Maxine Chernoff some more. Thanks for the tip!

    Congrats on knowing you’re in the right place! A lot of people spend a lot of time knowing they’re in the wrong place and not knowing what to do about it, so I think it really, really means something to be in the right place.

    Sorry for the novel-length comment! lol

  2. This is great to hear! I’m glad you’re happy with where you are. And it would be so cool to know what poems specifically from my writing sample got me accepted. Hmmm….

  3. Okay, I love that poem. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    And more than seeing what poems got you in, I’d be very interested in hearing the assessment of my work; knowing that I use like too much, or whatever it does that I should work on. Instead, I just keep writing.

    But then, I am also not yet in an MFA program. haha

  4. So, you did an MA, now an MFA, and are planning to do a PhD? Is that correct? That’s what my plan is. I hear some people say weird stuff about this, like that an MA hurts your chances with some MFAs, or that a PhD program would prefer you had an MA but not an MFA. Is this all nuts? I get the sense no one knows what they are talking about.

  5. I just graduated with a MA degree from Northern Arizona University with a concentration in Creative Writing. During that 2006-07 application process, I applied to both MFA and MA programs, not quite sure if my poetry was ready for the MFA level. It wasn’t, so the MA, with a 50/50 English/Creative Writing courseload and a creative writing thesis, gave me a few years to improve my writing AND figure out if Creative Writing OR Literature was the route I wanted to take.

    So I’m in an MFA now…but I don’t consider it to be a terminal degree for ME . So much is changing in the world of academia. Some people have MAs, MFAs, some people have PhDs, ands some people have a combination of the three.

    Theoretically, an MFA should prepare you for a tenure track teaching job..but who can really tell with the economy being the way it is nowadays?

    I don’t think any degree can hurt you! Here my MA put me on the 2 year MFA track (instead of the 3 year like newbies). What comes up more often is family members/friends who have no idea what I’m doing, so I’m used to having to explain why I’m not REALLY getting a second Master’s… that F means a lot, you know?!

    I’m young, and I’m not in a hurry. It’ll be worth it for me to spend the extra couple years in a PhD program after I graduate with my MFA. I’m already planning for the 2010-2011 PhD application season.

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