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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Horror!

I found this link on Emily's blog: Thorny Technology: Open Access Causes Problems at the Iowa Writers Workshop.

Here's the first paragraph of the article:

"Emails are circulating among various current and former students from the famed Iowa Writers Workshop expressing concern over the University of Iowa's new "Open Access" policy with regard to theses. These include MFA theses, which, according to our own Workshop grad Edan, might typically consist of a "book-length manuscript... poems, short stories or a novel (either completed or partially completed)." She added, "I turned in a bunch of stories, and I might not have included a couple if I knew they would be made public online...they were experiments more than anything, writing by a student."

Wow. This article mortifies me! The very idea that someone can click on a link online and read my Iowa MFA thesis makes my stomach turn. Why? Vanity. Ego. I'm not being modest when I say my MFA thesis SUCKS. Wanna know how I wrote my MFA thesis. Okay! I got up early in the morning the day BEFORE it was due. I walked over to a computer lap. I set out the poems I thought were finished on the desk around me. I think I had about twenty pages. That left me with about twenty-five pages of poems to WRITE in about 48 hours. Wow, I can't believe I just typed that. Crazy but true. So I proceded to write 25 pages of new poetry! Right on the spot! First thought, best thought! It took me about two hours. After I finished writing, I plugged in all the poems into the proper MFA thesis format, saved it, and took the disk to a print shop to print out the thesis on the proper paper. I turned it in. And suddenly, I had an MFA! Yeah!

Of course, there's an important backstory here. At Iowa I felt marginalized. I felt like an affirmative action case. The poetry I loved was not taught or even respected by my peers or teachers. So I shut down. I stopped going to workshop. I isolated myself. Wrote little. Blah, blah, blah. Old news.

But that damn thesis still exists! I wish I could say the poems I wrote at Iowa were experiments in voice, or the result of me exploring different poetic devices. But no. Iowa didn't give me the space to feel comfortable enough as poet to explore, to take risks. I spent two years at Iowa. I kept only two poems from those two years. Two poems. Of course, I recycled a lot of images and lines from the other poems in the thesis.

I'm not sure I'm saying this correctly. Let me try again.

I'm not against people reading my MFA thesis. I don't even care that 99% of the poems in my thesis suck. I know how valuable it is to read the early work of other writers. When I was a student at Iowa I spent hours reading the theses of past graduates. Rita Dove. Jorie Graham. Michael Dumanis. Etc. It was an enriching reading experience! It was a joy to read the great, the good, and oh-so-bad poems by past graduates.

I'm not against people reading my MFA thesis. There, I said it. And I mean it. I guess my first reaction to this article was colored by the terrible time I had at Iowa. Yes, that's it. When I hear the words "MFA thesis" I don't think of apprentice work. I think of the depressing days I spent in the Workshop. I think of a young poet in a computer lab breaking down in tears as he frantically wrote the last twenty-five pages of his MFA thesis. I think of the horror in his heart. The anger. The promise he made to himself to never write poetry again.


Adam Deutsch said...

Can someone, please, go hug this man?

Listen to Brando: "Horror has a face...and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends."

Kevin Anthony said...

I've gotten a ton of emails about this thing, E. I'm pretty sure it won't happen, or that MFA theses will be excluded from being published online. Bottom line, it's a horrible idea, and I'd imagine that they cannot legally publish our creative work online, at least not without our consent. Iowa doesn't own our creative work; we do.

In any case, the plan is apparently to start doing it this year, so it wouldn't directly affect you, or me, or anyone who already graduated. But here's hoping it won't happen at all...

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Wow, Eduardo: great post.

Anonymous said...

wow indeed, and thanks for posting this. i appreciate hearing about your experiences of feeling and being marginalized at iowa. i think we all have horror stories about being minorities in these mfa programs, and why it is we believed we needed to stick it out.

anyway, it's good that that awful experience didn't completely shut you down. i mean, you are writing, and you are publishing post-iowa/despite iowa.

Sheryl said...


Whatever happened, in the end you are a f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c poet!

I understand the shame of a bad thesis or dissertation!!!!


Anonymous said...

Jorie Graham says: F-U, Eduardo C. Correl. You'll never be published in the Colorado Review! Go back to the tumbleweed you crawled out of. Some of us Iowa grads don't want our cutting edge work plagiarized by all the State College wannabes.

Marcelisima said...


(I hate when people write ugly, absurd crap like the above comment.)

I don't think this digitalization thing is going to happen. A lot of us are fighting it pretty hard. I'll give you an update later (there's a meeting today).

And FYI, as the only Latina in the current program, I also have been feeling marginalized, but I've decided that the only way to combat that feeling is to say what I want when I want, regardless of what the majority thinks. Tough for them.

Booktender said...

(splort) Colorado Review indeed. Humph

Warning: I just quoted your wonderful opening sentences over at a day-late-and-dollar-short post at freerangelibrarian.com