Jan. 16 — The new semester is upon us and all is well. We only wish that it would snow somewhat more here in Colorado — but that will come. Meanwhile, my courses this week are focusing on the ballade on the one hand, and the history of English prosody in the 16th century on the other.
It’s also that time of year when we begin to send out our annual information — I’m posting it in here: our letter of greeting and news, along with attachments of syllabi and the formal information packet. Enjoy…
I’m writing to update you on the Western State College low-residency MFA in poetry with an Emphasis on Versecraft.
I believe we are building one of the strongest and most distinctive programs of its kind in the country, if not the world, one of the very few MFA programs deeply devoted to the rigorous study of craft at every level (metrics, lyrical forms, poetic genres, translation, pedagogy, linguistic history and more) and I hope you will join us at least in spirit if not in the flesh.
There’s quite a bit of news, all of it good.
In the middle of our second academic year, the program is slowly growing. We now have a total of seven students, some of whom are beginning to publish more and more. Among others, Malinda Miller has recently published one poem in Academic Questions and Susan Spear has two forthcoming in the same journal. Susan will also be our first graduate this spring, and several others will follow her in 2013.
This year saw the creation of our Facebook site, “World of Versecraft,” which you can find at http://www.facebook.com/WorldofVersecraft, and of a website, www.formalversemfa.org. There’s quite a bit of information on these sites – take a look.
Our roster of faculty, Advisory Board members, and Poetry Criticism Symposium speakers grows more and more impressive. Last year David Yezzi, the noted poet, dramatist, critic and Executive Editor of The New Criterion joined me as our second faculty member. Just recently, Dana Gioia generously agreed to become our third Advisory Board member. That board is now complete and includes Dana, Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason and former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Marilyn Taylor. David has offered to take on a second term of three years when his first term ends in 2013, so this outstanding board will look the same for a few years.
Last July we held the second annual Poetry Criticism Symposium, which coincides with our on-campus intensive, and which coincides with the festival Writing the Rockies, included myself, Symposium co-director Jan Schreiber, Ernest Hilbert, Joan Houlihan, Marilyn Krysl, Marilyn Taylor, James Matthew Wilson and David Yezzi. This second Symposium was also a great success and many of the papers again appeared in Contemporary Poetry Review at http://www.cprw.com/category/november-2011-poetry-criticism-conference. We have received a generous grant from the college to run this program again next summer, along with some outside support, and we are hoping that it will soon come to be seen as one of the preeminent events of its kind in the country. I want to add that the Symposium is open to the public and we welcome visitors, who always have the opportunity to engage in lively, extended conversation which we carefully build into the proceedings and record.
But wait…there’s more. Last year Dana Gioia worked with the family of the late, great poet, novelist and scholar Edward Weismiller and arranged for his substantial collection of books on prosody – a number of which are quite hard to find – to be donated to Western State College as a non-circulating special collection. This wonderful gift, including hundreds of items, now means that our students and the Western community can have access to one of the most extensive literary prosody collections at any small college in America. Look for a press release on this acquisition soon.
One more piece of news that may interest you: we’re hiring. We seek someone who can teach a two week intensive (eight meetings of three hours each) on poetry and music to third-year students in our summer intensive in Gunnison during the second half of July. The successful candidate will be an accomplished poet, teacher and critic/scholar who also has significant experience with music, either as a musician, songwriter, librettist, critic or in some other substantial capacity. This person will also be invited to participate in the Symposium on Poetry Criticism and to read with other faculty. The stipend is $3,000, along with travel, room and board and there is the possibility that the position could convert to full-time as the program grows. Those interested should write directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many programs make claims about rigor and excellence. Few are like ours. Here’s an example, a copy of the syllabus I am using in one of the courses this spring, on lyrical forms and genres in English. Over the last few years I have promised a serious program in versecraft, one that would aspire to the highest standards and structure of a great music conservatory, dance academy, or art school, and I think we’re delivering on this. In the fifteen weeks of this one course – moving like rockets – students read, study, imitate and scan:
Ballades, Chant Royal
Rondeau, Rondeau Redoublé, Rondel, Rondelet, Roundel
Pantoum; Ghazal; Haiku, Tanka
English and American Forms: Limerick, Clerihew, Double Dactyl
And then, imitating lyrical genres:
Hymn, Prayer, Litany, Canticle, Carol, Confessional
Carpe Diem, Madrigal, Canzone, Anacreontic
Occasional Poetry: Epithalamium, Ceremonials, War Poetry, Protest Poetry
Elegy, Epitaph, Dirge, Lament, Threnody, Requiem
Pastoral, Georgic, Ode
This is the same model we then follow when teaching verse drama, verse narrative, verse satire and more. It is intense, it is serious, it aspires…it is fun…and it gets results.
Program Director Mark Todd, faculty member David Yezzi, our Advisory Board, Symposium participants, students and I have all worked hard to make Western’s MFA one of the strongest programs of its kind and it is working. I hope you have some time to take a look at these materials and to send your serious, talented, students our way for graduate work. I have also attached a pdf of the formal information packet for students.
Please don’t hesitate to call or write with questions. And again, please pass this information on to anyone who might be interested, from students to potential Symposium participants and attendees, or faculty for the summer position. My phone is 970-443-3394. I hope I’ll see you all soon.
David J. Rothman