MFA Reading List

I don’t know how many of my readership has completed an MFA, but compiling this lofty reading list has been the only thing I’ve disliked heartily about the wonderful nearly three years I’ve spent in this program.

For those of you not familiar with this practice, most MFA programs require students to complete a thesis (either a book-length collection of poems, novel, or a short story or essay collection), plus draft up a reading list (with the help of an adviser), and answer 4-5 essay questions applying those bodies of work (both critical and creative) to assessing and interacting with your own work. This reading list must be composed of both critical and creative work, both as an survey of the history of your genre, and your own literary precursors and contemporaries. It can be composed of whole books or just an essay or poem. My thesis is composed of mythical premises and characters, sometimes in the pastoral tradition, plus lots of animals and lots of violence, so my reading list focuses a lot on poets who have employed myths, the pastoral tradition, and animals and violence.

The following will probably go through a couple more rounds before being finalized, but here it is in its raw form.

Reading List:

Coleridge “Biographia Literaria”
Sidney, “An Apologie for Poetrie”
Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry”
Frost-On Writing and “The Figure a Poem Makes”
Poe, “The Poetic Principle” and “The Philosophy of Composition”
Whitman, “1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass”
Arnold, “The Study of Poetry”
TS Eliot- “Hamlet and his Problems” and “Tradition and the Individual Talent”
Pound, “A Retrospect”
Keats- essay on negative capability
Paul Alpers- What is Pastoral?
Stein, “Narration: Lecture 2”
Stevens, “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words”
Ralph Waldo Emerson- “The Poet”
Harvey Gross & Robert MacDowell-Sound and form in Modern Poetry
Richard Hugo-The Triggering Town
Adrienne Rich- Blood, Bread and Poetry
Robert Hass, “Listening and Making”
Olson, “Projective Verse”
Wordsworth, “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads”
Pope- Essay on criticism
Dante-Divine Comedy
Lucretius- The Nature of Things
Chaucer-“Troilus and Criseyde”
“Lord Randall”
Donne-“Good Friday,” “Holy sonnets”
Ben Jonson- “On my First Son,” “Epitaph to Elizabeth,” “L.D,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes”
Lovelace-“To Athena, from prison”
Marvel- “To His Coy Mistress;” “The Garden”
Thomas Gray “Elegy on a Country Churchyard”
Shakespeare-selected sonnets
Blake- Songs of Innocence and Experience
Pope-“Rape of the Lock”
Samuel Jonson- “vanity of human wishes”
Swift-“A description of a city shower,” “verses on the death of doctor swift”
Wordsworth-“An evening walk,” “resolution and independence,” “the world is too much with us”
Shelley-“Hymn to intelluctual beauty,” “Ozymandias,” “Ode to the west wind”
Coleridge-“Kubla Khan,” “The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” and “Christabel”
Keats-“Ode on Melancholy” and “Ode to a Nightingale”
Bradstreet-“Contemplations,” “before the birth of one of her children”
Dickinson-some selections
Emerson-“Concord hymn”
Poe-“sonnet–to science” and “The Raven”
Edward Taylor-“Upon a spider catching a fly”
Arnold-“Dover Beach”
Browning- “My last duchess,” “Porphyria’s lover”
Hardy-“I look into my glass”
Rossetti- “Goblin Market”
Tennyson-“Lotos-eaters” “Ulysses
Yeats- “Leda and the Swan”
T.S. Eliot
James Russell Lowell – “The Sirens”
Pound- “letter to a river merchant’s wife”
Cummings-“the cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls,” “in just-“
Wallace Stevens
W C Williams
Russell Edson
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Christopher Marlowe
Edmund Spenser- “The Faerie Queene” and “Epithimalion”
Milton- Paradise Lost
Maxine Kumin-“Woodchucks”
Daniel Waters- “The Hawk”
Philip Sidney- Arcadia
Alan Dugan- Poems: Seven, “Plague of Dead Sharks”
A.E. Stallings- Archaic Smile and Hapax
Norman Dubie- “February: The Boy Breughel”
Robert Frost
James Dickey- The Whole Motion: “The Shark’s Parlor,” “The Sheep Child”
Ted Hughes- Tales from Ovid, “Pike”
John Clare- “The Badger”
John Ashberry
Galway Kinnel- Book of Nightmares and “The Bear”
Brigit Pegeen Kelly – O Blessed Dark and “Rome”
Who are your literary precursors and contemporaries?

4 thoughts on “MFA Reading List

  1. Mine did not have the 4-5 essay questions. And not to slag off my MFA program, which only required 25 books for the entire degree, but my undergrad degree, the Adult Degree Program at Vermont College, required 20 books every six months, annotated one and all. By comparison, the master’s was nothing.

  2. Interesting. Our program doesn’t have us do this exactly. At our mid-residency review we are to submit a list of works, describe their relevance, as well as talk about our thesis project, but I think it was about 15 texts. We did that first year. This year we only submit rough drafts and final drafts of our thesis.

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