Comps

I can now officially look around and exhale a sigh of relief. All of my major MFA duties are completed. All I need to do is wait to hear whether I passed and then run around campus getting all of those signatures (graduation isn’t real until you’ve done a lot of paperwork).

Comps was particularly painful. For other people, it might be easy, but for me, it wasn’t. Our program gives you seventy-two hours to answer four out of six essay questions, in about six pages each. So, over a weekend (usually), you have about three full days to write about twenty-four pages of coherent argument.

I agonize over papers. I go back over them again and again and again. On Friday, the first day of my comps, I just sat in front of my computer writing, writing, writing until a merciful fog settled over my brain, and I could do nothing but sit next to my husband and watch reality TV. That was not the way to go about it. I should have  sat down and figured out the examples from my reading list I wanted to use for each essay question and type those up and get a clear sense of an outline. Instead, I thought that if I just write enough, I’ll figure out what I’m arguing and then be able to go back and hack things down.

In that fog, thoughts started running through my head like, “I don’t need that piece of paper! I can just give up right now! Then I wouldn’t have to write anymore! I already have my book. I won’t be able to get a job with an MFA anyway, so who cares?? I WOULDN’T HAVE TO WRITE ANYMORE! I COULD GIVE UP NOW!”

Thankfully, I put myself to bed and woke up much more clear-headed. On Saturday, three essays came together easily. All of the writing I had done had helped, and I had a clear vision for how to approach each one. Before signing off to watch Gray’s Anatomy episodes, I typed up the examples I wanted to use in my fourth essay. Sunday, I finished the fourth essay by 2pm. I came home from a meeting and spruced up the other three (did MLA citation, added some to ones that were a little shy of the six page limit), and sent them off.

On Sunday, I actually started to enjoy the writing. My Comps questions required me to specifically engage with my own work while also referencing the work on my MFA Reading List.

One of my questions was, “Myth plays a large role in your poetry. And yet many writers today avoid it for reasons such as the feelings that it seems unauthentic, unmodern, dishonest, remote emotionally, and/or artificial. Poetry since the time of the Romantics, and especially since the advent of Confessionalism, seems to be moving in the direction of placing a high priority on the poet’s own life more than traditional things like myths. How does a poet go about making myth her own? How can it become authentic and honest and close to poet emotionally? Use examples from your list as well as from your own poetry to answer this and to provide specific support for your answers.”

This question, like the others I answered at my Thesis Defense, really required me to explore the why behind my writing. Why do I do things a certain way? What emotions do those things create? Do other poets do similar things? I ended up using Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s poem, “Rome,” and Sandra Beasley’s “Another Failed Poem about the Greeks” to back up my reasoning for taking myths out of their historical contexts in order to create emotional rifts that point at modern concerns.

Comps really grounded my choices. I had to apply an academic lens to my own writing, so writing is not something isolated and mystical, but something that can have theory and weight behind it. For me, having this blog really helped me in preparing for this exam. I was already used to talking about my writing and some of the whys behind it, that it wasn’t such an extension to apply that to this exam. There is also this quote by W.H. Auden: “It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.” Having to read not only critical work written by poets about poetry, but also lots of poetry by lots of different people, really got me thinking about the art of writing and the art of writing about writing.

Now, I get to wait to hear the official verdict and start packing for Spain. Yup, I’m doing a creative writing study abroad program in Alicante, which I leave on May 31st for and return on June 26th. All in all, it’s been a great semester and looking to be a great summer too.

What are your summer plans? How is your writing ritual holding up?

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4 thoughts on “Comps

  1. I have been out of academia for too long. This post made my head hurt. It also terrified me. I have all I can do trying to make my writing work for the reader. If I had to apply this kind of lens, I would curl up and cry. Congratulations on getting it done!

    1. I hear ya! It terrified me, surely. I’ve been surprised because I’ve talked to other people about it and they’ve been like, “I like writing papers. That doesn’t sound like a big deal.” And I just want to throttle them. Maybe we’re a small pathetic, weepy minority.

      1. Hehehe! Papers themselves, not so bad. Papers that delve deep into MY OWN POETRY? Aiyaiayai! Not for this pathetic, weepy, one! On the other hand, reading it this morning, rather than last night, my mind started to tick over with notions, so obviously not all those analytical faculties have died – but they are a little atrophied at this distance and I think for now, at least, they will stay that way! Enjoy the summer!

      2. Thank ya! You know, I bet with the right priming, you’d be good to go. Would you still be a pathetic, weepy one? Oh yes (I totally was), but you’d probably be able to get through it. I have faith.

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