Laurie on the Low Residency MFA
Laurie: I think the most important thing I learned (and have continued to learn) is that I’m writing because I want to, and that it’s vital to set really high standards for myself. While at WW I very quickly found that one poem could garner a range of responses– some enthusiastic, some lukewarm, some very, ah, shall we say, not excited. It toughens you up when you present a piece that’s close to you and it doesn’t receive the response you expected. Gradually, it can change the locus of your creative power: is it in the approval of others, or is it grounded in yourself? I’m not saying audience isn’t a consideration, whether in workshop or at a reading or through a journal. It is. But it’s impossible to predict who will be in any audience and what they will think of your work. Having the eyes of others on your story or poem can be incredibly helpful. But while at WW I came to see that opinion on literary work is like an MC Escher staircase– the loop never ends. It takes a couple rounds of: Faculty A says “Yay,” Faculty B says “Nay,” Faculty C says “Eh,” and your writer friends say, “What about . . .?” before it’s obvious there will never be a point where everyone in the world stands up and says, “You are the most brilliant writer of all time, past, present and future. We will now burn our pens.” For me, writing had to become not about pleasing people, but about creating something I feel strongly about, and if publication is desired, getting it into the hands of like-minded people. This can take a good long while. My work underwent a real change while I was in the program, and it continued after I graduated. I think the poems I was writing earlier in the program were more conservative than the ones I was writing later. That wasn’t a conscious choice, and at times was an uncomfortable evolution. I had to respect my own particular creative voice, regardless of what others thought. WW places a big emphasis on craft, and I think since I’ve graduated this has freed me in that I can focus on the elements I can control, while at the same time allow myself a massive creative generativity in terms of content.