Friday, October 14, 2005

It's amazing

how reading large amounts of text from different realms of the literary world have turned me against my own writing-- not the writing itself but the ACT of writing. I'm unable to refocus my energy from consumption to production, and it's becoming increasingly frustrating. I wonder more and more about the concept of a PhD in Creative Writing and what the real point of such a degree is. For me, thus far, it has allowed me to bide time while I write and read, broadening my knowledge base while also using this knowledge to inform my poetry. Even with the unbelieveable faculty shortage in my department, I've managed so far so good (I think, anyway. . .) mostly because of the other students and our slight but necessary support system. But now as I mull over this process of reading 100 books and interacting with five faculty members, egos intact, it's all pretty much lost on me. On days like today when I have no class, no studying, very little time to really THINK because I'm hanging out with Eliot, I just wonder if it's all worth it in the end. The reality of the situation is that I can't even necessarily get a job with a PhD unless I have a book, so what's the point? Wouldn't I be better off writing all day and pouring my time ito getting my book published than reading Shelly and Keats next to Rosemary Waldrop and Bell Hooks? Can you imagine sitting down to write with this chorus of voices in your head? It gets better- Plato next to Lyn Hejinian and Baudelaire. Walter Banjamin next to Peter Elbow and Adrienne Rich. Stanley Fish next to Longinus and Luce Irigaray. The voices, the voices!

I'm also starting to question the process of "going on the job market." Several of my friends have managed to get jobs without having books, but these are amazingly bright and very well-published people with books on the brink of being discovered. It seems like it would make more sense to have creative writers complete our dissertation (creative) before taking our exams- this way we can be sending our manuscripts out after really working on them our professors and peers, getting as much feedback as possible, and then send it out for the next few years while we study for exams. If all goes well, exams would be done by the time the book gets picked up and THEN it's time to enter the job market.

I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself. Mostly I wish I could write in the face of all this reading-- what an interesting sound that would be. I'm still working on the collaborative project, which is pretty amazing, but somehow that's easier b/c someone else is carrying some of the weight. I guess I'll just keep reading. . .I don't have a whole lot of choice in the matter.


Gerald Huml said...

I can kind of relate to what you are going through. By the time I was in my third year of my MFA program I was pretty sick of all of the reading and finding it harder and harder to write creatively. I think the mind needs time to process and organize all of the information. Then there needs to be a fallow period before you can write with enthusiasm again. After I finished my MFA I felt sick of poetry and wrote very little of it for a few years. I did read a lot though during that time; I filled in some gaps in my education. Now I read less but write far more. As for getting a job in creative writing or any field of English for that matter, it's very tough. I ended up working in hospital finance of all places! If you aren't already a member of AWP (, you may want to become one and start looking at their job postings. Hang in there!

poetzie said...

Thanks, Gerald. My hopes are not high for getting any kind of stellar job, but figure I'm pretty OK with adjuncting or teaching in a CC for a few years until I can get my book(s) published. Then maybe I'll have better luck. I'm pretty stuck also because my husband is set on moving back to Colorado (Denver area) and there are so few jobs there, it's ridiculous. Who knows, maybe I'll end up in hospital finance as well :) Thanks for your kind words.

Gerald Huml said...

You're welcome. I wish you well.

Scott Glassman said...

It's wierd. I'm finding myself envious of your reading list! Maybe because I fantasize about being in a PHD program. For me at least, and you already know this but my creative urge has got a mind of its own. Leaves when it wants, returns when it wants. No explanation, no warning. Poof! Just gone. And when it's gone, it's GONE. Frustrating because I've heard people talk about how writing is a "discipline," that you need to force yourself to do-- leading to all sorts of guilt when the desire is AWOL. I don't think that holds true with poetry though-- forcing it more often than not (and speaking solely for myself) leads to crappy or flaccid poems. Absorbtion in reading could be setting up the compost as Gerald was saying. I may have to borrow parts of your reading list, send me your current favs please! Plus, we're still rolling with our project. I understand the job anxiety though and all the other pressures you're under. But just know, from my perspective, someone outside academia, that your committment is unquestionable, admirable, your talent likewise. You will find a foothold, I have a feeling.

Scalljah said...

I often wonder at the point of creative writing PhD's too. I did my first degree in creative writing andf drama and after leaving the academy found that the "real" world informed my writing in a much more different way. It's still to early to give the full analysis yet, but overall I think my creative side is floating. The thing that struck me about the writing tutors is that when I first pitched up in the first year I fell for all their spiel of "Hi my name's bla blah and I'm a writer, primarily working in fiction, script poetry" or whatever, but bu the time I left the sheen had worn a little thin aftewr I sussed out that very few of them had done much writing outside of the academy.

It also struck me that many of the tutors where unhappy with their lot. They were getting decent enough dough to live a life where they could go to restaurants and have a fairly boyount economic existence, but as artists, I detected that most of them remained less than fulfilled.

I think it would be worthwhile to do a stint of starving in the garret for all writers, to test the strength of their muse, but maybe this is me being unrealistic. I am a single man and it is easy for me to live the hobo writers life, but many will not be so lucky and have family commitments; but as Samuel Jonson thought, you need to be fully rounded and take your knowledge not only from books, but from all parts of life. He reckoned that going along one sole intellectual path of the mind will not be good for your writing in the long run.

I was aware that when I was at college my diary would be of little interest to the outside world, but the basic lessons I learned could not have been done so anywhere else. The only danger I saw of staying at the academy was that it was too hermetic, but fair play to anyone who toughs it out for the full seven.

Good Luck.