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All year I’ve been working with Brittany Billmeyer-Finn to create a “professional development program” for the poetry MFA students at Mills. We solicited the participation of a diverse group of active Bay Area poets to go on “dates” with current poetry MFA students in the hopes of somehow better connecting these students to the wider (and truly vibrant) Bay Area poetry community.

It’s pretty much impossible to support oneself writing poetry. Unless you’re Billy Collins it’s likely that you have some sort of job other than writing books. Many people also assume that getting an MFA (a terminal degree in the arts) means teaching at the college level. While this may be true eventually, the likelihood of that teaching position being anything but an adjunct or visiting position with no security or benefits is pretty low. Tenure track teaching jobs at universities are like unicorns these days. This is even more true if you write in a way that defies genre or “norms.”

So what’s an idealistic MFA holder to do?

Well, the poets that we gathered together for our program teach high school, sell books, work at restaurants, work in non-profits, sell pharmaceuticals, adjunct, the list goes on. The idea was to connect students to the realities of life as a poet, to facilitate a conversation about working and writing, about connecting to the “scene” and keeping true to oneself, or even about the nuts and bolts of craft.

How’d it go?

INCREDIBLY!

The feedback that Brittany and I have gotten from both student and non-student poets has been overwhelmingly positive. In many cases a solid and lasting connection has been made. Some of the pairs have even gotten together more than just the one time that Mills paid for!

This past weekend we had a little mixer/reading for the participants. People could hang out, share their experiences, and we got to hear a mix of student and non-student readers. The reading was really great because everyone was so different, it was nice to get a fast sampling of a wide variety of styles instead of listening for one person read for 20 minutes. I’m hoping to put on more readings like that in the near future. My co-worker Jose Vadi filmed it on his flip-cam, and I’ll post that video to my tumblr as soon as I get on the Place for Writers computer.

The school year is coming to a close and I can hardly believe it. Our last Place event is April 26th, Jose’s outdoor open mic. It feels simultaneously like I haven’t done anything in the last 9 months and like I’ve done so much that I could hardly list it all.

Regardless, I’m really looking forward to going swimming in a river. Or a lake. Or a pond. Or the ocean. But a river is my number one choice.

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