Helpful Tips for your MFA Program
Introducing WVU MFA Poetry Courses
by Brigitte Whiting
WVU now offers a Poetry MFA-Certificate. Everyone is invited to take these poetry MFA courses: fiction and nonfiction writers, and poets; beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers; whether you’ve written numerous poems or the thought of writing poetry both interests and scares you.
None of the courses call for digging into the obscure themes you were expected to find in high school and college English literature courses. And you’ll never be asked to write esoteric, old-fashioned, or intellectual and inaccessible poetry. You’ll write, instead, of your experiences and feelings, on what is important to you.
You’ll read a lot of poetry; some you’ll like, others you won’t, and that’s okay. You’ll read books by excellent poets who share what they’ve learned and who want to help you with, as one of them puts it, “that silly, absurd, maddening, futile, enormously rewarding activity: writing poems.”
There’s no question that writing poetry is challenging and fascinating. Sometimes the words will seem to land on the page apart from you. Other times, you’ll wonder just exactly how you’re going to do a prompt but if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised to find that you can, in fact, write poems.
Writing poetry requires paying attention to words and the sounds of words. You won’t be looking for the fanciest word but the right word. The simpler word is often more evocative than something long and esoteric. You’ll discover what the narratives and meanings are in those experiences you can’t forget. And writing poetry can help you become a better writer regardless of your genre.
Step into this perhaps strange world of writing poetry with a sense of wonder and curiosity and you may find that you’ll want to keep writing poems, because they’re difficult, because they tug at your heart, and make you think and feel, because writing them is challenging and enjoyable.
Where to Start?
If you’re an absolute beginner, MFA350 is a sixteen-week comprehensive course that will help get you started. If you’re not ready to take such a long course, the MFA365–MFA369 series can be taken in any order and you’ll end up writing a variety of poems—the courses in this series are either five or six weeks long.
If you’re just starting the Poetry MFA program, the ideal would be to begin with MFA350 and then take MFA351. If you’re an intermediate or advanced poet and not pursuing the Poetry MFA, you’ll find those two courses useful.
Except for the two courses that have prerequisites, MFA351 and MFA352, you can take the MFA poetry courses, including the ones in series, in any order.
The MFA Poetry courses, MFA3xx’s, also count as credits toward any of the Certificates.
I hope you’ll consider joining us.
Courses for Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Writers
MFA350 is a sixteen-week Core course based upon Mary Oliver’s book, A Poetry Handbook. The language of prose and poetry seem to be half a world apart. Yet, the craft and structures overlap. Each uses mere words to paint scenes, to craft stories and thoughts so they feel alive and reach into the reader's heart. This course is intended to help all writers—whether beginning or intermediate or advanced, fiction, nonfiction or poets—better understand the whys and hows of using words.
MFA355 and MFA356 are each eight-week Core courses that use THE MAKING OF A POEM: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. These can be taken in any order. They cover the history and development of the traditional poetic forms, from villanelles to ballads to sonnets and sestinas. Each week focuses on one structure and requires writing a poem using that form.
MFA366–MFA369 include four Foundation courses, each either five or six weeks long. They can be taken in any order and use Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand, Second Edition: A Poet’s Portable Workshop. Each course includes notes on craft, examples of model poems, and exercises as ways to encourage you in beginning to shape your own experience, language, and insights into poetry.
MFA375–MFA382 is a series of eight two-week Foundation courses that uses the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry. These focus on reading and writing prose poetry and can be taken in any order.
Courses with Prerequisites
MFA351 is an eight-week core course based on Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual. Because it’s focused on revising previous poems, it has a prerequisite of having taken at least one other poetry course, ideally MFA350. The goal is to remake poems that will better reach other people and touch their hearts.
MFA352 is an eight-week core course that uses The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo. It requires having completed several poetry courses, whether core or foundation, but preferably MFA350 and MFA351. This course focuses on playful and profound insights into the mysteries of literary creation. Discover a balance between writing mundane or perplexing poetry.