Sunday, August 12, 2012

Litpalooza MFA Diary: And Then Along Came Sam

View from my dorm room on PLU Campus
Sunday August 12, Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA.  

If you've been following along you know that this low-res MFA in Creative Writing program has exhausted my late-fifties ass (and this is my vacation!): craft talks at 8:30, workshop at 10:00, classes from 1:30 to 5:00, readings and more readings - even the kids here (several younger than mine) are getting kinda bleary-eyed. Even if the schedule consisted of nothing but gourmet food, gold-medal sex, a full menu of spa delights and a holodeck, after 5 or 6 days just about anybody would be exhausted.

As I reported a couple of days ago, we had our break, just in time. I spent Friday morning in Olympia Washington where it stills smells a bit beer skunky, hanging with one of my favorite all time people in the known universe, but after she left I was even blacker and bluer than I was before.

Not that today was any less enjoyable and enlightening than any of my other days as a recycled student. I skipped the morning talk, instead catching up and actually writing a few paragraphs that I read later in class, read a beautiful short story adapted from Native American legend entitled The Man Who Swam With The Beavers by Nancy Lord, made a request for next year's mentor (my "manager" in corporate-speak) and just generally got organized for the rest of the residency. In the morning workshop, true to form, I managed to open mouth insert foot early on by attempting to turn an essay on the exploits of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton in a a comic satire, which rather offended the author who honestly is in awe of the accomplishments of the esteemed explorer. I could hypothesize on why I am consistently compelled to open my big fat mouth but we don't want to go there. Not now, probably not ever.

Later we took a class on crafting the critical response paper - I think we're on the hook for 24 or those puppies between now and this time next year. It's different than your standard english lit paper in many ways, but mostly it's different because we are writers responding to the work of other writers - what works, what doesn't and why - rather than English students, critics or book clubbers. That class was followed by a continuation of the discussion we started yesterday around writing from an advocacy position, which, here in the Northwest, was focused primarily around environmental issues. Which reminds me...

If you're considering participating in a low-res MFA program, be mindful of the location of the program, because it's likely that the location will flavor the program to varying degrees. Here there's quite a bit of nature focus - nature poetry, nature non-fiction, nature in fiction etc. It's what you might expect in an area surrounded by volcanoes, the Cascades, the Olympics, the Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier etc. Urban programs may have a different thematic principle, but it's worth checking out to make sure you don't end up some place that doesn't fit.

Okay sorry about the pause for advice- though I guess that would be the type of observation that may be of some limited value versus all the other diary-like bullshit in these MFA posts.

When I started this post I was revved up because I had just come from a hilarious after dinner reading by Sam Ligon, which followed a hair-raising excerpt from an upcoming novel by Adrienne Harun. Both Adrienne and Sam read with frantic energy which for me was a welcome antithesis to the meandering, meditative poetry that has been so foreign to my frame of reference. In the end it was Sam's reading that renewed my confidence in my own madcap goofiness and the Yeung Lap Ming insanity that revs up my invention engine.

 Sam Ligon Sam Ligon:Talk about high energy wacky shit! Everybody in the hall was rolling in the aisles, Sam jabbing us with the funny knife and then twisting it and twisting it until we were all hyperventilating. He read what is becoming known as "short-shorts", an abbreviation of "short short stories". Sam offered up one short short, one "rant", and one "blurb", literally a send-up on the type of thing you might find written on the flap or in the first 10 pages of praise of the book you just bought (an irksome practice but, on the other hand, we will do whatever it takes to sell a book!). Each piece was a ten thousand degree blast; a steaming, screaming tea-kettle of insane images, from the Hunter S. Thompson cold remedy that consisted of bourbon, Robitussin, pound cake and a long list of various mind-altering substances (including Vicodin-laced pies and cobblers) to a rant on Exxon/Mobil (as told in a letter from a 12-year old girl) and The Blurb, which I couldn't possibly paraphrase.

I wish I had a Sam Ligon T-shirt, a bumper sticker, a coffee mug, a cap. It's rare that the general public, outside of the insulated academic cocoon in which the majority of the writers in this program either willingly or unwillingly operate, ever hear of any writer that isn't on the bestseller lists or being marketed by some major publisher.  At this moment Sam is getting an award for his editing contributions to The Georgia Review. How many of you have ever heard of The Georgia Review? (I take what I expect to be a dearth of comments on this post as validation of my suspicions). It's sad, but also likely that you won't be hearing about Sam Ligon, except from me, in your travels, unless of course you stay abreast of the happenings in literary academia.

For my reading nickel, Sam is the man! And also another reason why ye of writerly ambitions (Stan* when will the word "writerly" make it to the dictionary!? For God's sake, man, we can't be outlaws forever!) seriously consider a low-res MFA in creative writing program! Start now, before it's too late!

*Stan Rubin and sidekick Judith Kitchen are the co-directors of the very writerly Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA.

HACK is now available on Barnes & Noble and

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