Poetic Lives Online: Links by Brian Spears

By

Can you tell the difference between E. E. Cummings and a YouTube commenter? (It’s really not as hard as it looks.)

Caroline Guinzio has been guest blogging at Unstressed this week, and I enjoyed this piece very much in light of the long interview we recently published with Rebecca Wolff. Her blogging all week has been great, though. Check it out.

Steven Fama praises Stephen Ratcliffe’s Blogger poem-posts.

And finally, Poets & Writers released their list of the top fifty MFA programs in the US, which is to say they released Seth Abramson’s rankings of the top fifty MFA programs in the country. Stacey Harwood, writing at the Best American Poetry blog has a problem with that, stating Abramson’s “research methods…are utterly bogus” and that “Abramson’s poll reflects only the responses of self-selected readers of his blog, and there is nothing to prevent individuals from responding more than once from multiple locations.” Harwood evaluates and conducts survey research for a living, so she’s coming from a far better critical position than I could ever hope to, though I’d be interested in a more comprehensive critique of Abramson’s methods.

My issue with Poets & Writers teaming up with Abramson this has more to do with P&W‘s position as a big dog authority in the profession. As long as Abramson was doing this on his own, people who looked at his rankings seriously had to actually look at his reasoning, had to see what he privileged in an MFA program and what got shunted aside. P&W‘s reputation turns that exercise into a list and makes it easy for people to forget the context in which those rankings are created.

This is a problem, by the way, that any list of this sort will have, because reading the details behind any ranking system is tedious, and people are lazy for the most part. We don’t want to know how the results came out–we just want to know what the best is–and Abramson’s rankings (and I have not and will not pass any judgment on their quality) will be treated by people not intimately connected with the MFA program process as gospel, because of their connection with P&W.

Speaking only for myself, the best advice I can give anyone looking at MFA programs is to find students in the programs that interest you and ask them questions. Friend them on Facebook and ask their advice on the inner workings of the program. Look for their work online and see how you feel about it. Abramson has this part right, I think–don’t look at the professors in terms of their writing. Good writers and good teachers are not always the same thing, which is why it’s good to talk to current students about the shape of the program. And in a world as interconnected as this one, it’s not hard to find people willing to talk to you.

Brian Spears


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is the Poetry Editor for The Rumpus, and teaches poetry at Drake University. More from this author →