mfa

Interview with Bianca Stone

We had a chance to interview Bianca Stone, poet and illustrator, for this week's interview! Check out her website for some poetry comics First please tell us a little bit about yourself: Are you pursuing and MFA? Where do you go to school? 

I finished my MFA in poetry at NYU in 2009. Since then I’ve been living in Brooklyn with my boyfriend, Ben Pease, who is also a poet and went to Columbia for his MFA. I work for Sharon Olds, (who was my professor) as an assistant/helper. I also do small teaching things here and there.

I'll start with the age-old question: What came first the poetry or the comic?

Poetry has always been extremely important to me. My mother Abigail Stone, is a writer. My grandmother, Ruth Stone, who passed away last November, was a working poet my whole life and I spent a lot of time with her. I’ve always known I would be a writer. That said, I’ve also always been a visual artist. In undergrad I imagined that I’d study stuff other than writing...I pretentiously thought I didn’t need to. But the art department at Antioch College wasn’t the best, and when I started taking writing workshops I realized it was really right for me. My writing professor there was Benjamin Grossberg, and he was really important to me. There was so much I learned about being a reader and a writer. I read a lot. The same really goes for my MFA, I learned so much, I don’t think you ever stop learning new things with poetry. It’s really imperative that we keep challenging what we think we know, and trying new things, reading everything. It wasn’t until I was in my MFA that I started putting my poetry and art together. Making poetry comics was an exciting revelation for me.

When did you begin writing? Do you remember the first poem you wrote?

Very young. There were always poets around when I was growing up, so of course I was always wanting to write. I was just visiting my mother recently and I kept finding all these poems from throughout my life, going back pretty far. At around 11 years old I was putting little manuscripts together to imitate grandma, making a table of contents, a title page, making lists of places I wanted to send to. Here’s a something I found when I was home:

Bianca Stone's first poem

(I think I was writing a blurb....I thought I was a good writer, but I’ve NEVER been a good speller.)

What does your work studio look like? (Would you be able to add a picture of your work-desk, just for fun?)

No problem!

(Drawing desks, in the middle of a project it’s usually a total wreck)

Bianca stone's writing desk
Bianca Stone's writing desk

(Writing desk)

What are some of the main themes you are interested in pursuing with your work?

 That’s a good question, but one that is often changing. I was just looking over my full-length manuscript of poetry and thinking that the main theme of the book seemed to be a lot to do with the difficulties and the pleasures of love. I’m interested in the human condition, how we interact. I like to look at the seemingly ordinary and make it strange. I’m also very interested in science and neurology. I love writing about the mind, the brain, which I think is actually an age-old subject of writing. But what’s exciting in art is that we continue to look at these traditional themes through what we interact with now. Science is so important, and evolving, there’s always so much there to explore through art.  

What is the best typewriter you have ever used?

 My beloved Royal Quiet Deluxe that my mom gave me. Sadly it was broken in my recent apartment move. But I have others.

Are there any issues that you won't touch in regards to your poetry?

 Of course. But I’ve never liked people creating poetic “taboos.” Every writer has things they would rather not have in their poems, that’s what makes each writer unique. However, we also have to always keep ourselves in check, and challenging our own poetic taboos. I think our personal taboos are ironically very close to what we want to write about. It’s scary to even give them voice. Sometimes I think, Oh, I could never write a “political poem” but then I think, I have written political poems! It’s just that it’s through my own methods, and not other people’s.

What was your first chapbook titled?

It’s actually the title of my full-length: Someone Else’s Wedding Vows. (Pick up a copy here)

How did you come up with the name for it?

It was my “biggest” poem, both in length, and in spirit. I wrote it after doing a few wedding photography gigs with my sister, who is a great photographer (and poet). I had just begun dating Ben, and I was thinking a lot about what it means to be in a serious relationship. I was at all these weddings thinking: This is some of the only times that people hear poetry, or write it. And then I was thinking, God, it’s all just the same crap, mixed around. People are supposed to write these “Vows” and they mean so much to them, but honestly, they mean nothing to other people. Someone else’s vows are meaningless, and yet, they’re all so analogous. It both revolted and excited me.

What was publishing your first chapbook like?

GREAT. I was all worried at first, since I didn’t know Liz Clark Wessel, and this was their first chapbook. But she was so wonderfully excited about my poems, that I realized that it made a lot of sense to have them do it. We became great friends, and Argos Books is so serious about what they do, and they’re marvelous, fun, professional, and feel so passionately about their writers. Having a chapbook is great because maybe your book isn’t ready, but your work can get seen, and you have something to sell at readings. It opens a lot of doors, and feels so good to have and hold.

How did it feel to touch it for the first time.

It was letter pressed and hand-sewn: It felt good, literally. I don’t think that initial excitement can ever be recreated. I was so proud. And she just did my second one I Saw The Devil With His Needlework. It’s so special to have a press that would do two chapbooks.

How long did it take you to find a publisher for your chapbook?

 Not long (I’d graduated from NYU that year).  Elizabeth Clark Wessel was at one of my readings and approached me afterwards. She was so earnest and sincere about wanting to publish it. I was very lucky. It’s so hard to send out chapbooks, actually. It’s usually a situation of solicitation, or else it’s a contest. And we all know how that goes...

Where do you like to write?

 At my desk. But I’ll write anywhere. Sometimes on the subway. Mostly I write on my computer at my desk, in the morning and afternoon.

Are you like J.K Rowling? Could you write on napkins in the middle of a busy bar, or do you have to be somewhere specific?

 I’ve never had a problem writing anywhere. I would write and draw all over the paper table cloth at Café Loup when I was at NYU. I find envelopes with poems on the backs of them, even receipts with poems on them. I get grumpy if I’m writing and Ben bothers me, or the phone rings, but I can do it anywhere, as long as people leave me be.

What does it mean to be a poet?

 For me it means writing poetry and never feeling like you have to apologize for it, or say that it’s not a living. It always makes me mad when people act like it’s not a living. It’s irrelevant that it “doesn’t make money.” You do it because it’s important. And because you’re good at it. You do it because it needs to be out there. You always find a way to support yourself. It’s important to establish a community with poets and artists, too. To help each other out; share and encourage, and cultivate one another.

Can you give us some of your favorite poets?

In no particular order, except that the most important poet for me is my grandma, Ruth Stone, I’d say: Sylvia Plath, Dara Wier, John Keats, W.B. Yeats, Anne Carson, Sharon Olds, Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Strand, Mark Leidner, Matthew Zapruder, Noelle Kocot, Dorthea Laskey, Dan Magers, Emily Dickinson, Matthew Dickman, Emiy Pettit, Ariana Reines, Peter Gizzi, John Ashbery, and Ben Pease! To name a few...

Where do you hope is next for you and your poetry career?

Publishing a full-length book of poetry at a good press. I have been waiting my whole life it seems, and I’m finally feeling like it’s ready. You have to be patient with something that you’re very impatient with. It’s a nightmare. And a blessing.

The other hope,of course, is to publish a full-length color book of poetry comics. 

How to Stay Organized During the MFA Application Process

The MFA application process can be a chaotic, stressful experience, so you’ll want to do everything you can to minimize stress. The best way to do this is to keep as organized as possible. This is important not only for yourself but for your letter of recommendation (LOR) writers. Your former professors, bosses, etc. have been kind enough to agree to help you out, so you’ll want to make the process as easy on them as you can. Now, if you’re anything like me, you might not be the most organized person (honestly, I live 98% of my life in utter disorder). Personally, I’m not a fan of lists and I don’t like spending a ton of time arranging anything. But, I knew I was applying to 15 schools and I knew I would miss a deadline or forget to submit a required document if I didn’t become organized and fast.

So here are my tips on the best and easiest ways to organize so that you can conquer the wild beast that is the MFA application.

1. Make a Spreadsheet:

Once you pick your list of schools, pop open a word document or excel spreadsheet and arrange your schools by application due date.

I included a lot of information in my spreadsheet like:

-Due date (obviously)

-Application fee (applying is pricey so it’s nice to keep track of your costs)

-GRE requirement (include the school GRE code if the school does require scores)

-Transcripts (how many are required and what form: hard copy or digital)

-Letter of recommendations (how many and how to submit them)

-Page limit for the writing sample (I was fiction, so this was in page numbers, but number of poems works too!)

-Other required documents (expository writing samples, personal statements, etc.)

Personally, I had an overall excel spreadsheet and then a word document with further information where I copied and pasted exact information from school’s websites. And BOOM, I had all the information I needed all in one place and I didn’t have to go hunting for it. This saved me a lot of time, because believe it or not, school’s websites sometimes are very disorganized and information is hidden all over the place. It’s like they expect us writers to be treasure hunters or something.

2. Make a Spreadsheet for your LOR Writers

This spreadsheet is pretty simple. Include school name, due date (I bolded this, just so it really jumped out), and exactly how to submit the letter. Some schools require letters to be emailed, while others require it be uploaded on the school’s applications. Others require a mailed hard copy, which brings me to my next point…

3. Mail a Packet for your LOR Writers

Even if you just have one school that requires a hard copy letter to be mailed, give your LOR writers a packet, because it’s really not nice to make them provide their own stamps/envelopes. I sent my LOR writers a manila envelope with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes and a short explanatory and thank you letter. Make sure you make the due dates very visible and specify if it’s a received by date or a postmarked by date. Also, make sure to email your LOR writers a few days before each deadline to (nicely) remind them.

3. Set Your Own Deadlines and Keep Them

You NEVER want to leave applications to the last minute. At least not if you don’t want to induce mind-numbing stress and possibly blow some hard earned cash. I  pretended all applications were due 15 days before their actual deadlines. This gave me a nice cushion, in case I realized the deadline was a received by date rather than a send by date, or found out that I had forgotten a certain document. And believe me, if you’re applying to a lot of schools (which a lot of applicants do) you probably will miss something. I knew so many people who were forced to overnight a needed document and that sure isn’t cheap.

I know you’re probably really busy, but seriously, don’t procrastinate on these applications. You don’t want to do that to yourself; MFA application season is already full of such doubt and anxiety that you really don’t want to make it worse.

I had a pretty smooth MFA application season with relatively minimal organization and effort. So just put some time in at the beginning to get your information straight and you should be fine!

 

by Michelle Donahue

What Jobs Can I Get With An MFA

This question has been asked many times. What type of jobs are out there for MFAs? Well the options are really limitless. Think of it this way: An MFA offers you 1-3 years where you get to focus on your writing. Only good can come of that. There are many jobs that you can get with an MFA that you might not have thought of. Of course, tenured positions at colleges are the ultimate goal for many people, but if you wanted to do something different, this may offer you some better ideas.

  • Adjunct or Full-Time Professor at a College or University: (sometimes you need to have a PhD to get a tenured track position but there are some schools that will allow you to get a job with an MFA.) For listings check out idealist.org.

  • Non-Profit Work: Non profits want their employees to be well-spoken and well-written. If you have an MFA, that usually means you are eloquent and it sometimes means that you are persuasive. So if you are good at grant writing, you can check out some non-profit jobs.

  • Starting Writing Workshops: Although this may take determination, starting a writing workshop in your community might be able to make you a little extra money but more importantly, it will allow you to give back! And who doesn't love to give back?

  • High School Teacher: Some states will allow you to work at a high school without a teaching degree. So if you love teaching but can't find work at a college, you can look for openings at high schools.

  • Editing: If you have experience working with literary journals, you may be able to get work as an editor for a publishing house or literary magazine.

  • Freelance: Working in your pajamas? Always a plus! As a freelance writer, you may be able to make a decent living. Check out local listings on Cragislist or glance.com for people looking to hire writers. Or, if you are really creative you can start your own business selling creative writing for weddings, anniversaries or birthdays.

  • Bank Jobs: Uh. You may be thinking WTF? But many banks want to hire people who have excellent communication skills so your MFA might come in handy.

  • Video Teaching: You can create a start-up business by creating online videos in which you teach people writing skills. Or the history of the English language. Or how to build a wooden model ship. Or anything!

So don't worry about finding a job (well...don't worry TOO much) if you are creative, there is always work for you!

MFA Programs How Do I Choose?

There are a gabillion of MFA programs to choose from. So how do you know which one is the best for you? Well, you can do what I did which is scour the internet for information, or you can check out this link to PW's MFA information. Poets and Writers has great ranking information.  

MFA INFO

 

To make my search easier I first found 20 schools I liked based on

  • Location
  • Program Offerings (2 year vs. 3 year...studio time etc.)
  • Professors
  • Cost
  • Funding Options

Then I created an excel sheet that was split into categories titled "School Name" "Application Fee" "Application Date" "Full Funding Y/N" "Location" and so on. This made it so much easier to narrow my choices. I was able to get my list down to 13 and then I applied. In my opinion, it's a good idea to start with location first and then go from there!

Pre-MFA Syllabus

Are you guys getting ready to pack up and head to grad school? Instead of wasting time on pinterest, you can start working ahead so that when you get to school you'll be prepared! Here is a (for fun) pre-MFA syllabus created by Kaela McNiel. You can pick and choose which exercises you do but it might be fun to try them all!  

The Pre-MFA Program

Created by Kaela McNeil June 11 – August 31 [12 weeks]

 

Course Description

Deciding what to write and when to write can be difficult, whether you are starting an MFA program in the fall and want to be prepared, or if you’re just looking to write and learn more about poetry without the pressure of academia. As I prepare to start my first semester as an MFA student, I keep asking myself how much should I write? What should I be writing? What else can I be doing?

 

The core of this 12 week course is to write. In order to make writing your life and to get better at it, you cannot be a weekend poet. You have to write more days than not and have to be able to produce a large volume of publishable or near publishable work. In this course, you will be asked to write, whether an entire poem or 20-30 minutes of free-writing, five days a week, Monday – Friday. Writing is a job, not a hobby, and should be treated as such.  On top of the Daily Writings, you will produce one poem per week from those writings and to heavily revise until you feel as if you cannot revise anymore. Then at the end of the 12 weeks you will revisit 6-8 of the 11 Weekly Poems and to revise them again into a mini portfolio.

 

Because being a writer means being a part of the greater conversation of other writers, you will also be researching current topics on writing and to write a 2-3 page essay per week [for a total of 10] on your own chosen topic. Because this course is for you and self-directed, you will decide what to write about. These discussions can be as informal as an opinion piece on a particular author or as formal as a research paper. It is up to you. The point is to generate ideas and opinions on current topics being discussed by other writers.

 

Lastly, you will write a longer essay of about 5 pages on a poet you admire. Throughout the course, you will generate discussions on their poetry and review criticism on their writing.

 

Course Goals

  • To produce a portfolio of 6-8 poems that you can submit for publication after the course is finished
  • To be able to write on a variety of current topics on writing
  • To develop personal aesthetic by writing a longer essay on a particular poet.

 

Expectations

  • To produce one complete poem each week due Saturdays [11 total]
    • A poem that is “complete” means that the student has revised the poem once or several times to the point where he or she can no longer edit it without the aid of a workshop.
  • One critical essay on a new topic on writing or poetry per week due Mondays [10 total]
  • To write a poem OR a 20-30 minute free-write each day, Monday – Friday [60 total]
  • A 5 page critical discussion on a poet you admire due August 24th
  • Final Portfolio: During the last week of the course, the student must edit 6-8 poems that he or she wrote during the semester to publishing or near publishing quality [use outside help if needed].

 

Where to Begin

  • Start out by writing your first Daily Writing right now. Sit down for 20-30 minutes and write a poem or spend your time writing whatever comes to your mind. Don’t worry about the poem that’s due on Saturday, you will have generated enough material by then to write one poem. Put a tally mark or some other indicator next to the “5 Daily Writings” to show that you completed the writing for today. When the week is over, write the number you completed on the line “__/5.”
  • Decide when you will be doing your Daily Writing. Do you want to write in the evenings? In the morning? Whenever you feel like it [as long as it’s M-F, once a day]
  • Since you do not have an essay due this week, pick your topic for the essay due next week. Do you want to write about how Twilight is an abomination? Do you want odes to come back in style? It’s up to you.
  • Schedule when on Saturday you will be sitting down to complete your poem. Depending on the material you generated, allocate enough time to write and revise said poem.
  • Schedule what day and what time you are free either Sunday or Monday to write your 2-3 page essay
  • On Saturday, dedicate some time to composing a poem from your Daily Writing or expand/edit a poem you wrote during the week.
  • Review your topic for your essay on Sun or Mon, create an outline, and write up your essay. Remember, it can be as formal or as informal as you want it to be.
  • Since this course is self-directed, please make sure to schedule everything ahead of time to fit your schedule. Set email reminders or add it to your agenda to keep track.

 

Can This Course be Adapted for Prose?

YES. Instead of writing a poem or 20-30 minutes of free-writing for your Daily Writing, write at least 750 words a day. By the end of each week, instead of writing a Weekly Poem, set your own goal. This can be a chapter, a work of flash fiction, or a lyric essay. It’s whatever.

 

“Grading”

Want to keep track of how well you are doing? Calculate your own grade based on completion only. If, however, you want to be critical and demeaning towards yourself, feel free to grade yourself more harshly.

 

Weekly poems [out of 11]                                                                   20%

Weekly essays [out of 10]                                                                   20%

Daily writing [out of 60]                                                                                          10%

Final Essay                                                                                                     25%

Final Portfolio                                                                                             25%

 

 

Course Schedule

 

Week 1 [6/11 – 6/17]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 6/18]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat] No essay due Mon 6/11

 

Week 2 [6/18 – 6/24]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon] __  Pick new essay topic for next week [due 6/25]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Pick author for final essay

 

Week 3 [6/25 – 7/1]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon] __ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 7/2]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Write a 1 page discussion on one poem from your selected author

 

Week 4 [7/2 – 7/8]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 7/9]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Write a 1 page discussion on one poem from your selected author

 

Week 5 [7/9 – 7/15]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 7/16]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Write a 1 page discussion on one poem from your selected author

 

Week 6 [7/16 – 7/22]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 7/23]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Read and annotate an article written on your selected author

 

 

Week 7 [7/23 – 7/29]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 7/30]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Read and annotate an article written on your selected author

 

Week 8 [7/30 – 8/5]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 8/6]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Read and annotate an article written on your selected author

 

Week 9 [8/6 – 8/12]

 

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 8/13]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Create an outline for your final essay

 

Week 10 [8/13 – 8/19]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Pick new essay topic for next week [due 8/20]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat]

__ Write first draft of final essay

 

Week 11 [8/20 – 8/26]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__ Weekly Essay [due Mon]

__ Weekly Poem [due Sat] __ Revise and finish final essay [YEAH!]

 

Week 12 [8/27 – 8/31]

__/ 5 Daily Writings

__Choose 6-8 poems to put into a “collection”

__ make minor revisions to poems