Thursday, December 10, 2009

Guest in Progress: Kate Kimbro & Low-Residency MFA Programs

I teach in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College, in Spartanburg, SC. In January, I’ll be in residency for a couple weeks at the campus (hello, Converse cafeteria and your Blue Cheese Wedge Bar!), so it’s fitting that today’s post is by a poet in the program, Kate Kimbro.

If you’re unfamiliar with low-residency programs, the semester is divided into two periods, the residency and the mentoring program. During the residency, all students gather for ten intense days of workshops, readings, panels, meetings, and lectures. Through the rest of the semester—the mentoring component—students are back home, working and communicating with their mentor, who is reviewing their writing and their reading projects. There’s no way that these types of programs are “easy,” but their non-traditional structure are great for people who have jobs and/or families they can’t leave for the years necessary to get a traditional MFA. There’s a lot of individual attention, needless to say, which can result in great leaps and bounds forward in the work. (More details here.)

Anyway…this is all to lead to the fact that I met Kate during our summer residency. At the student reading, she read a poem that I thought delightfully captures the creative urge. She has kindly allowed me to post the poem here:

Paradigm Shift

I will dash—I will dash—I will dash—
I will write my college papers
Emily Dickinson style
With no titles or proper punctuation.
My stanzas
Will be short and clipped
Like classifieds ads
To which all publishers shall speedily respond.

I’ll compress to the max
Your very favorite day—
So you can keep it forever.

The best—your best
Distilled into an eternal moment—
Think of it!

But, if you hear the editors sour,
“These dashes are in all the wrong places,”

Please tell me—
Because then I’ll head to Tahiti—
And paint pictures of naked men.
~~Kate Kimbro

When I asked Kate for a bio to run with the post, she ended up sending me much more than the usual list of accomplishments, so I wanted to include everything she wrote, especially since she talks about her experience in the program and that universal desire to find a writing community. And following this piece is another poem she sent, the poem she refers to in the third paragraph here.

About: Kate Kimbro

I serve as a volunteer peer-counselor for women in a domestic violence shelter. We provide short and long-term guidance including immediate needs, resume` help, professional clothing for job interviews, cell phones, child care issues, and help writing applications.

I also work as an adjunct for a Community College and get contracted out to the Department of Defense at Patrick Air Force Base. I’m the writing coordinator for an inter-service management institute for the Military where selected Military members train to become Equal Opportunity Advisors in their service specific branches. This is a short writing refresher course as one component of their larger program of study. We explore, research, and write on topics of race, prejudice, ethnicity, sexism, gender, class, sexual harassment and assault, extremism, and religious and cultural diversity. They become first-line change agents in the field. Empathy is a large part of their approach.

And my hope is that empathy informs my writing. I work with tough subjects and usually write poetry of witness like “Gentle Lavinia” [see below] but wrote “Paradigm Shift” for fun.

I’m working on a Poetry focused MFA from Converse College in Spartanburg S.C. This low-residency program allows one with a job to continue working and earn a higher degree. Better than impersonal on-line classes, students have real human mentors to talk with. Professors work with you during the brief residency and through the semester. I don’t have a writing group at home, nor had I ever been a part of a workshop, so at first I felt out in left field. That community has a huge network of writer’s groups. Who am I to comment on someone else’s poem? I arrived after several family tragedies in a row and unsure of my worth there. That took awhile to get over.

Several students in the workshops have already been published and received various awards. Their comments were a great help to me. The faculty is top-notch and all award-winners. I had Denise Duhamel and R.T. Smith. Albert Goldbarth was guest lecturer. Duhamel and Goldbarth are both featured in The Best American Poetry 2009!

The first thing, Smith taught me to simplify alliteration. I’m older, and my British grandfather raised us on Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins. So my brain is ingrained with alliteration and Emily Dickinson dashes. Smith cringed and crossed out lots of stuff on my papers and I had to laugh. Consonants flew off the page and out the window, but heeding the process tightens and strengthens writing. During revisions, I “de-alliterated and de-dashed.”

Indirectly, Goldbarth helped me to toughen up. In The Best American Poetry 2009, he says, “I don’t believe in backgrounding the poem with extraneous material. The poem is here to speak on its own behalf, and I hope some people like it” (163). That’s the best advice for gaining confidence. Some will like you and your work, and some won’t. It does not mean, however, that your voice is not worthy.

Gentle Lavinia
“Thou hast no hands to wipe away thy tears,
Nor tongue to tell me who hath martyred thee” (Titus Andronicus: 3 .1).

Year: 1999 -- Men meet half a world away installed in village kangaroo courts;
one-half the population decides all rules for the other half.
Girl-maiming mars the tongue.
A man rapes a neighbor’s daughter – she is 14 years-old;
the men declare the girl-victim guilty
for having unlawful sex.
Girl-maiming spoils the un-painted canvas.
Is her mother outraged?
How to brace daughters against dungeoned lives?
Do we sanction domestic shelters for a whole country?
Writing these words – do they help?
Because of their civil law, the mother should not wear lipstick;
Men razor-blade her lips; they withhold food; then,
her 14 year-old receives 50 blows with
a toughened bamboo cane. She collapses after 30.
‘Kick ‘em when they’re down,” they say.

Year: 2009 – NPR announces that a foreign leader now prohibits women receiving
higher education. He bans poets, writers, musicians, singers, artists –
outlaws all.
I wonder about our planet’s women -- about the loss of women’s art.
She cannot think about art when she is hungry;
if they take her lips is she voiceless?
She cannot think about art when she tries to get up
and the thick leather shoe smacks her in the face again.
Girl-maiming mutilates the inner ear.
She’s already down. “Keep kicking,” they say.

~~Kate Kimbro


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.