Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Elitism in Creative Writing: I’m a Fraud, But At Least I’m A Populist Fraud


Recently, it was brought to my attention not only that my Masters Degree in Creative Writing at one of the top schools in the Asia Pacific Region was less valid than an MFA from a state school often considered a joke, but that literary non-fiction is not considered to be creative writing.  Is this just an accepted FACT or is it the expression of elitism in the arts field?

Elitism in Creative Writing departments at the higher education level doesn’t particularly shock me. Elitism in the actual creative pursuit still does. I know we’re all critics, and I know that our styles and interests color the way we view art. The way that editors, critics, and educator’s preferences infuse the concept of GOOD/BAD verse in poetry, what I most often encounter, still surprises me.

I get it–it has to be that way.  Otherwise, you have a bunch of simpletons running around thinking they are writers.  But what if that does happen?  As an English Teacher at a technical school, I valued being able to build up my students. Students who were told they weren’t good writers, students who hated to read and students who didn’t think they had anything to say were perfect candidates for a good ol’ Creative Writing Intervention.  You DO have a story to tell. Let’s work out how to tell it so it moves people.  I had some amazing writers in my classes, who were convinced they didn’t have the skills.  Any artistic pursuit is just one let down after another. I know in my writing, the cycle has been like this: Inspiration, Excitement, Progress, Rejection, Depression, TV, Clean the House…years pass…and the cycle starts again.  With little to keep the flame going, it’s easy to think any glimmer of positive feedback you’ve ever had was an cruel joke. During the day, I work in advertising – not by choice, it just happened–but working in advertising does make you aware that half of the challenge of success in getting your message out there is finding your audience. An audience that works for you, that has needs that you can fulfill.  Clearly, I have not found that audience yet and sifting through 8 million poetry journals with poems filled with imagery about birds and fields and strolls through the moors…Dear god, I probably never will.
Before you go assuming this is sour grapes, I can assure you, it IS.  The fact of the matter is although I love certain poetry, I don’t love all poetry. I love classical poets, and abhorr most current poetry even though my writing style is far from that of the classical poets.  I am not an English scholar.  There are things I like and things I find pretentious. I have a militant, almost ridiculous in it’s totality, hated for anything even remotely pretentious or upscale.  I love poets who speak truth and those who are able to present our real life stories better than we can. It doesn’t seem that these types of poets have a place in the poetry-elite. I have always been an outsider in that regard.  I never knew enough about English literature to carry an effective conversation on authors, even though I spent a majority of my education in English courses.  I love to read, and read voraciously when I was a kid, but now I find I don’t have time and my brain is full of everyday logistics and I can’t focus anymore.  I was the bookish kid, who was a great writer and communicator – now I’m not sure if I can do either of those things with basic profundity. (Confession: I had to look that up to make sure I was using it in the correct context.) I am a public fraud, but also in my own mind, as I still think I’m that eccentric writer when I’m really just one of those simpletons.

Regardless, back to the subject of elitism, the relationship between poetry and the expression of our real life stories I found in literary non-fiction and it’s relevant to how I write.  I was surprised to hear our local Creative Writing program doesn’t have a focus in non-fiction.  I believe this is a mistake.  The idea that we have to segregate our writers into neat buckets (poetry, fiction…and those, riff-raff journalists and non-fiction writers) seems to pigeonhole creativity.  I appreciate the need to have a focus, but there is a validity to at least recognizing the cross-over that exists between creative writing fields.

I was inspired to all of this blathering above because I have had a moment of firey desire to submit to some poetry journals.  To rekindle that feeling that I AM indeed a writer and that that part of my life isn’t gone. I was put off immediately by “POETRY: Poems in traditional and experimental styles but no light verse.”  It’s not that I wanted to submit light verse, but what if my experimental poetry fringes on the edge of light verse – perhaps I have included some humor.  Aww, we can’t have that, now can we?

Maybe I am the elitist after all.  I mean, I thought New Kids On the Block were stupid when everyone else liked them. That’s how I’ve rolled and perhaps it’s really just the same thing.