Do not trust anyone who tells you that graduate school is easy. There will be weeks where it’s exactly everything you want it to be educationally, artistically, and socially, but there are also weeks where you will likely doubt yourself as an artist, as a student, and as a human being. It can be tempting to think of the writer working in solitude toward their magnum opus, romanticizing the isolation and buying into the hype of what makes someone a true artist. After all, all a person technically needs is something to write with/on and time. But there are few remedies for those dark weeks than the company of friends, if only to hear them say that they are experiencing the same things.
Knowing that your friends and cohort help you get through the stressful times goes both ways. So when the end of the semester comes about and you happen to know all four readers in the Minds of Winter reading series, you take a break from the stress of finishing off final projects and working to go hear them read for an hour or so on a Wednesday afternoon.
The thing about being a first-year graduate student is that you get exposure to the work of your immediate peers — Columbia has all of the first-year poets together in a workshop — but you don’t see much of the work being done by other poets at the school.
The first two readers, Marshall Doe Parker and Daniel “Sully” Sullivan are both undergraduates and showcased just how strong the Department of Creative Writing is at every level. After the reading, a friend in the Fiction MFA program said that Doe’s writing made them wish they could be a poet. As an aside, if any fiction writers are reading this, you can be poets too, I promise.
Even though I have become incredibly familiar with Chrissy Martin’s work in workshop throughout the semester, hearing it read in front of an audience and seeing everyone else’s reactions to her imagery and the unsettling ways in which she attacks the ideas of beauty and home was quite the experience.
We closed with second-year MFA candidate Evan Kleekamp, whose poetry had a kind of unity to it that makes it clear how much he has been working on assembling his thesis. Despite having worked with Evan this semester on Columbia Poetry Review, I had very little exposure to his writing, and it was exciting to see just how his writing overlaps with and differentiates from the poetry he appreciates as a reader.
In fact, that was perhaps the most exciting part of the event, seeing the ways in which these poets’ writings say so much about themselves, more than just the slight impressions I’ve gleamed from working with them in classes. It was also nice to force myself to take a short break from the hectic final weeks of the semester. But now it’s back to the grindstone for the final stretch.