Terzanelles and Villanelles and Blazons, Oh My

It’s been weeks since I wrote about my master’s degree journey, so I thought I’d let you know how it’s going and what’s new. I’m making progress! This second semester (out of four) has been intense in that not only am I doing specific writing for monthly packets due to my professor, but I had to complete a field study (more on that in a minute), a 10-week online translation seminar (I’m in week three), and a five-page critical paper (yet to be tackled).

And, I’m in the middle of moving to a new house this week, as well. Yeah, I know, I’m nuts.

If you’ve read any of my earlier blogs about my master’s degree program, you know I’m in a low-residency master of fine arts in creative writing program through Antioch University in Los Angeles. Low-residency means I spend 10 days at Antioch’s Culver City campus every June and December, and work online with a professor the rest of the time.

My emphasis is creative nonfiction, and my thesis will be my completed memoir, which I’ve been working on for about three years. This semester I decided to do something called “genre-hopping,” which means for one semester you can “hop” into one of the other emphases, which are fiction, poetry and a new one: writing for young people. So I hopped into poetry.

I was placed with a faculty member who is particularly demanding and requires his students to write in specific forms, trying them out and then discussing the poems extensively with the others in our mentor group. I had a goal of working primarily with the poems I had already written, so at first I was a little – okay, a lot – disappointed. What do I know? It turns out I really like writing in form. Sestinas, ekphrasis, sonnets, villanelles, terzanelles, postcards, prose poems, blazons, fugues. There is a virtual cornucopia of poem forms out there, and I am starting to dig them! There is almost a mathematical puzzle to many of them, and while I am no math genius (far from it), I appreciate the challenge. So I’m having fun, in spite of myself.

As for the field study, this is a requirement based on one of the tenets of the Antioch University mission, which is to engage in and promote social justice with your writing. You are supposed to do an internship with a nonprofit that incorporates your writing and helps the nonprofit in some way. I have been helping to establish an after-school interactive arts center in Santa Barbara, where kids will be able to drop in for workshops/instruction on any number of art forms for free. We are targeting at-risk youth, but the center will be open to all students, from ages 6-18. For my field study, I developed the writing program for the center. It took several months, but I finished it last week and mailed it off to my professor.

The online translation seminar has also turned out to be an interesting, challenging and fun experience. We are given a poem or short prose each week in another language and have to translate it into English. No, you don’t have to know the source language to do this (though I think it probably helps). So far we have translated a poem by the French poet Pierre Reverdy and a piece of a myth narrative written by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. We are given the poem or prose in its original language, a short bio of the author and a glossary of all the terms in the piece. Then the trick is to translate the poem in a way that captures the intent of the poem but also makes sense as a poem in English. Again, it is somewhat akin to a puzzle, and I am enjoying it a lot.

As you can see, I’ve been busy, hence the few postings here. I’ll try to get back to a more regular blogging schedule. Or maybe not.