I flipped open my copy of Poets & Writers this month to discover that Pacific University’s MFA in Writing Program has ranked fourth among the top low-residency MFA programs in the U.S., edging up one place from last year. Congratulations to the faculty, students, and staff who made this possible. What is remarkable is that the Pacific program has only been around for a handful of years, as compared to the three programs ranked above it (Bennington since ’94, Warren Wilson since ’76, Vermont College since ’81) and the one program it surpassed in these particular rankings this year (Antioch, started in ’97).
My theory about the secret to this program’s twenty-first-century upstart success is, once again: faculty, faculty, faculty.
I spent a rich and meaningful afternoon reading poems with fellow Pacific University Alumni: Kathryn Belsey, Michelle Bitting, Jonathan Harris, and George Wallace — as well as eminent faculty member David St. John. The Ruskin Art Club played host, thanks to the ever-gracious Elena Karina Byrne, to this reunion of sorts. Afterward I heard audience members remark that they felt the variety and quality of the readings gave testament to the strength of Pacific’s writing program. David St. John kindly remarked that, to him, the real secret of teaching is that one actually gets back, through the students, so much more than one gives. It was an afternoon full of generosity and goodwill — not to mention outstanding poetry.
I also took this occasion to debut my new limited-edition broadside of the poem “Recipe for the Broken.” The poem was first published in “Walt’s Corner” of The Long Islander, the newspaper founded by Walt Whitman in 1838. Fittingly, the column is now curated by George Wallace. The poem and background image are printed on sturdy 8.5″ x 11″ paper as part of The Broadsider Volume 2, Series 12 (Poor Souls Press 2010), conceived and created by Paul Fericano. A limited quantity of hand-numbered and signed prints are now available for sale on this website.
“How open to suggestion / they have always been, carrying nothing // with them of the past, content to leave almost / everything behind…”
-Christopher Buckley, “New Clouds”
I received a complimentary copy of the premiere issue of Cloudbank today. The journal is co-edited by Peter Sears, core faculty in the Pacific Unviersity MFA program, and the index reads like a roll-call of some of that program’s most talented writers: Arthur Ginsberg helps us see behind sight, Ron Bloodworth takes us into meditative country, Marianne Klekacz makes a Christmas-morning discovery of flight, Jennifer Whetham extols the sensuous mushroom, Beth Russell defends the curious appetites of the female praying mantis, and Abby Murray brings a glimmer of hard-earned compassion to a dog-eat-dog world. More than this, new poems by Christopher Buckley, Carolyn Miller, Margaret McGovern, and a host of other wonderful poets — some from the Pacific Northwest, others not — round out this impressive debut. A publication of Cloudbank Books in Corvalis, Oregon, Cloudbank the journal is accepting submissions for its second issue, including offering a $200 prize for one outstanding poem. Details for submitting poems, and ordering a copy of their excellent first issue, are available on the Cloudbank website.
Today I had the honor of giving the student speech at the 2009 Pacific University commencement ceremony. Here is the text of that speech.