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UBC’s 50th Anniversary:

March 9, 2014

it’s the 50th anniversary of my MFA alma mater. in honour of that, the national post has interviewed graduates of the program, ranging from andreas schroeder (MFA ’72 and one our teachers) to kim fu (MFA ’11 and part of our hooligan year) about how the program shaped them. kim’s portion spoke to me, of course, because i was MFA ’11, too, and her words ring exceptionally true – we are described as a ‘ fiery, godless lot’, and i was hooked from there on in. kim writes:

“I can only speak for the class of ‘11, but we were a fiery, godless lot. It would have been impossible to reconcile, let alone homogenize, our diverse aesthetics and voices, though no one was fool enough to try. Those two overheated, airless classrooms on the fourth floor of the ugliest building on campus were more like a rock tumbler than a church. We came out made of the same stuff as when we went in — granite does not become opal — only slightly leaner and more polished, our individual patterns and sediments more visible. The faculty was the grit, a refining force as we bashed each other smooth. There is no greater gift for a developing writer than to have readers so invested in your work and its betterment that they shout at each other across a table.”

“Creative classes: UBC’s writing program celebrates 50 years” – The National Post

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mfa '11 grad brouhaha

mfa ’11 grad brouhaha

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mfa '11 grad brouhaha, also.

mfa ’11 grad brouhaha, also.

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it’s been over two years since i’ve left vancouver, and therefore ubc, and therefore all my lovely writers. but i felt at home once again when this article came out, because all of a sudden my facebook lit up like an elton john pinball machine (have clearly been spending far too much time at the get well, singing “goodbye yellow brick road” to my favourite of pinball games) because from coast to coast, the writers of mfa ’11 were sharing this article and melting hearts from british columbia to ontario to beyond. we still keep in touch. we have our facebook group, our emails, our twitter threads, our occasional meet-ups if someone is in town and our schedules match up. i miss us, though. nothing is the same as when we were all together, rowdy hive-mind, writing postcard stories at cafe deux soleils on commercial drive or at the fringe on broadway; or dressing up as unicorns and dancing with hula hoops at a hippie house-party; or sitting on wreck beach by night, gathered around a bonfire in the name of beltane; or taking up a huge table at celebrities’ drag queen bingo night, yelling back at the drag queens calling the numbers; or just calling each other up to skype or chat or meet up on a bridge or meet up at a coffee shop in the village, or a book store downtown, or just sit in an apartment and watch the rain come down, just to be near each other and to take comfort in the familiarity we had carved out within our own strange little patchwork family.

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typical.

typical.

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the point is, i learned more from the people i met in vancouver than i’ve learned anywhere else so far, and that was the result of being slotted in to classes with people from varying backgrounds and genders and sexualities and levels of talent and at different stages of life. we were a particularly enmeshed year, and we were forced very quickly to get along with each other or fail, and we chose to get along (mostly). of course there were upsets, and of course there were fights, or moments when friends became more, or moments when friends became not-friends, or maybe became friends once again after a hair-curling fights. there were classes where we workshopped stories about assault, incest, body image and body issues, video games, the mating habits of bonobos, schizophrenia, depression, self-harm, farming and sheep, yehuda amichai, zombies, transgender storylines, david bowie (that was me, clearly), AIDS, math and physics, giants, ferrets. you name it, we wrote about it – with alacrity, self-assuredness (maybe too much) and with so much trust in our classmates – trust that the people we shared the classroom with would respect our work, would defend it if they loved it, and would tell us (hopefully kindly) if they hated it, and what could be done to fix it.

i applied to the guelph-humber MFA and the concordia MA, and got rejected from both, for good reason: i was supposed to be in BC, and i was supposed to meet these incandescent, tough, blunt, rude, big-hearted, beautiful, talented people. i remember one of the poet’s partners looking at me one day, and saying – honestly and seriously – “your year is very talented. and you are all going to go so very far. i can feel it.” and i can feel it, too. sometimes it’s hard to be happy for colleagues when they achieve the goals you so wanted for yourself, but mostly, my heart swells with a leonine pride every time i hear accolades for the people i cut my teeth with.

so here’s to them: the ones who still edit my poetry when i need help with a turn of phrase or a wonky stanza; the ones who still cheer each other on through grants, rejections, book deals, agent-signings, and readings; the ones who have spread out around the world but still love each other from afar. fiery and godless, indeed. and thank god for it.

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