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Helpful Tips for your MFA Program



"Dawn is a fisherman, his harpoon of light poised for a throw- so swiftly the morning comes..." Raymond Barrow, Jamaica


Poetry is as old as we have been telling stories. The saga of Sundiata is among the longest surviving works of literature, a tale of the ancient Mali empire that is still recited by griots of West Africa today. It tells the journey of a man who rises above adversity, betrayal and danger to rescue his people and become the empire's first king. When prose fails us, we turn to the poetic, like Prof. Robert Oppenheimer, seeing and finally understanding the real power of the Manhattan Project's creation, foreseeing its legacy, and resorting to the writings of the Bhagavad Gita ('gita" can be translated "song")- "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.".

The poetic form does not have to be epic or literary, but it is universal. Light-hearted verse like limericks, Japanese haiku, hip-hop lyrics and spoken word poetry, that catchy advertising jingle that sticks in your head, exactly where the advertising agency wants it to be. It all shares space in the world of verse with sonnets, narrative poems and modern prose poetry, and it does what writing always does: it says something about the human condition.

If you are interested in writing poetry and learning more about the craft, the WVU has an excellent suite of courses. If you are more interested in fiction or non-fiction prose, taking a couple of the poetry courses can still be helpful. Besides counting towards the MFA or Creative Writing certificates, an understanding of the poetic form can help to improve your work.

Studying how poems use language gives the fiction and non-fiction writer insights into how to bring more sensory detail into their writing. Poems evoke the senses to express meaning. The opening lines of this article are taken from a poem that is quite often used by English teachers in the Caribbean to teach metaphor and personification to hapless twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. But the whole poem itself captures the experience of sunrise through sight, sound, and touch in a manner that resonates with all ages. Epic poems aside, poets often share their observations and feelings in fewer words that longer prose fiction and non-fiction. A well-written limerick tells a whole story in just five lines. Examining how poems can be effective with such brevity can stimulate new ideas for conveying theme and message in your work.

The poetry courses at WVU cover the fundamentals of crafting poetry through to advanced aspects of the art form. If you know nothing about poetry and what distinguishes it from other forms of writing, MFA350: Understanding and Writing Poetry is a great place to begin and will introduce you to the basics. From there, you may wish to try MFA351 which is on revision and requires having taken one of the Core poetry courses—these are in the MFA350's, and include MFA355: Verse Forms, and MFA356: Shaping Forms. Both are based on the classical forms of poetry.

There are eight courses on prose poetry, a form that combines elements of poetic and prose writing. The series, MFA366–369, offers weekly prompts to work with plus each course ends with a workshop. Each week, you'll be sharing a poem, whether newly written or revised, and receive meaningful, focused feedback from your classmates.

Whether you choose to try a few or take more of the courses, you will find that all encourage you to experiment and try new techniques. Many of the poetry courses are on the calendar for this year. Go ahead and take the opportunity to delve into the fascinating world of poetry. You won't regret it, because you are bound to take away something that will help somewhere along your writing journey.


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