These people will all publish their first books in the next ten years or sooner. If they keep writing etc. And Ashland may even continue to produce (and attract) good young writers. If you live in California or Oregon, go to high school or community college, pay attention to contemporary literature via things like the online literary scene, don't want (basically) to do anything with your life other than write poetry and fiction, and you have a manic curiosity not easily "offended," please go to Southern Oregon University and sustain this scene. The town's a little expensive, but the weather is very nice.
Ashland is, I think, a "healthy community." We have common sensibilities, but we don't all sound like each other. We have a kingpin, but we don't sound like him either. We don't work toward imitating him successfully enough to publish in the same places where he publishes. This means that our community will be interesting to people outside of our community in ways beyond "how do I change my writing to sound like this person and become friends with him and all his friends." That approach succeeds, sure, if what you're after is feeling "happy" and "calm" or whatever, but it's also kind of boring as shit.
I think that I'm "involved" in a lot of different communities: see the sidebars. I like communities. Communities in literary history have produced some of my favorite work: New York School poetry, Gordon Lish workshop fiction.
This would be a good time to talk about MFAs, maybe, because I've been reading a lot of anti-MFA stuff on blogs. But I don't really feel like talking about MFAs. Basically the reason I'm getting an MFA is to be involved in even more communities. For some reason, I get bored mining what's fruitful about any particular community. Though I do miss Ashland "intellectually" because I felt more consistently "excited" there. In Amherst I feel pushed toward perfecting the urn. Enthusiasm here can sometimes feel cagey or embarrassed.
Then again, I've only been here eight months. And there are a lot of people around whom I feel communion and excitement: Gabe Durham, Rachel B. Glaser, Jack Christian, Chris Cheney. Plus, I'm like "professionally motivated" or whatever by the talent in my workshops, the talent all around. But in a lot of ways this MFA program feels like the "post-enthusiasm" stage, the "okay now, let's stop trying to one-up each other in the 'startle' department and get to work."
Maybe this is a "productive" feeling. I don't know. I turned a story into workshop on Wednesday that forced people--in discussion--to say funny things like "jumping whale," "baseball bat," "gay sex" and "fake junkie." Not everybody liked the story, of course, but they seemed to have fun critiquing it. I felt after the critique like I maybe wanted to hang out with these people, which is something I don't usually feel in Amherst. But I didn't feel like I knew much better what to do with the story, which is something other Amherst workshops have made me feel, even if--at the same time--I felt like my peers were my "co-workers" rather than my friends.
It's very hard to be friends with co-workers. But it's amazing to co-work with your friends. That doesn't sound very profound. Maybe I'll work later on sounding more profound. Probably I'll delete this post because I hate writing anything that makes me sound like I'm a real person.