An Interview with Director Jeanne Heuving
With its first cohort set to start in September 2012, the new Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Poetics at UW Bothell is one of the few programs in the United States that focuses on poetics. We speak with Professor Jeanne Heuving, program director and active participant in alternative writing.
This MFA is one of the few programs in the nation to focus on poetics, and yet you emphasize that the program is much more than just writing poetry. Can you elaborate on that?
The word poetics comes from the word poesis, a Greek word which means “making.” So you might think of poetics as the study of making. We define poetics as “why we write how we write.”
In typical creative writing programs, people come in saying ‘I want to write a novel’ or ‘I want to write a book of poems,’ and basically slot themselves into doing that. Our program inquires into creative writing as “making” and encourages students to write more than one genre as well as to engage in some genre and perhaps media bending.
Why should writers be focused on “how” we write?
We live in a society that is changing radically, because of new media and because of globalization and transnationalism. We ask, what different forms of writing might emerge in this changed society?
Today people are often acquainted with people that live thousands of miles away from them, sometimes fairly intimately, through YouTube videos and through text and visual exchanges that happen on the Internet or Twitter. How does that change, say, a short story?
With new media, much communication comes as images and words. There’s usually a visual component as well as a textual component. That radically changes one’s expectations about communication which has implications for creative writing.
I read an article recently about how people are starting to drop verbs out of sentences. That’s pretty huge! Similarly text messaging challenges sentence structure and spelling. Does that have any significance or effect for creative writing?
It’s important to question writing rather than simply assuming that the short story or the novel or poetry as they have been written are in fact the best way to do creative work.
How does your program tie different art forms together?
Art forms are often studied in isolation in universities, but practicing writers and artists are interested in what each is doing and converse about it. At any one time, there is often considerable overlap in the practice between one art form and another. One of our writers is active in the field of performance; another is involved with photography. Most of the writers in our program are interested in more than one art form and engage multiple genres in their writing.
In spring quarter we offer a poetics seminar on art, practice and technology. This seminar is intended to be taught by an instructor who is interested in writing, but has a practice in another field such as photography or performance.
So does the program advocate abandoning old forms of writing and adopting entirely new ones?
The program is not interested in forcing students to do anything. We’re as apt to question new media as to promote it. Some of our instructors who have been most involved in new media wish to recover older technology as a means of exploring newer technologies. We want to consider creative writing in a changed environment, rather than becoming either an advocate for the new or a kind of cloistered space for people to retreat into.
What will students come away with after their first year?
We know that people come to MFA programs because they want to develop and work on their creative writing. Our program will enable them to discover new directions for their creative work and knowledge about writing. They will come away with an increased understanding of creative writing and art, or why we write how we write.
Often times students are not certain whether they want to do an MFA in creative writing or whether they wish to pursue PhD work. Our program is actually the perfect bridge program for these students because they will be able to pursue their creative writing while inquiring into it in a way that will also prepare them for PhD work. The whole field of poetics is excellent preparation for advanced work in the arts and humanities.