A requirement for all candidates in the first semester of the UB MFA program is a class called Creativity: Ways of Seeing. I’ll be honest, at first I thought it seemed kind of hokey. In real life I am quite goofy and playful. I may have even secretly yearned for someone to come along and tell me I HAD to take a class that required me to play with crayons and glue and glitter and fabric and faux fur and buttons and flower foam and carving knives and the list goes on. I want to be the person who revels in making mistakes, and chalking it all up to The Process. Sometimes I am that person, but I can also be pretty serious.
My undergraduate classes, despite the fact that I went to an incredibly liberal school, were very much embedded in white male-dominated literature. I’m certain that’s changed a lot since I graduated, but let’s face it, American literature, at its roots, is white and male. I think this background helped distill in me this desire to Be Taken Seriously (caps intentional). I don’t mean to suggest that being playful (or goofy) is a feminine trait, but I do think I’ve had a tendency to squash that urge in myself, at least in part, because I want people to think what I say and what I write about has worth and should be taken seriously.
Last night our Creativity class met for the last time. We had a party to celebrate the end of our first semester and presented one last project, based on the poem, Things I Didn’t Know I Loved by Nazim Hikmet. We were to write our own version (in any genre) of things we didn’t know we loved, and present them in some way beyond just reading them. We had one week to work on them.
The presentations were as diverse as the people in the classroom. One woman asked us to pop balloons and read the slips of paper she’d put inside them that correlated with what she read; one woman led us in a guided meditation before reading her piece, which, incidentally, is an ingenious way to get a room full of people focused before you share a piece of writing; one woman read a lovely piece about her mother and handed out the cookies she made from her mother’s recipe; a man wrote his entire poem on a length of duct tape, which we passed around the room hand to hand, reading it aloud in a round; and yet another woman made Cootie Catchers as part of her presentation.
Each presentation was individually creative. It was great seeing the unique ways each person presented their work, and to hear the works themselves. They seemed to shine extra bright last night. The director of the UB MFA program, Kendra Kopelke is the professor of this class. She is also a poet whose work I’ve only just been introduced to, but really love. Under her guidance, we went from an awkward, shy, and rather quiet group of strangers, to—do I confess?—people who at the end of the night danced to Stevie Wonder while holding hands and celebrating.