- Application Guide
- MFA Events
- MFA Student Projects
- Graduate Course Descriptions
Selection by Assistant Professor Jennifer Richter:
Cycling through darkness and light, loss and love, grief and gratitude, Ross Gay's poem feels to me more relevant and essential than ever. This video might be the best fifteen minutes of your day. Settle in. Enjoy. In these wildly isolated times, isn't it lovely to be repeatedly addressed as "Friends?"
but all I want to do is marry them on a beach
that refuses to take itself too seriously.
So much of our lives has been serious.
Over time, I’ve learned that love is most astonishing
when it persists after learning where we come from.
When I bring my partner to my childhood home
it is all bullets and needles and trash bags held
at arm’s length. It is my estranged father’s damp
bed of cardboard and cigar boxes filled
with gauze and tarnished spoons. It is hard
to clean a home, but it is harder to clean
the memory of it. When I was young, my
father would light lavender candles and shoot
up. Now, my partner and I light a fire that will
burn all traces of the family that lived here.
Black plastic smoke curdles up, and loose bullets
discharge in the flames. My partner holds
my hand as gunfire rings through
the birch trees. Though this is almost
beautiful, it is not. And if I’m being honest,
my partner and I spend most of our time
on earth feeding one another citrus fruits
and enough strength to go on. Every morning
I pack them half a grapefruit and some sugar.
And they tell me it’s just sweet enough.
Selection by MFA Candidate Eloise Schultz:
When I first read this poem, I was struck by its tenderness, built through the many mirroring effects that that juxtapose Candrilli's memories of their childhood home with their current relationship. As the speaker lights the fire "that will burn all traces of the family that lived here," the plastic smoke and discharged bullets create a scene that is "almost / beautiful, but is not." In this poem, no reflection is uncomplicated –– beauty can always be found alongside violence –– and the most that we can do for each other is offer something "just sweet enough." Right now, as I'm focusing on ways that I can support my community, I'm moved by Candrilli's gesture: to savor the bittersweet, and offer each other sustenance in the form of "citrus fruits / and enough strength to go on."
"The President Has Never Said the Word 'Black'" by Morgan Parker
To the extent that one begins
to wonder if he is broken.
It is not so difficult to open
teeth and brass taxes.
The president is all like
on the bleep hard hand slide.
The president be like
we lost a young boy today.
The pursuit of happiness
is guaranteed for all fellow Americans.
He is nobody special like us.
He says brothers and sisters.
What kind of bodies are movable
and feasts. What color are visions.
When he opens his mouth
a chameleon is inside, starving.
Selection by MFA Candidate Juliette Givhan:
This poem. This collection. They're both amazing. They make me feel connected to a cannon of Black poets doing work that I don't often get to see. I read Morgan Parker, or Terrance Hayes, or Danez Smith and Jericho Brown, and I remember why I write. I remember that despite encountering so few of their writing/texts in the academic classroom, that the type of artist I want to be, the type I see as influencers and models, whose work reflects pieces of my own identity do exist. And they're GOOD.
Selection by Associate Professor Karen Holmberg:
I've always marveled at the way Hopkins was able to convey the onrush of spring through his lush sounds and forward driving rhythms. In this sonnet, the way the "springy" rhymes enclose the "lush" ones, captures for me the mixture of energy and abundance that mark the fulsome force of this season. Hopkins went against the prevailing notion that the iambic meter was more natural and congenial to English poetry, and his reliance on an essentially trochaic and dactylic "sprung rhythm" gives priority to accent, and leads to frequent triple stresses such as "wheels, shoot long"--a lovely way in which rhythm advances meaning and makes us feel it in a bodily way.
Selection by MFA Candidate Natalia Pagán:
This was one of the first poems I read where I saw this type of experience being highlighted: a Latinx speaker attempting to make their way in white academia. As a Latina woman who’s been traversing these spaces for the part two years, it was not only striking but so validating for me when I first read this poem. During my time at OSU, this is what poetry’s been for me: empathy, care. It’s about seeing through the eyes of others, understanding experiences that might be close or foreign to us. This poem is also a masterclass in an amazing title and first line!
Selection by MFA Candidate Morgan Corona:
In her "Little Lesson on How to Be", Kathryn Nuernberger lingers. A witness to a moment between strangers down to the last detail. As we scroll through the news and our social media feeds during this uncertain time— let's pause. Here is a chance to slow, to linger.
Selection by MFA Candidate Meriden Vitale:
John Giorno's work grabbed me immediately when I discovered it. I'm inspired by the way he incorporated sound into the landscape of his poems, building momentum and intensity with repetition, and the radical range of subjects he confronted in them. He also worked to make poetry accessible in multiple ways through projects like Dial-a-Poem, where people could phone in to hear poetry recordings. I love the loud power of his live readings and feel their energy, even today.
Selection by MFA Candidate Carrie Vaughn:
In this poem Howe contends with what it means to carry on living in the face of loss. This poem holds me in both grief and hope. It acknowledges that life is at once mundane, messy, heart-breaking, and awe-inspiring. Howe wrote this poem following her brother's death from AIDS-related complications in 1989. Now, in different pandemic times, this poem feels especially resonant and important.
Selection by Jennifer Ricther:
This poem feels especially timely; it feels to me like the reminder we all need to just settle down and breathe. In an interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ross Gay remembers writing the poem, explaining "it comes out of this moment of feeling okay in the midst of not feeling okay."
"It's fucking April." Light showers (old flames), seeded
by footsteps, laughter, light. Three lambs born in the night
(cold and bright). We feed the sheep. Count lambs. Quiet lunch. Go
out to see lambs, feed colostrum. Plant potatoes.
Sow seeds: chamomile, valerian, rosemary,
thyme, sea holly, hyssop. Up early. Douglas goes
to see lambs. Comes back. Two lambs dead. "Lambs will have died
all over the country." Surviving lamb not good.
In stable. Is being fed milk. Later we feed
it, but "it will be no good." We pick daffodils,
flowering currant, shift tulips, plant gladioli,
talk about seeds. In the greenhouse I dig, Douglas
rakes. Put cucumber seeds in pots, then lettuce, spring
cabbage, beetroot, brussels. Walk round, look for seedlings.
Too bad a day for gardening. Pet lamb arrives.
Douglas holds a hand up to warn me. It's poking
its black nose round the kitchen. Parked on bum in bin
on newspaper for night. Crying. Stops when I run
the tap. Next day take him to ewe. She's wild. But
lamb sucks, seems OK. Next day not sucking plenty.
Next day the ewe breaks out of the lamb adopter.
Next day the lamb is dead. We bury it. "We are
two children trying to prove there is life after
death." We feed the lambs in Billy's field. Clip sheep's tails.
Quite a job. Next day we move all the sheep into
Billy's field, mend gate, put flagstones down. Whistle sheep,
run down field, shout "Hope! Hope! Hope!" Slowly they follow.
Selection from Eloise Schultz:
Yesterday, my neighbor walked into her backyard to find a new lamb in the wet grass, much like Dickinson's lamb, "parked on bum in bin / on newspaper for the night." She had been caring for another neighbor's ewes (in exchange, they were keeping her grass trimmed) but hadn't been informed that they were pregnant. April: the garden needs planting, the babies need tending, and just when things are looking up, disaster strikes. Yet Dickinson's poem attests, as long as the work needs doing, there's sense, even beauty, in our working. We're calling the lamb "Surprise."
Selection from Juliette Givhan:
SO, when I started quarantining in Oregon, Tommy Pico was quarantining in LA. Every day at 5pm PST he would read 5-ish pages of Nature Poem out loud and occasionally answer questions posed by the audience. This was all leading up to the release of the audio book of Nature Poem. So I asked him a question over Instagram direct messages, "Have you been able to write right now? I am afraid that if I start, I will link my own work to disaster." and he responded!!! His answer was along the lines of, "My people have known disaster since 1492... this shit ain't new. But I've stepped away from poetry and am working on screenwriting and other things that aren't as close." And if that doesn't sum up how amazing, honest, and for lack of better words, epic Tommy Pico is... I don't know what else will.
Selection from Karen Holmberg:
As we navigate the many ways COVID-19 is forcing all of us to change how we live, work, and interact with one another, I find a poem like Edna Millay’s delightful “Recuerdo” reminds us that, while there are many difficult days ahead, together we will get through this.
Without bringing any more people
into the planning loop, I have decided
to have breakfast. I have made cautious
inquiries, and finally learned it is
Thursday. My attention sets out
in a cheerful mood on a memorable
expedition to the sink.
Oh blank and hopeless days!
Oh long sleepless nights!
They are forgotten now
as I turn on the cold clear
water of the stream.
All the rivers of the world
convene in me. They rush
over my hands, they enter
my mouth, they cover my face.
I am compelled to drink my own
tears, as you too will be
when you wake.
Selection from Natalia Pagán:
I was fortunate enough to discover "The Good Fortune of Material Existence" when I borrowed Mary Ruefle’s latest poetry collection, Dunce, from the public library here in Corvallis. I think this poem is particularly striking while we’re all secluded in our homes, as it’s about the conscious decision to go about one’s day. Right now, who knows what day it is anymore? Ruefle answers, "I have made cautious/ inquiries, and finally learned it is/ Thursday…" In a moment where days may feel ‘blank and hopeless", I think we could all use a bit of Ruefle’s characteristic humor. Let’s all decide to to have breakfast, let’s all have memorable expedition to the sink, or to to the shower, or outside waiting for the sun. It’s the little wins that count right now— let’s dive in.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
Selection from Morgan Corona:
This country seems to be one large dumpster-fire right now. As Smith puts it, "The world is at least fifty percent terrible and that's a conservative estimate..." People are sick, some are dying, millions are suffering economically. It's difficult to look at the bright side. I did find comfort in this poem, both in it's acknowledgement of how hard it is and in the possibility that maybe one day it could be better.
Selection from Carrie Vaughn:
In this poem I find the power of imaging alternate realities, while acknowledging that no other world is a "fix" or relinquishment from our responsibility and culpability. In her comments Choi speaks about the importance of unanswerable questions and real stakes in poetry. I think of this as an invitation and a challenge for what poetry can be.
Selection from Eloise Schultz:
Ross Gay's poems never fail to make me smile. Even if a sadness can't be shrugged off, it doesn't stop me from remembering that "there are, on this planet alone, something like two / million naturally occurring sweet things." As I write this, I'm listening to the radio's bad news. This month, like the last, has been the longest, ever. My housemate's just found lice in her hair. But look: the sun's out. Passersby wear face masks stitched from fabric scraps: turtles, flowers, galaxies. The puppy bonks a squeaker toy against my knee. And, like Gay, "I remember. My color's green. I'm spring."
Selection from Meriden Vitale:
When I read this poem I immediately feel the vibrations and bass, the funk and gratitude, the immense joy and pain encapsulated here. This is no light subject but Gabrielle's lyrical abilities remind us of the power of celebration in the face of the worst that life can throw at us, and the timeliness of doing so regularly. Maybe you celebrate with iced green teas every day of the week or a pair of bright-blue kicks, but why stop there? Why not "bring the band out on the stoop"? Every day we survive is worth celebrating.
"For the Dogs Who Barked at Me on the Sidewalks in Connecticut" by Hanif Abdurraquib
Selection from Juliette Givhan:
Hanif was going to come to OSU and I was really excited to get to learn from a poet I respect, whose voice is a punch in the gut-- it hits home to so many experiences in the world that don't get talked about in academia because they aren't tailored to a white audience, white professors, white cohorts. His poetry is stylistically bold and makes me want to get my own shit together as a writer, and have something to say, and make people listen.
How will the return be?
My parents won’t be there
I won’t climb the volcano
to gather orchids.
The jasmine won’t be there
nor the araucaria.
Nor will there be a fortress
in front of my house
flaunting their misery
nor mud shanties
with tin roofs.
I have never seen
my mother’s tomb
next to her
my first seedbed
my rainbow arch
peopling me with birds.
They were times of peace
those distant times
Now is a time of war
of steps leading upward
of love that seeds dreams
and shakes one.
Return obsesses me
Faces fly by
through the open fissure.
Once more there’ll be peace
but of a different kind.
The rainbow glimmers
tugs at me
not that inert peace
of shrouded eyes
it will be a rebellious
a peace that opens furrows
and aims at the stars.
The rainbow shatters
the sky splits open
rolls up like a scroll
inviting us to enter
and be dazzled.
Come, love, let’s return
to the future.
Selection from Natalia Pagán:
Alegría’s collection Woman of the River (Mujer del Río) was lent to me by Dr. Karen Holmberg, and being introduced to her work has changed my poetic life! In this piece, and the rest of the collection, Alegría’s speaker wonders about returning to their country and fearing how much it has changed since their departure. "Return obsesses me". Since leaving Puerto Rico, I’ve feared, yearned, resented returning to the island. Alegría perfectly captured the tumultuous relationship we have when we are exiled or when we exile ourselves from our place of birth. "How will the return be?" It’s a question on all of our minds as we await for the return to some kind of normalcy.
My head was heavy, heavy;
so was the atmosphere.
I had to ask two times
before my hand would scratch my ear.
I thought I should be out
and doing! The grass, for one thing,
Just then a centipede
reared from the spine
of my open dictionary. It tried
the air with enterprising feelers,
then made its way along the gorge
between 202 and 203. The valley
of the shadow of death came to mind
It can’t be easy for the left hand
to know what the right is doing.
And how, on such a day, when the sky
is hazy and perfunctory, how
does a centipede get started
without feeling muddled and heavy-hearted?
Well, it had its fill of etymology.
I watched it pull its tail
over the edge of the page, and vanish
in a pile of mail.
Selection from Morgan Corona:
In a time where it feels patently difficult to focus, we are at the same time bombarded with Zoom calls and a never ending list of things to do. I relate to this speaker strongly. How do we go about the day when we feel "heavy, heavy"? How do we "get started without feeling muddled and heavy hearted?" I suppose that's been my task for each day. I hope this poem gets you in motion— whatever form that motion takes.
Selection from Meriden Vitale:
Brenda Hillman is always working to make the human experience more recognizable. Her poetry is elemental and yet transcendent, grounded on earth and yet reaching for a vast, shared understanding of what it means to be alive. In Hillman's world bacteria communicate in colors, while species prepare "to exist after money." In her world it's worth asking, what's so good about money if "it causes most of this stupid violence" anyway?
Selection from Carrie Vaughn:
"I Am Not Ready to Die Yet" felt like a fitting ending for our National Poetry Month selections. This poem, in dealing with mortality, celebrates life and love and connection. It tells us that endings are not endings. I love the intimacy and expansiveness of this poem ("I am not ready to die yet / because didn't we say we'd have a picnic"), the tenderness of an indifferent wind (fourth stanza), and the evocative playfulness and precision of its language and images ("& the heart flips over in the dusky sea of its chest / like a fish signaling Yes, yes it was me!"). This poem makes me look and appreciate more, and hold dear things dearer.