Stories directly related to VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing program

Sherman Bitsui coming to VCFA

Sherwin Bitsui’s Flood Song, the poet’s second book, is a hike through the desert at sunset when you don’t know where you’re going. It is equal parts disorienting, beautiful, and full of misdirection: surreal and bordering on the nonsensical, but with enough glimmers of the familiar to bring you back. You follow Bitsui to “a cornfield at the bottom of a sandstone canyon,” into the past, “a blurry splotch of red crosshatched with neon light,” while “black ants drift through the throats of wounded stags.”

Bitsui was born in Fort Defiance, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation, a member of the Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl’izilani (Many Goats Clan). He came into poetry at the tail end of his teenage years, when he started college at the Institute of American Indian Arts—surrounded by fellow tribal members, an experience which he called “cathartic.” In 2003, his first book Shapeshift was published, followed by Flood Song six years later. Along the way he’s racked up awards, grants, and fellowships.

This Friday, Bitsui will be reading at VCFA’s Writing and Publishing program, reading alongside faculty member Trinie Dalton. He’ll also be making time to discuss his work with students, before and after the reading. We’re looking forward to welcoming him here, a poet who evokes so much surreal imagery, blending into one another, a kinetic force from line to line. If we can

In an interview with Guernica Magazine, Bitsui said: “I feel like I’m a border poet in some ways. I definitely experience several worlds as one… Poetry, structurally, felt similar to the way I thought and the way I perceived the world as a Navajo person. It spoke to me on a very human level where walls cleared away to shared breath and sky.”

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A Nice Night For Our First Reading

This past Friday, after a long day of class, the students and faculty of the Writing & Publishing program gathered in Cafe Anna to hear three professors give a reading, the first of the year for us in the MFA program. It was a fine showing, and the little cafe downstairs was packed. Below are scenes from a Friday afternoon at VCFA.

Mary Ruefle, above, has written 11 collections of poetry, and she read from her latest work, 2016’s My Private Property. For the past two weeks, she has been conducting a workshop with us, a mix of tough love, professional guidance, and damn fine advice. “I love writing down witty, accurate, and funny quotes that Mary says in class,” said Gina, a classmate who introduced our readers. “Such as, ‘journaling is not literature.'”


Jensen Beach teaches the Professional Development course for second-years, when he’s not helming the fiction department at the Green Mountains Review, or skiing. “I remember being intimidated by him at first,” said Gina, “but soon felt at ease by his easygoing personality and roster of jokes. His bios usually contain the following line, which I will end with: Jensen lives in Vermont.”


Liz Powell’s latest book of poems was picked by the New Yorker as one of their favorite books of 2016, “a daring hybrid collection that deftly melds lineated verse, agile prose, and striking monologues.” Gina described her as encouraging and compassionate: “When I just started, I told Liz that I had to miss a few classes [for medical reasons],” she introduced. “Not long after a book arrived in my mailbox from Liz…written by a woman going through the same experience.”

Throughout the reading wine, beer, cheese, and crackers all featured heavily into the rotation.

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This year, all of us MFA W&P students got to go down to DC and take over a train car, an Air BnB, and eventually a city block-sized convention center. Some highlights include: a panel on women of color’s responses to Emily Dickinson that made me cry, Sam Sax casually walking by while I was in line for a coffee, seeing poet friends from undergrad, and seeing some pretty famous writers completely sloshed. In this spirit, I offer some alternatives for what AWP may stand for:

AWP: Anxious Writers Pack 

As a generally anxious and shy human, I was mildly concerned to be sharing a space with this many people. I got over it very quickly, though. It was overwhelming, but in a good way. The book fair alone was worth the trip. There were Lorca-themed T-shirts, free condoms, and VCFA’s Writers are hot fans, courtesy of the brilliant Ann Cardinal.

AWP: All Writers are Pretty 

To be honest, the people watching was one of my favorite parts.


AWP: All White People 

Just kidding. Mostly. AWP has been doing better about being more inclusive, and there are minority caucuses (including the Queer Caucus which I’m now a part of) doing important work to make sure that it keeps moving in the right direction.

AWP: Angry Writers Protesting

From vigils in front of the white house to impromptu chanting in the convention center lobby, we certainly didn’t let our time in DC go to waste.

AWP: Amazing Writer for President 

Eileen Myles read her 1992 poem about running for president, as well as a new poem in the form of an acceptance speech.


AWP: Actually a Writer’s Party 

Dances. Every night. With free alcohol and actual deejays. This may not seem like something important to the AWP experience, but as a genderqueer kid from Tennessee, it was amazing to have that many intoxicated and somewhat rowdy people in one room and not be afraid of any of them. And, as a 24-year-old living in Montpelier, it was amazing to see that club-like scene at footwear | 【海外近日発売予定】 サウスパーク × アディダス オリジナルス キャンパス 80S “タオリー” (GZ9177) – スニーカーウォーズ

End of Semester Student Readings

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Liz Powell and David Huddle

It’s sometimes nice to escape the gravitational pull of Montpelier, and one of my favorite places to escape to is Phoenix Books in Burlington. It’s especially nice when I also get to see one of my favorite professors/poets/people Liz Powell read from a her new book, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter and snag a copy and a hand-printed broadside. The book-launch was a co-launch with David Huddle (who we read in Liz’s class and was nominated for the Vermont Book Award) for his new book, My Immaculate Assassin. Liz’s reading also featured a slideshow of collages with old photographs and text, which I (ineptly) attempted to operate for her.


The authors reading were amazing, but it was equally cool to see who was in the crowd—Major Jackson, Julia Shipley, Jessica Hendry Nelson, and a lot more writers and artists that I didn’t recognize, but that I’m sure are equally amazing. Coming from Nashville, I’m used to playing baseball with the sons of songwriters and musicians, but never before have I witnessed this kind of concentration of poets and essayists, and it continues to astound me how close-knit the community is.Best Nike Sneakers | Nike Off-White

Graphic Design Residency

My favorite program to cohabitate with is Graphic Design. I majored in design in undergrad; they’re my people. When they’re on campus for a residency, they have two student exhibitions as well as a bunch of lectures, including “lecture bombs” that happen without notice. Last year, I went to one that was about the history and transformation of the I <3 NY T-shirts, and another about an artist collective who went to an island off the coast of Maine in order to attempt to commune with the ghosts who lived there and ask for some help with a design. One of the tactics involved suspending a pencil over a piece of paper, placing a glass of whisky next to it, and reciting the war poetry of Walt Whitman. I may be making this last step up, but I think it would have helped. The ghosts were all WWII veterans.

This year, I was blown away by the exhibitions. I was especially excited to see a lot of them incorporating writing into their work. Typography and the manipulation of type is always (read: usually) an integral part of design, but these folks pushed it further with visually-aided essays, poems, and the found language of text messages.


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Music for Barns

Music for Barns was an event curated by M.T. Anderson and held in the chapel of College Hall. Tobin (the T in M.T.) crafted a combined concert/reading that centered around Americana and the pastoral, the rural and the rustic. Tobin was joined on stage by Gregory Maguire (author of Wicked!) and The Aurea Ensemble, a string quartet based out of Rhode Island.

Maybe it was just that it was a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Maybe it was just the ambiance of the chapel—the ceiling-tall organ, the greens and creams and unexplained pineapple iconography, the rows and rows of chairs. Maybe it was the combination of music and oratory delivered from something that looked suspiciously like a pulpit. Maybe it was the decidedly older crowd, the occasional, rapturous applause, or Tobin’s only-worn-once-a-year suit that perfectly matched the décor. But, something about the experience reminded me decidedly of church (in the best way). It was almost meditative, it was almost still. It was blustery. It was the perfect thing for an autumnal day in late October.Best jordan Sneakers | Cactus Plant Flea Market x Nike Go Flea Collection Unveils “Japan Made” Season 4

Vermont Book Award Gala


All the W&P students had the opportunity to volunteer at the Vermont Book Award Gala, which took place on campus in Alumni Hall. I was part of the set-up crew the day before and got to see the place transform into a magical moss bed of purple and gold, then during the event I hid in a corner and sold books.


After dinner, Tom Greene and last year’s winner Kerrin McCadden (another amazing poet) announced the winner: Major Jackson and his collection Roll Deep (I called it). The poets are rocking Vermont lately.


Another part of our job was to get the dancing started—this, I was all over, due in part to the fantastic literary-themed cocktails: my favorite was the Emily Dickinson. We even convinced the deejay to play some Bey.

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Mary Ruefle and Michael Burkard


Our first reading this year featured Mary Ruefle (my poetry goddess/mama) and Michael Burkard (her husband). They asked if they could adopt me. I said yes! The reading was held on campus, in Cafe Anna, and I’ve never seen it more packed with students, faculty, and members of the community. Standing room only, folks. Mary read new, unpublished poems and the title essay from her new collection My Private Property, which was about shrunken heads and made me cry. I wanted to kiss everyone around me, I was so in love with the world. We found out Michael is secretly a songwriter, and he performed Langston Hughes poems set to original melodies as well as reading some of his own work.



After we finished the wine and cheese and wore ourselves out with socializing, we went to our traditional post-reading dinner at Positive Pie where we shared some more time with Mary and Michael. Mary told us about her time as a groundskeeper and about her little “apricot-colored” lamb-like dog.


Michael also spent some time with us before the reading, sharing insight about his process, the publishing world, and some collages he’s been working on.Best jordan Sneakers | Zapatillas de running Nike – Mujer

How We Got Here

One of the coolest things about this program is that we all come from very different places—geographically, socially, and philosophically. We’re from New York and California, from Alaska and Iowa. We’re from the Mississippi delta, from the border of Texas, from a temperate rainforest. We’ve been in the military and we’ve been in the theatre; we’ve been to dungeons and drag shows, and we’ve been to Southern Baptist churches. We’ve been skiing for decades, and we’ve never seen snow until we arrived in Vermont. We took road trips in U-Haul trucks, in RVs, in Volvos, with roommates and partners and sisters. We’ve flown across oceans and we’ve walked. Still, we all somehow managed to end up here, in this tiny town that claims it’s a city.


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