Warren Wilson College MFA Graduation Speech, January 2017

The following remarks were given by Daniel Tobin (poetry, ’90), Poetry Faculty, MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, on January 12, 2017.

Graduation Remarks, Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, January 12, 2017

What better way to begin my first foray into an unfamiliar genre—in this case the venerable custom of offering graduation remarks—than with the familiar welcome to fellow faculty, to the college’s administration and staff, and especially to this residency’s graduates, their families and friends. We join together today in our own admittedly quirky but beloved ritual, our own eccentric and ebullient take on tradition, to celebrate the achievement of our newest graduates, an accomplishment that to my mind at least is neither an arrival nor a departure, but something more like an indelible, essential way-marker or station along a pilgrimage, though the route ahead isn’t entirely known—an understatement–and the way here was anything but singular. Rather, each of us found our passage to this unassuming magic mountain through the clearings and bewilderments of our own lives, and though it may have felt like it at times, none of us made it this far by themselves.

I say “none of us” now with some conviction since I, too, am a graduate of the program, and I’ve been doubly honored over the years to teach here with many of my own esteemed teachers, fellow writers, friends—all scarily brilliant people. That deep and extensive sense of community makes me want to revise the word “familiar” I used above to “familial,” especially since this program does nothing if not seek to dislodge “the familiar” from its moorings in the received idea, the received poetic image, the received narrative plot, and to help us to encounter the world again, to borrow from Wallace Stevens, in a manner “at once more truly and more strange.” “Familial” is also truer to the experience of community one encounters in the program, and after one leaves the program. And it is truer to the kind of support given by partners, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and friends without whom their beloveds might not have been able to embark on their individual artistic paths as short story writers, novelists, poets, much less make their way to standing here today.

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Congratulations, Class of Winter 2017!

The Class of Winter 2017 (left to right): Emilie Beck, fiction; Sarah Halper, fiction; Abigail Cahill O’Brien, fiction; Matt Alberswerth, poetry; Terri Leker, fiction; Paul Mihas, fiction.

The MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College

Class of Winter 2017

Matt Alberswerth

Emilie Beck

Abigail Cahill O’Brien

Sarah Halper

Terri Leker

Paul Mihas

Rose Skelton

CONGRATULATIONS, WRITERS!

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MFA Residency: Saturday, Jan. 7

Public Event Schedule

Join us for faculty lectures at 11 a.m. in Canon Lounge in Gladfelter:

ANDREA BARRETT: The Transformation: Virginia Woolf  and The Years

In 1931, Virginia Woolf made her first notes for what she called “an Essay-Novel, called The Pargiters—and it’s to take in everything, sex, education, life, etc.” By 1934 she had a 900-page draft, which she revised heavily several times. By 1936 she was in such despair about the novel that she nearly collapsed; she revised again in what Leonard Woolf called “the most drastic and ruthless way,” set that draft in page proofs—and revised still more. The Years as we know it—radically different from her earlier conceptions–was published in 1937. I’ll talk about Woolf’s path through that massive structural revision and what we might gain by a similar effort. No prior reading necessary; handouts provided.

Join us at 8:15 p.m. in Canon Lounge in Gladfelter for a reading featuring faculty members:

Marianne Boruch
C.J. Hribal
Eleanor Wilner
Peter Orner

For more information, including a full schedule of public events, please visit the program website at http://www.wwcmfa.org/public-schedule-for-mfa-winter-residency-is-here/.

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Attention Alums: Help Host at AWP!

Our program will once again have a table at the AWP Conference. This year’s gathering will be held in Washington DC. The Bookfair is open Thursday, February 9 to Saturday, February 11. We seek volunteers, in one- or two-hour shifts, to answer questions from prospective students and to talk about their experience in our MFA program

If you’re coming to AWP and are able to donate some of your time toward staffing our table, please contact Warren Wilson alum Noah Stetzer (poetry, July 2014) at noah.stetzer@gmail.com by January 31 with specifics about your availability. Noah will coordinate the schedule, and will be back in touch with you to confirm.

Our thanks in advance for your assistance. As one of our recent print ads stated: “Our graduates are our best advertisement.” Your many successes, and your abiding enthusiasm for our program provide impressive evidence of what the Warren Wilson MFA yields and makes possible for your lives as writers.

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MFA Schedule: Friday, Jan. 6

Public Event Schedule

Join us for faculty lectures in Canon Lounge in Gladfelter:

Friday, January 6 -9:30 AM

C. J. HRIBAL: The Intimate Distance of Bohumil Hrabal 

Novels and stories narrated in the first person are essentially monologues, but what happens when this is taken to an extreme? Bohumil Hrabal likes to call his writing style “palavering,” or as the critic James Wood calls it, “anecdote without end.” His narratives move forward through narrators who, once they’re wound up, just keep talking and talking and talking, spilling all their (and other people’s) secrets, like the singer in Sonny Boy Williams’ “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’” (“Don’t start me to talkin’, I’ll tell everything I know”). This lecture will serve as an introduction to Hrabal’s work, with attention paid to what we can learn from this highly idiosyncratic style. Texts discussed will include: Closely Watched Trains, I Served the King of England, and Too Loud a Solitude. Other texts referred to will include The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, and his story collection, The Death of Mr. Baltisberger (among others). Handouts will be provided, but reading one of the above is recommended.

Friday, January 6 -10:45 AM

ELEANOR WILNERDisguise and Discovery: The Masks of Art

The talk will explore opposing uses of the mask in the world of doing vs. the world of making; in the latter, the role of the mask of art in the imaginative opening of identity to plurality, and of self to other. Handouts will be provided.

Join us at 8:15 p.m. in Canon Lounge in Gladfelter for a reading featuring faculty members:

Martha Rhodes
Kevin McIlvoy
Connie Voisine
Laura van den Berg

For more information, including a full schedule of public events, please visit the program website at http://www.wwcmfa.org/public-schedule-for-mfa-winter-residency-is-here/.

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MFA Residency: Thursday, Jan. 5

Public Event Schedule

Join us for faculty lectures in Canon Lounge in Gladfelter:

Thursday, January 5 – 9:30 AM

ALAN WILLIAMSON: On Poetic Density

If it is true that, as Julia Kristeva says, “our gift of situating ourselves in time for an other could exist nowhere except beyond an abyss,” then it’s worth looking at poems that bypass the imitation of daily speech, that make their narrative occasions slightly mysterious. Instead, such poems concentrate, even overload, many of the traditional resources of poetry—sound, implicit as well as explicit metaphor, the secondary or connotative meanings of words—to convey something more like a state of consciousness. We will look at Hopkins’ “The Windhover,” Hart Crane’s “Lachrymae Christi,” Sylvia Plath’s “The Night Dances,” and, as a contemporary example or counter-example, Brenda Hillman’s “To Spirits of Fire After Harvest.”

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