MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry
Columbia College Chicago’s MFA Program in Creative Writing-Poetry is a small, intimate graduate program, with an average incoming class size of 12. This ensures close attention from the faculty throughout the two-year program and an unusually cohesive and supportive environment in which to grow as a poet and student of poetry. With five poets comprising the full-time Core Poetry Faculty continuously, MFA poetry students are supported by an unusual richness of faculty resources and perspectives. Indeed, our faculty stands out among MFA programs both for its size relative to the number of students and for its aesthetic and pedagogical diversity. A notable breadth of poetic traditions, lineages, schools, and movements is taught and explored, such that students have the opportunity to develop innovative and experimental poetic practices as well as to grow in relation to traditional schools of poetry. In other words, both tradition and its contestations by Outrider and avant-garde movements are valued in the MFA Poetry Program at Columbia College Chicago.
The poets who teach in our program are well-published and professionally active and, importantly, they highly value mentoring both inside and outside the classroom. Indeed, as full-time, permanent faculty members, poets who teach at Columbia are available to students for guidance and individual attention. This characteristic of our program sets us apart from other arts-centered schools at which faculty are often part-time or visiting rather than permanent faculty. Our graduates consistently praise the cohesion, faculty support, and vibrant sense of community in our MFA Poetry Program. Such cohesiveness and opportunity for growth extends also to our sister-program in the English Department, the MFA Creative Nonfiction Program. In fact, poetry and creative nonfiction MFA students are welcome to fulfill elective credit with workshops and craft seminars in either genre, and some faculty in both programs specialize in hybrid and cross-genre writing. This opportunity for cross-fertilization between students and genres has added an exciting new dimension to creative writing at Columbia.
As a studio/academic MFA program, our curriculum is well-balanced, with the bulk of coursework centering on writing and craft, in the form of workshops and craft seminars. In workshops, students read contemporary poetry and other material while critical attention is focused on the students’ own poetry. In craft seminars, a topic, movement, or particular set of authors is studied with attention to implications of, and possibilities for, the students’ own craft. As a hybrid course sustained by creative and critical activity, craft seminars constitute a rich and varied component of the poetry curriculum; some recent offerings include Eastern European Poetics, Poetry and Mysticism, Poets’ Letters, Hybrid Poetics, The Historical Poem, Ecopoetics, Poetics of Exile, and many more. In addition to three workshops and three craft seminars, students take two poetry literature courses and a seminar in poetics. Three electives may be fulfilled by a wide range of courses such as Literary Magazine Editing, Composition Theory & Praxis, a creative nonfiction workshop, or an additional literature or craft seminar. By special arrangement, a student may fulfill elective credit with a course outside the Poetry Program or English Department, or with an Independent Project. In their final semester, all MFA candidates have one-on-one Thesis Advising with a faculty member, during which time a book-length manuscript is completed. Our curriculum, designed by poets for poets, reflects our faculty’s close attention to all aspects of graduate education in poetry, so that curricular flexibility is balanced with strong grounding in a sense of poetry as it has been thought about, contextualized, made and re-made over time as well as, vividly and variously, what is happening now.
While our MFA Poetry Program is small and intimate, Columbia College Chicago itself is the largest and most diverse private arts and media college in the nation. Our students are therefore uniquely situated to benefit from the College’s exceptional offerings in arts resources and its unparalleled array of programs of study, and we are working on providing more seamless mechanisms for poetry students to benefit from opportunities in the Center for Book and Paper Arts, the Department of Art & Design, and other programs; already, collaborations between poetry and art students result in an annual exhibit called “Word: Type + Image.” MFA Poetry students have taken courses in typography (in the Department of Art & Design) and book arts (in the Center for Book & Paper Arts). Naturally, graduate students at Columbia have abundant access (and inexpensive ticket prices) to exhibits, shows, lectures, discussions, and screenings by world-class performers and artists in such disciplines as dance, theater, music, film, visual art and more.
Our location in the heart of one of the one of the most dynamic and vibrant cities in the U.S. provides many additional opportunities for poets to grow intellectually and culturally. Our downtown neighbors include The Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library, Millennium Park, the Chicago Symphony, the Joffrey Ballet, Museum Campus, The Poetry Foundation, and Grant Park with its many free festivals (such as the Chicago Jazz Festival and Chicago Blues Festival) throughout the summer and fall. MFA Poetry students have put their art into practice in our urban setting by volunteering to teach poetry to children in a local homeless shelter and in an underserved public school, by interning at The Poetry Foundation, and by starting (and sustaining) popular city-wide poetry reading series of their own. Our graduates have also started magazines and poetry presses, having gained valuable editorial and production experience working on Columbia Poetry Review, one of the oldest and best-distributed student-edited journals in the country, and Court Green, the faculty- and graduate student-edited journal.
An important feature of our MFA Poetry Program, distinctive among private, arts-based schools, is the teaching experience provided to qualified graduate students. Thanks to our Graduate Student Instructorship (GSI) program, all poetry students may elect to take Composition Theory and Praxis, a semester-long course offered every fall and taught by exceptionally dedicated full-time, tenured faculty in the Department of English. This course provides invaluable grounding in the theoretical and practical elements of teaching Writing and Rhetoric at the undergraduate level; students are mentored closely throughout the course and, as well, when they begin (on an optional basis, of course) teaching one section of Writing and Rhetoric the following semester. Students are paid as adjunct instructors and may teach one section in both semesters of their second year in the program as well as in the second semester of their first year in the program, provided the Composition Theory and Praxis course has been successfully completed.
We offer enough evening classes for poetry students to work full-time while completing the MFA, and we sponsor a nationally visible annual Reading Series scheduled to accommodate working students. Renowned poets who have recently read in the Poetry Program Reading series include D. A. Powell, Edwin Torres, Elaine Equi, Michael Burkard, Ron Padgett, Alice Notley, Tracie Morris, Kimiko Hahn, Rachel Loden, Julie Carr, Rae Armantrout, Joanne Kyger, Ed Roberson, Michael Palmer, Harryette Mullen, and many more.
Fellowships and Financial Assistance:
Please note that as a two-year program, the overall cost of our MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry amounts to substantially less than that of MFA programs at other private schools. We offer four Follett Graduate Merit Awards to four incoming poetry students each year; the FGMA covers almost all tuition (based on 9 credits/semester) and is renewable for the second year. These are awarded on a competitive basis and all applicants are automatically considered for it. We also offer a one-year scholarship to an incoming poetry student that covers almost all tuition (based on 9 credits/semester) but is not renewable. And we offer a Federal Work-study award in exchange for assistance provided to the Poetry Program (10-12 hour per week, on average). Continuing students in graduate programs across the College may apply for the Diversity Award, the Graduate Opportunity Award, the Getz Graduate Award, the Graduate Fellowship, and for the Albert Weisman Scholarship. Tutoring opportunities in the Writing Center are available. See above for information about our Graduate Student Instructorship program, a distinctive feature of the MFA Poetry Program providing teaching experience and a bi-monthly salary (which increases with each semester of teaching) to participating students.
Sample course descriptions
Columbia College Graduate School