by Kyla Jamieson
After Joni Murphy and Morgan Parker
Pressure to produce writing
that will be appropriated
as cultural capital by the institution
(“MFA alumna _________”)
will push you into yourself, press
your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
You will not know how to break
this curse. Don’t let not knowing
stop you from trying.
Write spells for surviving days
and weeks and months.
Write to dispel fear and compliance.
Distinguish between risking safety
and risking comfort.
Don’t let institutional betrayal
chase you from the rewarding
risk of trusting people.
Use the privileges that protect you
to challenge the inequalities
that anchor them. Remember
that you did not earn
these privileges; there is no lifetime
Reject the idea that tenure
makes one person’s taste
or relationship to writing
more important than another’s.
An ability to navigate
bureaucracy helped you into these
rooms the same way it has kept
others circulating among them
for years. Work to open the doors,
not to stay in the rooms.
Forget everything and eat pastries
and artisanal ice cream, not
because you have a refined palate but
because these are the consumer choices
you can afford. Illusory comfort
is still comfort.
because she has too much love in her
and if there is anything you need
to remember it’s that writing
is more connected to love
than to the institution where you trade
time for funding that spares you
from aesthetic labour.
Appreciate this reprieve
but do not surrender your voice
in thanks for it.
Be a good enough student. Do what is
required, not what is expected.
Write spells to distinguish being
of service from being a martyr
from being exploited.
Your self-care may be interpreted
as misbehaviour. Don’t let this
keep you in rooms that trigger you.
Write to connect even in a hostile
environment. Isolation seems like
protection but it is exile.
Stop hoping for apologies. Make
what you need: I’m sorry
for gaslighting you, for punishing you,
for blaming you for a man’s
aggression. I’m sorry that I added
to your oppression when I could have
alleviated it. I’m sorry
that I treated you like a radio
turned up too loud.
Toss kale with olive oil and lemon
juice. Sprinkle with hemp seeds
and dried cranberries. Add roasted
vegetables and mix. Let meals
remind you that feeding
yourself is a necessity
that extends beyond the kitchen.
It is not a luxury. It fortifies
Write spells for falling asleep
without your laptop open.
Watching Nashville on Netflix
until 4am may be a thing you do
but it is not nourishment.
It is coconut water when you’re hungry.
It is coffee when you need sleep.
Try to stay hydrated ~and~ sleep, ok?
Make sleep a priority. Protect it.
Even from pleasure.
Come on your own hand. Come
on other people’s hands. Remember
that penetration is painful for some;
don’t speak in ways that other them.
Be prepared to be lied to.
This inevitability has never
made you into a liar. It’s possible
that you’re too forthright.
Consider lying more.
You hate sycophants, probably
because you were one. Do your best
not to regress and to have compassion
for people who act like you used to.
Do not pre-masticate your identity
for others. It’s complicated.
Write spells for protection
from aesthetic monoculture.
Take rest days. From exercising
and from not exercising. From the internet.
From school. From people and from solitude.
Prioritize your goals over ‘learning
objectives,’ your education over the aims
of an institution that hinders your growth
as much as it enables it.
Eat food. I said this already but it’s important
and you often forget.
Draw plants. Grow plants. Water yourself.
Look in the mirror. You don’t have to
put makeup on. Look at the page.
You don’t have to make it palatable,
even though you can.
This poem doesn’t need to answer
to anyone who says it isn’t a poem.
It’s for you. It’s for you in a way nothing
and nobody else is.
This is a spell for surviving your MFA.
Kyla Jamieson is currently surviving her MFA at UBC. You can read another piece she wrote for our blog here.
Image: Into the Water by Sonia Alins via Tumblr