A generous donor has made it possible for us to send most of our students abroad after they complete their degree requirements. The Robert Pinsky Global Fellows in Poetry and the Leslie Epstein Global Fellows in Fiction may go to any country and do there what they wish, for a typical stay of up to three months. After a year of study with our faculty–in fiction, with Leslie Epstein, Ha Jin, and Sigrid Nunez, and in poetry, with Karl Kirchwey, Gail Mazur, and Robert Pinsky, we are very pleased to offer our students an experience that will continue to challenge as well as delight.

The Global Fellowship adventure is not only intended to help our MFA candidates grow as writers, but also to widen eyes, minds, and hearts–from which better writing and poetry might eventually flow. Our students have traveled to every continent but Antarctica (so far), to places such as Greenland, Patagonia, Iran, Bhutan and Thailand, Cuba, Russia, and Brazil. Please follow the links in our navigation bar to read about each fellow’s journey.

Please click here for details on how to apply to the MFA program. The next deadline is February 1, 2018.

Featured Global Fellow Alumna: Nina Palisano (Poetry 2015)

Click here to read a poem that Nina wrote while on her fellowship.

In my application to BU I mentioned the “presumption” of asking for a place here – of believing that I merited a place in this program. It does take a certain amount of confidence in one’s ability to apply to something like this, and I was frank in admitting that I might not produce any good work if I were accepted. I planned to try, of course, but this poetry thing is capricious – you can work hard for a year and make only subtle improvements, or make no improvements at all, or write fifty poems and trash forty-nine of them, and it’s tough to see the tiny light of that one good piece of writing as something that’s strong enough to get you to move to a new city and significantly change your life, which is what I did when I came here.

poetscorner

Similarly, I’d never been to Europe before, I’d never traveled on my own, and I was scared, and I was doubting. For me there’s this constant question of usefulness: am I being as useful as I can, is my poetry useful, am I making the most of the opportunities that I’ve been given (and I can sort of interrupt myself here and stop before I get really self-deprecating and say no, I haven’t just been given these things, I’ve actually worked hard for them – but that knowledge notwithstanding, imposter syndrome is very real! I think grad students and writers are probably two of the biggest populations that are prone to imposter syndrome, so when you combine those two things, you might get, you know, neuroses).

But nonetheless – I continue to try. There was an afternoon in Paris when I was visiting the Musee Marmottan Monet, and there was an exhibit on the Villa Flora, which was a kind of artists’ colony run by a Swiss couple in the early 20th century – they would invite visual artists to stay for the summer and feed and clothe them, and the villa was up in the Swiss mountains which was of course a very inspiring landscape – and I was standing in front of some Alfred Sisley mountaintop painted in pinks and greys, and it occurred to me that the reason why I was there, in this rococo museum in Paris, was exactly the same. The Global Fellowship was the intellectual equivalent of being invited to Switzerland and fed and clothed, and I was meant to digest all of the inspiring landscapes and somehow elicit delight or disgust or whatever emotion but in any case an artistry in my retelling. And I completely panicked. I had a moment of serious existential dread in the middle of the museum.

At the time I was reading Muriel Rukeyeser’s Life of Poetry, and she writes about cycling back to the same questions or images again and again in your work. She calls it a re-seeing, and talks about the possibility and the joy of this process. And I do find joy in the re-telling or re-seeing that is the province of all writers, but it’s a millstone, sometimes – this injunction to LOOK AGAIN, to trust fully in your capacity to see, to participate, to be useful.

Usefulness for me has been often been tied to the physical body, and writing has always felt very physical, and as such, I did a lot of walking in Europe. I spent most of my fellowship in England. I was there for part of the time with my partner Alex, but we were together because he was attending a graduate conference; so I walked the cities of London and Oxford alone for a week, and went in and out of museums and courtyards and narrow streets, and waited for Alex to finish so that we could have dinner together. I walked every day for probably three or four hours. In the Chelsea neighborhood of London it’s a mess of fancy home decor stores, gardens behind wrought iron, and pale Georgian buildings – all perfumed, exclusive spaces. I walked a lot in Brompton Cemetery, which was high Victorian: profuse ivy, pigeons and doves and ostentatious crows, who sat in groups on crenellated tombs. There’s apparently a Victorian custom of putting the last mortal address of the deceased on their tombstone, for example: Ann Smith, late of 15 St. Mark’s Place, Kensington. I brought myself to Bloomsbury to St. George’s Gardens, where Virginia Woolf took her walks. I like how strangers in a city will meet and laugh if their respective dogs decide to play together. I liked the determined plants in London parks, the little creepers between the flagstones and the ancient beeches.

In Oxford I cried in the street because the sky was very blue and all the bells of the colleges started to ring at once. I saw a mantis behind glass at the museum of natural history: sand-colored, with its trembling head and the slender excess of its forelimbs – looking damp, as if it might emit fluid – and I was alone in front of the glass, feeling somehow slighted as it turned its face away –

In Bath, traveling by myself near the end of my fellowship, having written a lot of notes but no complete poems and feeling contrite, I went to the Jane Austen Centre. I was heartened to learn that Austen wrote almost nothing during the decade that she lived in Bath. It was only after ten years of living and doing and digesting that she became a prolific writer. That did make me a little less nervous about five weeks of doing rather than writing. It was strange to discover my persistent solidity in places I’d never been before – that I remained myself even as ostensible boundaries were crossed. I’ve written a lot of research-based poetry about disease in Victorian England, and places like London and Bath had become almost mythical for me – and now I’d been there, and was still myself. England actually seemed full of boundaries – all those shops and clubs, a culture of exclusion – and all the gardens have high stone walls. The gardens felt like small countries of their own.

Chippenham

I think it sometimes comforts us to feel impermeable. There is a safety is sitting still. But I’m trying to feel more secure in presuming, in changing – in finding a solidity in other countries, actual or intellectual. That I can retain a coherent self even when changing – perhaps especially when. And the change in work or self is often incremental – certainly not in proportion to the distance I’ve traveled or the number of new things I’ve done over the last year.