shelley feller, poetry
Why did you choose Alabama for your MFA? What were you doing before you came here?
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about Alabama when I decided to apply. Five years ago, one of my favorite poets told me that all you really need from an MFA is money and time. In this regard, she added, “Alabama is the hidden gem of the MFA world.” Remembering her words three years later, I applied to The University of Alabama with a blind faith in this money + time = gem equation. And yes, the funding package and optional 4th year were nice incentives. Like, really nice. But the real reasons I chose to attend Alabama were its commitment to supporting a diverse range of aesthetics, its openness to experimentation, to cross-genre and interdisciplinary work, and all the totally weird and amazingly kind people I met at prospective students weekend who have since become close friends. Oh, and Heidi Lynn Staples (hi, Heidi)! I’d had a poetry-crush on her work for two years before I applied here, and sometime during prospie weekend they announced she would be joining the faculty, so now here I am.
Before coming here I was working as an assistant at a blue-chip gallery in Chelsea. I miss the New York art world sometimes, but the fantastic thing about Tuscaloosa is that you can pretty much do whatever you want and people will welcome you with open arms. Last spring, for instance, I helped XFA Christopher McCarter organize and install his hybrid poetry/performance/visual art thesis exhibition at a local gallery. Seeing everyone from the MFA and the larger community come out to the opening to support Christopher really made me feel at home here.
How have the courses, faculty, and resources here helped you define and carry out your projects?
I came into this program with little understanding of the writing world. I liked to read and I liked to write, but I had never been in a poetry workshop, and I had no idea what anyone was talking about when they said things like caesura and are you going to AWP this year?, which I eventually googled after responding mayyybe, are you? to three different people to avoid embarrassment. This is to say I have learned a lot since coming here. Professors Heidi Lynn Staples and Joel Brouwer have been nothing but encouraging, and have introduced me to myriad new writers and artists. Personal conferences with visiting writers Cathy Park Hong and Michelle Tea were also instrumental in opening my eyes to new realms of possibility for my own work. The most rewarding aspect of this program, though, is getting to immerse myself in the work of my peers. Everyone here is so brilliant and generous; I cannot underscore enough how much I have learned from my friends here. Oh, and the MFA soccer team! We just won the co-rec intramural championship! Y’all give me life, Bird Poets.
How does getting an MFA degree fit into your goals for the future?
I’d be lying if I said I had any concrete goals for my life after this program, other than becoming Ina Garten’s new best friend. The MFA is giving me time and space to romp around and explore totally new creative paths. I’ve already begun this process here at UA, but after this program I hope to branch out even more and collaborate with artists in other disciplines. I have this recurring dream where I move into Prada Marfa and dress up in the fall/winter 2005 collection and become a really glamorous psychic for a living, so maybe there’s something in there I can explore later.