Monday, April 12, 2010

That's Mr. Walcott to you, dearie: tales of SLC

I was warned against Sarah Lawrence (my grad. program) but I didn't listen. Do I ever? And now 14 years after I got my MFA in fiction (in three semesters, taking one full workshop) I'm still battling the school. Them.
I have been trying to get a notice of my book in the alumni magazine. It didn't make the Fall issue and guess what: I was also left out of the Spring issue. The Future Is Happy is distinguished by the fact that its author, me, Sarah Sarai has zero academic backing and no money to spend on book competitions but finally got published.

A while back I met a member of an undergraduate alumni committee who told me if I ever needed help to contact her. She knew I thought the MFA program was a joke--unless she thought I was kidding. Maybe she did. The power of denial is stunning. I contacted her by e-mail last week, although in the interim had a chance to yell into Sarah Lawrence voice mail and as a result and thus get "assured" (we'll see) my book would get some recognition in the Fall.

You may ask why I care, given the fact I am not an SLC fan. BECAUSE I WANT SOME RECOGNITION! Sad but true.

Blah this blah that. My e-mail of last week to the young alumni committee rep., read: "I was going to write a letter and copy the alumni group--as you had suggested... Now I'm not so sure. I remember being alone with a confused Derek Walcott in some wood-paneled room and wondering where the hell the SLC poets were, then being told with great confidence by a fellow student who was one of the elect, 'He complained about Sarah Lawrence in the cab.' Hard to battle that level of pettiness."

It did happen and I was astonished.

In today's responde, the loyal SLC alum wrote: "Derek is on odd side, he's not quite all there... I don't remember why."

"Derek"? Not even Derek Walcott? "On odd side?" J. M. F. C. (figure it out). Whatever anyone thinks of Walcott's personality (and his interests in females can be matched by a few local professor I know of, so let's let that one go), to abandon a special guest poet, as the SLC faculty did, and have same condoned by a hapless alum years later. I'm frothing.

I'm also not a fan of first names unless there's a real friendship. I won't give my name to the kids at the yogurt place so they can call "Sarah" when the fresh strawberries are atop my original small. I don't like strangers addressing me by "Sarah" and I don't like similar casual mention or Nobel Prize winners.

I responded--and quickly--never a good idea. "I'm sure you read Pictures at an Exhibition (Jarrell to me, Randall to you). Paraphrase: SLC faculty are incapable of seeing themselves." Poet Randall Jarrell's novel of Sarah Lawrence, Pictures at an Exhibition, skewers faculty and administration; shows how they refuse to acknowledge--are constitutionally unable to recognize--stunning flaws in the school.

That's Sarah Lawrence. It's not just "I'm not paid to talk to you" or "We can't set up an internship for you. No one wants to work with someone so old." As one pretty and otherwise happy MFA candidate said to me while the head of the poetry dept. was telling all MFA candidates how lucky we were to be at Sarah Lawrence, "I feel like the world's biggest sucker."

I've been angry for 14 years. Meditated, prayed, talked. I don't want to live with this much anger. Maybe writing will help. We'll see.

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