Old Hampshire to New Hampshire

Looking back at my last post, I see it’s been nearly six months since I blogged. There has been one basic reason for that: on March 5th, I received news that I’d been accepted onto the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing at the University of New Hampshire, starting in Fall 2014.

That email was the culmination of nearly a year’s work. Back in 2012, I had a think about where I wanted to go as a writer and as a teacher, and came to a couple of conclusions. The first one was that, in order to keep our family going financially, I needed better job prospects as a creative writing teacher. The second was that I was at a good point for a big leap forward in my writing, if I could find a way to give it more time.

Both of these things pointed towards getting a qualification that would allow me to get hired full-time by a university, and to give me the time and support to mature my poetry. At first I looked at Ph.D.s in the UK, but I’ve never fancied the idea of doing a Ph.D.: working on theory and analysis tends to divert my creativity rather than supporting it. And besides, the amount of funding available is very small, which would have been a big problem for our family finances.

Then my wife, who is American, did me a big favor by saying that she wanted to move back to the States. After a bit of time to get over the shock, I looked at creative writing courses in the US, and discovered MFAs: two or three years of workshopping and guidance, with a strong community element, and a focus on praxis, not theory. Perfect for me in all respects. As soon as I looked at my first course program, I was sold. Most of them also had money available to support students, which meant we could manage it.

To cut a long process of research and decisions short, at the end of 2013 I applied to a lot of MFA programs across the Eastern and Central US. I didn’t know what chances I had of being admitted, since competition for places on MFAs is enormous. After a string of rejections in early 2014, I thought I wasn’t going to get a place at all, and we were making alternative plans: move to Portland, Maine, find a house, and cross fingers for a job… Rather risky, but we were going to do it.

Then the offer email came from UNH, and I was saved! Which is really how it felt. Although I was getting ready to move to the States with no job and no course, having an MFA to give me structure and a community to go to made the move seem much more possible.

So from March until now, all my time that hasn’t been about teaching or family, has been taken up with getting ready to move, moving, and sorting things out after the move. We sold our house in Winchester, our home for six years and two children, and gave it a fond farewell. All our stuff, and I mean everything, got packed up by the super-efficient removers from Pickfords, and is currently in a container somewhere between New York and Boston. We flew to Boston with 10 suitcases of toys, nappies, clothes, bedding, kitchen stuff, and other essentials, and somehow got them all and ourselves to Dover, NH. After spent two months enduring an awful apartment, we have just moved to a lovely Victorian house in South Berwick, Maine, which we love.

And I am just about to start my MFA (with a poetry workshop run by Mekeel McBride, who is my advisor, and whom I’m very much looking forward to meeting). For the first time in my life, my time is going to be about writing first and foremost. Once I’m out of home, Monday to Friday, nothing but poetry will have first call on my time. I still can’t quite believe that I have this amazing opportunity. I am going to make the absolute most of it.

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