Guest Blogger: A Poet (and Alumna) Bares Her Soul

Once again, one of our own, alumna, Gabrielle Brant Freeman, has graciously shared with our blog.  I have to say that I’ve yet to be turned down by a student or alum.  The Converse MFA family is strong.  Now sit back and read this beautiful piece by Gabby, and then get your application in by October 1, 2017, so you can change your life as well.

Baring your soul, changing your life, and other consequences of the MFA

by Gabrielle Brant Freeman

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Almost exactly seven years ago, I was sitting in my office at the university where I teach freshman composition trying to decide between applying for PhD programs or applying for MFA programs. My office mate kept trying to steer me towards an MFA. She had recently completed hers in YA literature, and she had only glowing reviews of her program. “Gabrielle, it will literally change your life,” she said. I thought she had to be exaggerating, but ultimately the low-residency model worked best for me. I applied to Converse and got in.

Flash forward seven years. My life is, quite literally, completely changed.

After my first workshop resulted in me throwing away every poem in my packet, I realized that I had been writing, what little writing I actually did, without purpose. I had been writing because I liked the idea of writing, not because I had to write. I realized I had been holding back.

For this blog post, Sarah asked me to write about how I mix visual art, poetry, prose, and music. To address that, I have to say that seven years ago, I had painted, but I didn’t paint. I had written, but I didn’t write. I wasn’t yet brave enough to put my whole self on the page or the canvas. Giving other people a window into your soul is a scary thing. Even if the poem or story isn’t about you, it comes from you. It’s a part of you. It belongs to you. Until it doesn’t. Until you put it out into the world to be judged.

I decided that first semester that I was going to stop worrying about that judgment. I was going to take risks. I wrote a poem about women and sexuality called “Whore” that I, admittedly, wasn’t ready to read out loud until last summer. I wrote a poem about a lesbian version of the Orpheus myth incorporating opera which I sing at readings. I created and participated in public writing and art challenges for myself using social media not only to get drafts down on the page, but also to keep my sense of vulnerability open. Writing or painting or singing for an audience, no matter how real or perceived, makes me accountable. Someone at Converse once said that an audience chooses to spend some of their limited time listening to you, reading your words. Don’t waste their time.

Right now, in part because of the events of the past year, both public and private, I am writing about women in America and the restrictions and constraints we live with every day. These poems are difficult for me to write, my brain keeps saying you really shouldn’t write that, and that lets me know that I am taking necessary risks. I have done some photography and painting on this subject, but it is mostly coming out as writing right now. And that is possibly the biggest change I have made. I trust my instincts, and I act on them.

If something comes into my mind as an image, I paint, draw, or take pictures. If it comes as a line, idea, or concept, I generally take to the page. I resist the voice in my head that says you can’t do this. You shouldn’t do this. And when it’s done, I send it out.

In the past seven years, I have rediscovered my creativity and my passion. I have given myself permission to be creative, to be passionate. To be my authentic self. And, oh yes, I have changed. Baring your soul will do that.

b&wsmileheadshotGabrielle Brant Freeman’s poetry has been published in many journals, most recently in Barrelhouse, Cider Press Review, Grist, One, Rappahannock Review, storySouth, and Waxwing. She was nominated twice for the Best of the Net, and she was a 2014 finalist. Gabrielle won the 2015 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition. Press 53 published her first book, When She Was Bad, in 2016. Gabrielle earned her MFA through Converse College. Read her poems and more at http://gabriellebrantfreeman.squarespace.com/.
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