O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention…
-Shakespeare, from the prologue to Henry V
O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate…
-Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, Line Eight
As I read the variety of final manuscripts produced by our M.F.A. graduates in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, I find myself wondering where does inspiration come from and how does it take root? Consider the Muses. At the beginning of the Odyssey and the Aeneid, the ancient Greek and Roman poets invoked these nine goddesses, each with her own specialty, to breathe life into their creations. Sometimes I wish I were on better terms with these deities, for they behave fickly toward me and many who toil in our M.F.A. program.
The modern writer may work without the ritual of invocation and yet ritual is not absent from our days. Some M.F.A. students type a little every morning, whether they feel called to or not. Some scribble in moments stolen from day jobs. Then there are those who work in all-night bursts of urgency that are exhilarating as long as they last. As Edna St. Vincent Millay put it in “First Fig”:
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Often writing is less like pyromania and more like archaeology. And yet a magic one might call muse-ic exists. One minute we are patiently moving dust around, the next looking at the femur of Pharaoh. If there were not such moments we would not write.
Perhaps the comparison to ancient poets is too far removed. Consider instead the invention of cornflakes: corporate lore has it that W.K. Kellogg accidentally baked his porridge into flat flecks whose crispiness delighted not only fellow vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists, but everyone who loved crunch.
The flakes could not have been discovered had he not already been striving, yet neither could they have materialized without the happy accident.
Students come to our M.F.A. program because they subscribe to Louis Pasteur’s notion that fortune favors the prepared. When the universe that once smiled on Homer, Shakespeare, and Kellogg smiles on them, they are ready.
One needs more than a little luck to become a successful poet, a novelist, or a writer of memoir and yet almost no one ever became one accidentally.
Our Published Students
- Star Crossed (a memoir) — www.betteisacoff.com
- “Fetch,” Soul Reflections. Beaufort, SC: Wicked East Press, 2013 (forthcoming).
- “Forgotten Manners,” Ink Monkey 2013 (forthcoming).
- “Foreign Tongue” and “Sainte-Anne’s Massacre, 1759,” Meat for Tea: The Valley Review 2012 8(2): 25-26.
- “X,” Colere 2012; 66-73.
- “Mixed Nuts,” Epiphany Issue 13, 2012.
- “Melting the Ice,” Weirdyear 3 April 2011.
SN Review; Winter/Spring 2013 Edition
- Seminole County, Florida
- Planting Paper Flowers
- Sitting in the Classroom
Blast Furnace Press; Volume 3 Issue 1
- Third Street Miracle
- The Blue Line - published in January 2012 by Static Movement
- Snow & Cognac - published in March 2012 by Static Movement
- Caves - published in March 2013 by Another Sky Press
- Beautiful Thieves - published in September 2012 by Scars Publications
- New Years - published in March 2013 by The Speculative Edge
Sarah Harris Wallman is an Associate Professor of English and the Director of the M.F.A. in Writing at Albertus Magnus College. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and the M.F.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. She is the Faculty Sponsor for both the Albertus Magnus College English Club and the College’s Breakwater literary journal. Professor Wallman’s published works include “Waiting for the Night Music” on storySouth.com. She lives in New Haven with her husband and baby Ray.