Catch-up post

Sometimes people read my blog once a month or once a season or once a year instead of every day. Sigh.* 😉 So just to catch up…

I. Academia
I was in the Ph.D. program in Comparative Literature at SUNY Buffalo (also home of the famous Poetics Program). I decided to transfer because it’s very hard to get an academic job with a PhD in Comp Lit, so I cobbled together a Master’s Thesis under the direction of Henry Sussman (and with the help of Rodolphe Gasche and Joan Copjec) and “took” my M.A. I then went to UVA’s more conservative Ph.D. program in English under their Presidential Fellowship, which is supposedly prestigious, but when I got there I felt treated like an undergraduate and I was very unhappy with departmental interests and policies. I went to study with Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker, but McGann’s interests are mostly limited to Dante Rossetti right now and to make a long story short, I didn’t feel like I was able to work on things that actually interested me. And if you can’t work on what you’re interested in while you’re in a PhD program, then what’s the point? I certainly wasn’t about to devote 4+ years of my life writing a dissertation on something I wasn’t passionate about. So I quit doing work, and eventually UVA and I separated. We’re both bitter and we don’t talk. I still think about going back into Academia because I feel like I still have a lot to give, intellectually, to the discipline; but I’m not ready for a new academic relationship yet. I’m somewhat able to separate the discipline from UVA’s version of it but I also know that I will face a lot of the same intellectual battles in any English program. So I am not sure whether it’s worth it to go back and finish the PhD. My plan is to get the much more marketable and less controversial MLS degree.

II. Geography
As I was considering whether to leave UVA, I lived in Birmingham, AL for a few months. I grew up there and my family is still there. Then I returned to Charlottesville in summer 2007, where I did a modicum of work on my outstanding incomplete papers. Then UVA and I broke up, but I stayed in Charlottesville for a few more months, working at Barnes & Noble, experiencing Charlottesville culture (a.k.a. drinking), and dating a couple of C’villians. Eventually, though, everything came to one of those points where you’re like, “shit, I cannot go on like this.” I didn’t want to be part of that culture anymore. The opportunity arose to move to NYC and live with an old friend from college, who had a cheap room available in his apartment. So I thought I’d try it– there weren’t any jobs in my field in Cville, really, and I was tired of feeling culturally isolated; the rent in this new place was cheaper than what I was paying in Cville; my brother lives in Manhattan; and I was interested in a boy who lived in NY. So I packed up and left Cville and arrived in NYC.

However, although there are many many jobs in my field (editing) in NYC, I haven’t been able to get any of them. I’ve been living off a couple of wage jobs (first, momentarily, The Strand; then scanning books for Internet Archive, and most recently temping) and the generosity of my parents while applying for literally hundreds of jobs. Last month I finally started getting interviews, but none of them turned into offers rapidly enough for me to reconsider what I’d already begun to consider– that is, leaving NYC. I don’t think the benefits of living here really outweigh the cost, commuting time and other stress factors. Some people think it’s absolutely worth it, but I just don’t.

Now I am moving back to Buffalo after 3 years away and I will be teaching again at UB in the fall as an adjunct in the English department. That is, I am exactly back where I started three years ago, except I’m no longer in a highly respected Ph.D. program, and I am many dollars more in credit card debt. Yay!

III. Poetry
While at UVA, I got really bored with the lack of local poetry community (I went up to DC for my poetry fix) and bored with graduate school, so I decided to publish my manuscript, Organic Furniture Cellar. I started a press and published that book, which received some good reviews and sold, to date, more than 400 copies (about 100 more than anticipated, and thus the book has miraculously paid for itself). With this boredom and this press I also started Foursquare magazine for women’s experimental poetry, which is supposed to come out monthly but comes out less frequently now than it did when I was bored in Charlottesville. I also conceived the The 2008 Anthology of Younger Poets, which due to circumstances (stress, time, money) I’ve now given up, and Take-Home Project chapbooks which I’m still planning to make one day but are way, way behind schedule. I’ve learned that I’m not a very good editor, in that it takes me forever to get around to doing what I promised to do. I also take on too much. I’ve only written the barest smattering of poems since I left Buffalo in 2004, so I’m hoping that returning to Buffalo will reignite my creative fuels. I miss being a poet. I’ve become a (bad) editor, a blogger, a professional poet (in that I go to and give readings/talks and publish stuff) and a poetry-friend (that is, I talk about poetry to my other poet-friends quite a lot) but my personal productivity is at an all-time low. I scoff at people who haven’t written in months– I haven’t written in years, baby.

IV. Love
So… when I entered the PhD program at Buffalo I left my boyfriend of 6 years, Aaron. Our relationship had devolved into an abusive mess. I started dating a fellow graduate student, Martin, who was a romantic dream, but unfortunately I developed PTSD after Aaron and was quite a pill to be in a relationship with. Still, we managed and were mostly very happy together, and it took 4 years before the relationship became untenable. Since then (2006) I’ve dated a couple of people, but mostly I’m emotionally exhausted from various romantic circumstances, such as a good friend and former lover getting married, and a long-term passionate friendship with someone who doesn’t want to get into a relationship with me, on top of those two long-term relationships that failed. The good news is that my PTSD has evaporated almost completely, but it’s become increasingly hard for me to form trusting bonds with new people, so when the bonds I do have are fucked with I retire further into myself, becoming even less interested in engaging in normal love behavior. I’m an optimist and a romantic when it comes to relationships, but sometimes it’s just enough already.

V. Cats
I have three of them.

* Sarcasm. It is very very rare that I am not sarcastic. So don’t get all upset! I don’t really expect you to read my blog. Which is why I bother posting a narrative like this that covers so many years of my life.


About Jessica Smith
This entry was posted in Anthology, Birmingham, Buffalo, Charlottesville, Foursquare, health, job, love, moving, My Poetry, New York, Organic Furniture Cellar, Outside Voices, personal, Place. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Catch-up post

  1. kaplan says:

    last week i visited a 9th grade english class to talk about poetry topics. i brought along a huge box of chapbooks. foursquare was a big hit.

  2. thanks 😉 i am pretty proud of foursquare. it’s one good thing that came out of this mess.

  3. Kendra says:

    Thanks for the roundup!

    So if I submit a poem one day, it should be experimental?

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