The Tolerance Project: A MFA

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Office of Institutional Research

Communications & External Affairs

Chris Stroffolino

Chris Stroffolino This poetic trace was used in:
Poem 27:
I don’t get it I don’t get it I don’t get it I don’t get it

Poem 37: Satisfactions are gaps in desire

On 30/08/09 3:06 PM, "Chris Stroffolino" wrote:
I didn't mean to say anything about "docile"---wonder how you got that out of the borderline national-identity conversation...?
I was gonna ask you if you knew Lisa----We both live in Oakland now. Her partner and I may be putting a musical group together...

Do you know Clint Burnham too....he's actually got a Ph.D, but he got a lot of grants
I think increasingly you're right...about people opting out of B.A. in USA coz of money; but I'm teaching at a community college now,
 and enrollment's way up. WHy? Hardly any other manual labor jobs in USA anymore, and 2) coz the B.A. is more expensive, A.A. seems attractive, but....
Anyway, the long and short of it is, if you see an American under 45 with a B.A. (let alone a Ph.D. which means what a B.A. did in 1977), odds are you're looking at someone in debt at least $40,000 these days...
Graffiti at the community college in Oakland where I teach---"Stop Education Fraud"--
Feel free to use any of this in your creative writing project!

On Aug 30, 2009, at 11:45 AM, Rachel Zolf wrote:
docile bodies?...  but it seems you’re only talking about writers... in fact per capita i assume canada has more BA grads as a result of a more affordable education. re amerikan docility check out lisa robertson’s (another no B.A...) interview in prismatic publics anthology just out from coach house.

On 30/08/09 2:36 PM, "Chris Stroffolino" wrote:
Oh yes!
Do you have theories about why a higher percentage of americans have B.As than Canadians?  (my hunch is coz Canada has a far better art grant system, or at least not as shabby...

of course, higher degrees mean less and less in our false economy....)
On Aug 29, 2009, at 12:15 PM, Rachel Zolf wrote:
Hi Chris,
Below is the original call.
   Dear fine writers, artists and thinkers I admire,
   I’m embarking on a two year conceptual writing project--and I need your help. It’s participatory! This fall I will be entering The New School MFA in Creative Writing to work on my fifth book of poetry. The story behind that weird decision is long and at times boring boring, but the gist is my partner Kate got a job at The New School in 2008 and because of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, I was not allowed to move with her from Canada. I have “visited” Kate and the lovely NYC this year, but that is no longer tenable and I need status at the border, which being a student brings for a couple of years.
   Okay, here’s where you come in. As far as I can gather, part of The New School MFA involves writing poems each week—sometimes in specific forms and on assigned topics--and bringing them to class for critique. What I’d like to do is gather “poetic” material from you fine folks for a textual archive from which I will draw elements to create poems for the MFA. For example, if the assignment is to write a sonnet in the style of Petrarch on the colour purple, there’s bound to be something inspiring in the archive, even if only a hint of blue in a Fitterman tome or a yellow Levitsky sigh on the page. I will likely have to mash together multiple pieces of donated poetic material to fulfill the parameters of the week’s assignment, so there’s no worry that plagiarizing--that scourge of university campuses and influence anxiety everywhere--will come into play here. What you define as poetic material is up to you. It can be your favourite poem from your salad days in the MFA, it can be a grocery list, a picture, a philosophical treatise, a confession, manifesto, tweet to one of your thousands of friends--in short, it’s your poetic DNA, define it as you wish.
   What I offer you is a chance to hear real feedback on your work from my fellow MFA students* and our instructors. What I offer you is a chance to take part in what could be the first collaborative MFA thesis ever imagined! What I offer you is a chance to help out a queer poet** who might just blow her head off if she has to look out her window and wait for poetic inspiration to come to her each week. How’s that for a good cause, eh?
   Each poetic trace that you give me will receive a barcode that I will give you--you’ll see it on your donation receipt, which you can attempt to get a tax break for (good luck!). Starting this September, each week I will post the poem(s) I brought to class, plus the feedback I received, on a blog created for this project. Maybe it will be called The Tolerance Project, because, as Wendy Brown and the Museum of Tolerance have taught us so well, it’s important that we tolerate neighbo(u)rs and lifestyles and other things that we hate!
   The pieces of poetic DNA used in the poem and their barcodes will also be posted on the blog, so you’ll know when your trace has been activated. I will include a comments section on the blog too, so you all and anyone else can put in your two cents toward creating the perfect MFA poem. I will then attempt to revise the poems according to all comments received and get closer to that messianic MFA perfection myself.
   For my final thesis, I will collate the poem versions and responses and such and make something beautiful and grade A-worthy that everyone will want to publish. What else is an MFA in creative writing for?***
   So, I’m offering you participation in something pure, something purely conceptual, a collaborative idea that may not work but may be fun, an idea that will help me tolerate MFA school (and it me). Your assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated.  
   Please send poetic material to that you think would help me create the perfect MFA poem (come on, most of you have taken and/or teach in these programs!). At the end of the project, all barcode IDs will be revealed on the blog and in print, if it gets that far. Of course it’s fine if you’d rather remain anonymous too. I promise to only create poems from the project archive and to use at least an aspect of every piece of poetic DNA donated--so bring it on, bards!
   Yours in canonical perpetuity,
   Rachel Zolf
   *I want to assure everyone that NO MFA STUDENTS WILL BE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PROJECT. They won’t be identified by name, and some may actually enjoy the project, since it won’t be a secret. We’re all collaborators in this grand Ponzi scheme, aren’t we?
   **If the queer thing isn’t clear, the point is I can’t enter and live in the U.S. on a spousal visa (even if my partner and I swallowed our political aversion toward institutions like marriage, held our noses and took the plunge in Canada, the “event” wouldn’t be recognized at the Amerikan border). Why take the MFA and not a PhD or something else? Well, like a number of your favourite Canadian poets, I don’t have a BA, and no one’s going to let me into a PhD program without one. Going to The New School for the MFA was basically the only viable option, because the tuition will be largely covered, since I’m recognized by the school as a “domestic partner” of professor Kate Eichhorn. Yep, there are different rules for queers at the federal and state level. Pretty boring boring, eh?
   ***In initial focus-group testing, some concern has arisen that this project may have a stink of the smug to it. Perhaps people think I am going to create deliberately “bad” MFA workshop poems. This is not the case. The reality is that all of my work is based on collecting archives of material and drawing from them. And all of my work has a self-conscious “meta” element to it. Tolerance and the MFA is the project because tolerance and the MFA has to be the project. The poems I create for The Tolerance Project will be real poems that will be critiqued and improved upon by real students and teachers and people like you who read the blog religiously and comment religiously. How much more open to ridicule can I make myself?
On 29/08/09 3:10 PM, "Chris Stroffolino" wrote:

My computer died in june, so this is the first I heard (as I now have a new computer).

I never worked at the New School, though I did read there once about 10 years ago. I taught at NYU and Rutgers actually,

but hello!
thank you--sounds like we might have things to talk about; can you re-send the original call...

On Aug 29, 2009, at 12:02 PM, Rachel Zolf wrote:
The New School—hence the logo style. I’m fairly certain I sent you a call for the project in June (which named the school and explained context), but we don’t know each other, so when you didn’t respond, I just sent you (and many others, of course) this FYI when blog went up.
On 29/08/09 2:55 PM, "Chris Stroffolino" wrote:
Which class is this for?       Is it purposely contextless?
On Aug 29, 2009, at 10:09 AM, Rachel Zolf wrote:
The Tolerance Project has begun at

Please follow the blog and weigh in with your considerable critical talents on the quality of our MFA poems. Please also feel free to encourage your friends and enemies (and my enemies too, of course) to weigh in as well. If you have a blog, maybe you can put The Tolerance Project on your blog roll. We all know every piece of feedback will help make a better poem.