By Guest Contributor Kristina K. Robinson
In the few years preceding my acceptance into a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing, I had been a Katrina refugee, had a baby, grieved the death of his father and more. I had a thick skin and a lot to say. I couldn’t think of a better time to dedicate myself to my writing. I felt prepared to be critiqued. I was self-aware and detached from taking criticism of my work personally. I had done this as an undergraduate; it was all constructive; I was ready.
A friend of mine from college, already waist-deep in an MFA program in New York, warned me …
“I was fine, till the day this guy said my work was didactic and particularly concerned with victimhood. I cried afterwards. They are going to get you,” she said.
We laughed and I waited for my turn.
It came. A rare poem of mine that features dialect, received the royal treatment from a professor. She decided to take command of the workshop by asking if anyone would like to discuss the dialect. I was aware of the consequences of writing a poem filled with dialect for a majority-white audience. I was prepared for all the most critical things I thought I would hear.
I was ready to listen to people debate whether or not it is acceptable to write something that is hard for white people to understand. I was ready to hear that a person who spoke that way wasn’t someone they imagined would have high-brow ideas or spend time meditating the on the meaning of life. I was even prepared to hear someone say that dialect didn’t belong in poetry.
I was not prepared to hear this:
“I’m going to go out on a limb,” the professor began, “and say that I found the dialect phony, and therefore I didn’t believe the rest of the poem. The dialect isn’t even consistent, sometimes this speaker says gon’, sometimes she says gonna’…didn’t buy it.”