Brian Clements is a writer for the 21st century, pushing writing to go further, both in his body of creative work and as Coordinator of Western Connecticut State University’s MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program. He’s written two volumes of prose poems, entitled And how to end it and Jargon. In addition, he co-wrote An Introduction to the Prose Poem, a textbook designed to familiarize students to the prose poem’s rich tradition and plethora of forms. He describes prose poems as always having been “a renegade side of poetry.”
As Coordinator of the MFA Program, Clements and his colleagues are helping create writers whose training is in line with the reality of the contemporary writing industry. The program was the first in the country to require students to study both a creative and a practical writing discipline. Students not only learn how to turn a phrase, they learn how to be a professional in a specialized writing field such as advertising, public relations, or technical writing.
Students are also required to complete an enrichment project that helps them develop another creative skill like photography, foreign language proficiency, or web editing that can help open doors.
Clements sees this multi-disciplinary approach as essential for contemporary writers. “We want to train students to be professional career writers… Some of that is being flexible and writing in multiple genres. I try to get students to write as variously as possible and try to use their full intelligence,” said Clements. MFA students also undertake a professional internship and have worked for TV stations, magazines, and even World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). They’ve taught in classrooms, worked in publishing houses, and written grants for non-profits.
Thanks to this unique approach, WestConn’s MFA program has an excellent placement record. 87% of program graduates have gone on to book publication, full-time employment in academia or other writing careers, successful freelance careers, or subsequent degree programs, all within the current challenging economy. “Variety is the name of our game and it has been quite successful,” said Clements.
Best of all, the two tracks build off of each other. Creative writing skills help students be better, more dynamic professional writers, while their newly found technical skills help them make a living and more effectively promote their creative works. “Publishers are doing less and less marketing. Authors need to do more. Once they learn those skills they will do better,” said Clements.
Creatively, the MFA program involves students in the current literary conversation. Literature has begun to experiment with internet-based forms of communication. Last April, the MFA hosted a campus-wide Twitter Poem Day, where WCSU students members of the wider community posted poems of less than 140 characters on Twitter with the hashtag #WCSUPoem.
At the heart of the program is engagement. Students in WestConn’s MFA program are given a breadth of experiences that expose them to the full spectrum of writing as it exists today.