Paul Vermeersch (2009 cohort)
When I began my MFA studies at the University of Guelph, I was just putting the finishing touches on my fourth collection of poetry, The Reinvention of the Human Hand, for McClelland & Stewart. I was also nearing the end of a decade-long tenure as the poetry editor for Insomniac Press. Everything in my life was about to change. I was heading back to school. I sensed that a chapter in my writing life was coming to a close, and I was looking for new creative challenges. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I would soon be starting up a new publishing imprint with Wolsak and Wynn Publishers. That’s the thing about a life in the arts—things can change quickly. You never know what will set you down a new path or what you will find there.
I can’t tell you what kind of writer I would be today if I hadn’t taken an MFA in creative writing. I would still be a writer—we can be absolutely certain about that. Undoubtedly, I would be a different kind of writer, perhaps on a different creative trajectory, or perhaps on a similar trajectory but at a different point in my development. Who really knows? That writer, that other version of me, exists in an alternate timeline, on an alternate Earth, where I never enrolled in the MFA program. What else would be different about that other timeline, I wonder? Is Hillary Clinton the President of the United States there? Would my last book have been a collection of limericks about common ailments? Are mosquitoes extinct? We can only speculate.
Allow me, then, to speculate about how Guelph’s MFA program may have altered my creative DNA. It is possible that studying creative writing in a scholarly setting allowed me to experiment with poetic forms and styles in ways I mightn’t have otherwise. Very likely, I was exposed to influential texts, ideas and people at the optimal moments of receptiveness, allowing new approaches to writing and heightened ways of thinking to inform my creative process. Perhaps, had I enrolled in a different program at another institution, I would have written “praxis” just then instead of “process,” and I am forced to imagine that such a thing could only happen in a dystopian timeline on some abject version of Earth where ice cream was never invented and everyone vapes.
Beyond this speculation, is there anything else about which we can be absolutely certain? Well, certainly the MFA program did not turn me into a furry woodland creature. That much is indisputable. Furthermore, the program has not, so far, caused any of my poems to turn into furry woodland creatures (though I promise I am working on it). We can also say with certainty that the program was a personally and creatively rewarding experience for me, and that it provided useful professional development opportunities to me, not only as a writer, but also as an editor and educator. My studies have helped me in the operation of my imprint with Wolsak and Wynn Publishers, as well as in my teaching career, all of which I see as extensions of my practice as a poet.
So no, I can’t tell you what kind of writer I would be today if I hadn’t taken an MFA in creative writing at the University of Guelph, but perhaps this offers some insight into what kind of writer I did become because I had.
Three poems by Paul Vermeersch:
"Grendel's Mother" (Globe and Mail)
"The Modern Novel" (Hazlitt)
All three poems in Spanish translation:
In his human form, Paul Vermeersch is a poet, professor, artist and editor. The author of five collections of poetry, including The Reinvention of the Human Hand, a finalist for the Trillium Book Award, and Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, he teaches in the Creative Writing & Publishing program at Sheridan College and is senior editor of Wolsak and Wynn Publishers where he runs the Buckrider Books imprint. His next collection Self-Defence for the Brave and Happy will appear with ECW Press in 2018. He lives in Toronto. In his digital form he can be found at www.paulvermeersch.ca.