I am so happy to announce that I was just accepted into the Master of Fine Arts in Poetry Program at Lindenwood University. I will be completing the program on a part-time basis, and it is also online-only, so it will in no way impact my work as CEO of Capital Good fund. Below I share the Statement of Purpose I submitted, which explains my rationale, not only for attending the program, but also for being a poet in general!
A Poet of Justice
My 10th grade English teacher kindled my love of literature by introducing me to the Romantics and the Transcendentalists. I especially remember Shelley’s proclamation that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” setting my mind ablaze. Yes, I thought. Metaphor and meter underpin everything! But that word, unacknowledged, has never sat well with me. Especially in this age of mass incarceration, mass deportations, and climate change, I can’t see the point of beautiful words that go largely unread. Moving language can only move those that experience it; is not the poet’s job to attract the public to her poetry?
I grew up in upper-middle-class comfort. I had the luxury of exposure to art, museums, travel, and other cultures and languages (my mother is Russian). But though I was blessed with a vibrant upbringing, it was also a stifling one: I attended wealthy, mostly white private schools, and the expectation was that I would go to Harvard and become a doctor. So when I read of “barbaric yawps” and “footprints in the sands of time,” I discovered new possibilities.
For me writing has therefore always been about breaking free from social convention, about questioning myself and my role in the world. My first attempts at writing were clumsy, but they were also precocious: an early essay satirized the stultifying nature of my private school. Another work, a poem titled Ode to the Washing Machine, was hilariously awful, yet it explored a serious question: the balance between technological progress and our consumer culture.
In college, my social conscience was aroused—9/11, the endless War on Terror, and the repressive Patriot Act took place or started while I was an undergraduate student—and my writing reflected this growth. For instance, I wrote poems of protest against the war in Iraq. Addressing the war through poetry forced me to immerse myself in the issue and to receive the spiritual succor to do something about it. For me, that something was to eschew driving in favor of cycling (I lived without a car for a decade); rightly or wrongly, I reasoned that if the war was about oil, the best protest would be to reduce my use of fossil fuels. This in turn interested me in environmentalism, and my poetry and prose focused on that subject; for two-years I wrote essays about environmental and social issues for Huffington Post and TreeHugger.com.
In 2009 I started Capital Good Fund, a nonprofit lender, as I was completing an MA in Environmental Studies at Brown University. For seven years, the organization was the primary vehicle through which I carried out my activism. However, in the wake of Trump’s election, as people of conscience felt frozen by despair, it became clear that we needed more—not just action, but poetry to inspire us to resist. I wanted my poems to contribute to that resistance, but after over 50 rejections I finally accepted that my work, which had never been published, was simply mediocre. I undertook to be more deliberate about poetry—to take my time, to avoid didacticism and instead allow the reader to feel what I had to say. It seems to be working: since 2016 I’ve had over a dozen pieces published, one of which, about my visit to a child immigrant detention facility in Texas, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
I know that I have some talent, but there is so very much for me to learn: I’ve done almost no study of poetry and have had little interaction with other poets. Further, finding the time and energy on my own to develop as an artist is a daunting task. All of which is why I am excited by how an MFA program can help me integrate my ongoing work as a nonprofit CEO with my passion for writing, how it can give me the time and the community in which to grow.
These are dark days. I am called to attempt poems that move the non-reader and the lover of poetry alike from the inert terrain of despair to the fruitful fields of action. That great poet of justice, Dr. King, spoke of the arc of history bending toward justice, though few recall his admonition that it would not bend by itself. Neither rhetoric nor marches alone could break Jim Crow, but the two together, expressed in his short life, helped legislate a better America.
Yes, to be a poet of justice—an activist and a lyricist—that is my mission!