Social Icons

 

Admissions: 800.906.8312       GoddardNet | SIS | Goddard E-Mail
»   Inquire About Programs               »  Scholarships                 »  Apply Now     

Mary Karr in the Paris Review

October 26, 2012

Mary Karr talks about Goddard

KARR

I wrote in a scattered, undisciplined way. But I read the way a junkie shoots dope. After college I got a poetry grant I’d applied for from the state of Minnesota. I used it to move to England, which was partly an attempt to cure my drinking. How ridiculous is that? I was drinking too much in Minneapolis, so I emigrate to one of the most alcohol-sodden islands on the planet. But it ended up being a cure for my ignorance about the history of literature. When I went to Wordsworth’s grave, I realized I’d never read him. I hadn’t studied Chaucer, though I could quote the prelude to The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. I knew a few Shakespeare speeches but not whole plays. I wasn’t a natural scholar. While I was there I met Seamus Heaney at a writers’ festival and bought him a beer. Listening to him talk, I learned about poetry that existed before Elvis. So at age twenty-two, I applied to an MFA program at Goddard College.

INTERVIEWER

You had dropped out of Macalester. How did you get into a graduate writing program?

KARR

Goddard accepted me on probation. In fact, I never picked up my high-school diploma. Why’d Macalester accept me? I wrote some philosophical essay that my best friend, who was at Rice, edited for me and probably half concocted. She was the genius “Meredith” in Cherry. Maybe her edits shoehorned me into college. Goddard let me go for a year to prove I wasn’t a complete chowderhead before I could matriculate. It was a low-residency program so I lived in Minneapolis and went back and forth for two-week sessions.

INTERVIEWER

Was Goddard important to your development as a writer?

KARR

Immensely. People were having serious, into-the-night-over-cognac conversations, and they worked hard: real rigor, real commitment. The faculty gave written lectures. They weren’t just putting on red lipstick, going to bars at night with scarves on, and smoking Gauloises cigarettes. When you’re a young writer, you just want someone to look at you and say, She’s a poet. It feels like being called a mermaid or a griffin or something. But at Goddard, it was about the work. Plus a lot of world-class writers came through: the brothers Wolff, Richard Ford, Raymond Carver, Frank Conroy, Thomas Lux, Charles Simic. To be able to work with those people!

INTERVIEWER

Why haven’t you written about your time there? 

KARR

It sounds name-droppy since all those writers wound up so famous. I do write about it a little bit in Lit.

INTERVIEWER

Did you have a mentor at Goddard?

KARR

Robert Hass, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Stephen Dobyns, Heather McHugh, and Louise Glück were all hugely influential. I hung out a lot with Geoffrey and Toby, and Ray Carver—I just followed them around and listened to their stories. When I first got to Goddard, my poetry was all geegawed up—Vaseline on the lens, references to Nietzsche. I called it experimental, but that just meant it made no sense. If you don’t say what you mean in a readable way, you actually risk nothing.

Read the full article here