Creative Writing MFA Director's Message

Dominican Creative Writing MFA Director's Messages

Note: Director's Messages are originally published in our MFA Newsletter. 
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As the spring semester winds down, our excitement grows as we gear up for our MFA summer residency, June 8-14. Pulitzer Prize winning poet Forrest Gander will kick off the week with a keynote reading on June 8. Additional speakers include Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, Jasmin Darznik, and current Marin County Poet Laureate Terry Lucas, plus over fifteen more guests. Visit our Public Events page, read Guest Speaker Bios, and mark your calendars today!

This will be a milestone residency for four of our students—Brennen Belogorsky, Bogie Bougas, Catharine Clark-Sayles, and Kat Crawford—the first to graduate with a Dominican MFA. On June 11 they will be presenting on a literary topic of special interest to them and giving a formal reading. We invite you to come congratulate them!

We had a large contingent of students and faculty attending the AWP conference this year. One of the highlights for me was the tribute to Donald Hall. Fellow poets and former students spoke about his generosity, his sense of humor, his encouragement of young poets struggling to find their voice. I like to think that his spirit has joined with that of his late wife Jane Kenyon’s in a poet’s heaven, melding like Milton’s angels in paradise.

One of the most valuable aspects of AWP is the opportunity to connect with other writers and poets. Visit our MFA Blog to read Bogie’s reflections on AWP, the writer’s life, and community.



Joan Baranow, Director
Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing
Dominican University of California
[email protected]

Joan Baranow




Although our MFA winter residency was six weeks ago, many of us are still feeling energized by the dynamic guest speakers and writing activities. Adding to our energy, we welcomed three new students: Sonya, with her lively tale of surviving a frog infestation; Nancy who’s delving deep into the world of ultramarathon runners; and Katie, our first out-of-state student who brings a wicked Chicago humor to her writing. Welcome to the “Band!”

For a glimpse into our residency week, MFA student Bogie Bougas shares with us her reflection on keynote speaker, Ryoichi Wago, who gave a stunning performance of his poetry. Read more at our MFA Student Blog.


Joan Baranow, Director
Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing
Dominican University of California
[email protected]

Joan Baranow




Poetry gives us an intimate space of connection, a heart-to-heart joining that holds us together. We seek poetry at times of joy or when terrible events ravage the world. For many, poetry is a form of prayer. As William Carlos Williams famously said, "It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there." In honor of poetry's sustenance, below are two beautiful poems written to Rita Dove's "10-Minute Spill":

In a moment

the lick then bite of a blackberry renders my mother’s voice.
In a hot valley a day spent
picking fruit from a bush big as a boat.
Her lively words, songs,
came in clear
like a needle glint in sunlight.
Heat came over
every cliff and hill,
made us all wilt, or grow.
Not one cloud to shade us
only the whir and buzz
of crickets as evening
inhaled the day.

-Katherine Crawford


Thick blackberry clouds hang over seaside cliffs
The ocean waves crash and pull back
like a tongue frothy sea foam licking the shore
the boats in the harbor rock like cradles
they creak and moan
harmonizing with the voices of seagulls
echoing like my mother’s did
up the stairs to my teenage bedroom

-Brennen Belogorsky

We look forward to printing more responses to the prompt in upcoming newsletters!

Remembering Tony Hoagland 1953-2018

When Tony passed away last week I went to my shelf and picked up his book Donkey Gospel. In memory of Tony and other dear writers and poets who passed away this year, this poem, the last in the book, feels timely in so many ways--seasonally, politically, spiritually:


I’m raking leaves and singing in my off-key voice
a mangled version of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,”
a song I thought I hated;

that’s how it goes when our head and heart
are in different time zones—
you often don’t find out till tomorrow
what you felt today.

I know I do not understand the principles
of leaf removal; I pile them up
in glowing heaps of cadmium and orange,

but I identify so much more
with the entropic gusts of wind
that knock them all apart again.
Is it natural to be scattered?

When I look into the sky I am often dreaming
of a television program that I saw some months ago;
when I walk into a dinner party

I am thinking of the book I mean to read
when I get home – you might say
my here is disconnected from my now,
so never am I entirely anywhere,

or anyone. But I won’t speak cruelly
of myself: this dividedness is just what
makes our species great: possible for Darwin

to figure out his theory of selection
while playing five-card stud,
for surgeon Keats to find a perfect rhyme

wrist-deep in the disorder
of an open abdomen.

For example, it is autumn here.
The defoliated trees look frightened
at the edge of town,

as if the train they missed
had taken all their clothes.
The whole world in unison is turning
toward a zone of nakedness and cold.

But me, I have this strange conviction
that I am going to be born.

- Tony Hoagland

This November, let's take pause to appreciate our shared humanity, the passing of the seasons, and all the celebrations and ceremonies that bring us together.



Joan Baranow, Director
Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing
Dominican University of California
[email protected]

Joan Baranow




We are beginning to feel hints of autumn here in Marin and the brisk air has certainly been conducive to creativity! Our poets are producing beautiful manuscripts and our fiction writers have novels that are well under way. It’s hard to believe that our first cohort of MFA students will be graduating in June!

For this Newsletter I’d like to spotlight Brennen’s pinterest board, “Word porn,” a collection of weird and wonderful words. Here are some unfamiliar words that describe familiar emotions and conditions:

Sonder: the realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own
Opia: the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable
Vellichor: the strange wistfulness of used bookshops
Altschmerz: weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had—the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years
Inspired by this collection, I offer you a word-based writing exercise adapted from Rita Dove's "Ten-Minute Spill" (from The Practice of Poetry). Use at least five of these words as you can in a piece of writing within 10 minutes:

blackberry, cliff, voice,
mother, cloud, lick
whir, boat, needle

Send us what you've done and we'll feature an entry in the next MFA newsletter.

Happy writing!




Joan Baranow, Director
Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing
Dominican University of California
[email protected]

Joan Baranow



Our First Year

Summertime greetings!

As we take pause from our whirlwind academic year, I’d like to celebrate the first birthday of our fledgling MFA program.  

We welcomed a cohort of five talented students—three poets and two fiction writers—who bonded right away, dubbing themselves “The Band of Poets.” They shared many writing interests and challenges despite working in different genres, and elected to stay together in their monthly workshops. In January a new student interested in fiction writing joined the “Band” and surprised us with poems during the summer residency. The cross-genre conversation has been lively, supportive, and inspiring!

I’m grateful to my Dominican colleagues--Judy Halebsky, Thomas Burke, and Marianne Rogoff--for their dedication to our students.  As mentors, they not only instruct, but build the kind of friendship that’s essential to a thriving writing community. Our program would never have gotten off the ground without them.

During the residencies, our students participated in workshops, panel discussions, and writing activities led by a diverse treasure of poets, writers, and teachers from the Bay Area. Al Young, Robert Hass, Nina Schuyler, Terry Lucas, Ellery Akers, Ellen Bass, Indigo Moor, just to name a few, came to share their expertise. Take a look at the complete roster on our website:  We thank the Marin Poetry Center for helping sponsor our poets. We look forward to a continued partnership!

Throughout the summer our students are reading in preparation for their fall semester. I’m enjoying designing their syllabi and planning for a rich literary winter residency. As David Jauss points out in “The Real Story about Low-Residency MFAs” (Writer’s Digest), “the low-residency model is the ideal way to learn to write, and…can offer an education vastly superior to that of traditional programs.” That was back in 2014, and the low-res programs have only gotten better!

I have just returned from a week of poetry writing at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. The week’s intensive reminded me of the deeply pleasurable work of writing; moreover, I’m eager to bring what I learned from my fellow SVCW poets into my MFA teaching.

This has been quite an adventure—I look forward to another productive year ahead.




Joan Baranow, Director
Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing
Dominican University of California
[email protected]

Joan Baranow