COVID Inspires Poetry In MFA In Creative Writing Student

In her first semester in Dominican University of California’s MFA in Creative Writing program, Andrea Clark had an eventful time: She was inspired by the pandemic to write a poem that was so heartening and prodigious that it was published as part of the “Global Poemic: Kindred Voices on the Era of COVID-19” blog established by two poets in the United States and India for poets worldwide to share their stories. 

Days before the poem was published, Andrea contracted COVID-19. Again, she turned to poetry to help during the healing process.

With the poem, “While I Wrote This Villanelle, the U.S. Death Toll Rose From 400 Thousand To 425”, Andrea reveals how the impact of the virus outpaced her words and feelings and “how clinging to the natural world is one way to get through such difficult times.”

“I think naturally as a poet you soak up your environment and whatever is going on around you. What motivated me to write this poem was how you couldn’t know who would survive,” Andrea says. “The virus could get anyone young or old, thick or thin. You wouldn’t know until you got it how hard you were going to get hit by it. Coincidentally, the day (March 2) the poem was published on GlobalPoemic.com, I had COVID.”

Andrea, Head of Medical Writing at CytomX Therapeutics in South San Francisco, has fully recovered and was ready to share her work at Dominican’s MFA in Creative Writing virtual Summer Writing Residency on June 5-13. The MFA in Creative Writing is a low-residency program, which means students are on campus twice a year for eight-day writing residencies and then study remotely during the semester. The low residency format gave Andrea the flexibility to continue in her profession and take time to recover from COVID.

Andrea majored in German and psychology at the University of Michigan before earning her master’s in clinical and social psychology at Yale University. She oversees regulatory and scientific publication deliverables at CytomX.

Her interest in poetry led Andrea to a writers’ conference in Portland, Oregon in 2019 where she met Dr. Joan Baranow, professor of English in the School of Liberal Arts and Education and founder of Dominican’s MFA in Creative Writing program.

After talking with Joan, Andrea attended a virtual creative writing weekend retreat at Dominican last June and connected with Dr. Judy Halebsky, Director of the MFA program. Andrea was impressed when Judy reached out and encouraged her to apply to the program.

Along with tracks in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, Dominican’s low-residency MFA offers an optional emphasis in narrative/poetic medicine — the only such MFA track in the country. Read more about the program in the Marin Independent Journal.

The program was a perfect fit for Andrea.

“I wanted to influence my own education,” she says. “I have been able to personalize the program to my needs and experiences.”

In her second poem, “Social Nearness,” Andrea writes about her inability to travel - and escape - during the pandemic. This drew her back to positive childhood memories of dancing in her youth.

“It was about what I was missing from an everyday interaction with strangers,” she says.

Poetry has become a part of Andrea’s daily life.

“With the support of this community, our workshops, and the retreat, I have written twice as many poems in this first semester as I had ever written in my life,” she says. “Along the way I was able to get my poems published. They got out there in the world. I could not have done that without a structured MFA program. I’m really thrilled with my experience. Getting feedback directly from Judy and the rest of the cohorts really helps.”

Though most of the events are for current students and alumni, Dominican’s June 5-13 Summer Writing Residency features three free public online events:

  • Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer, and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson presented the keynote lecture “Noopiming: The Cure For White Ladies” on June 5.
  • Poet and essayist Molly McCully Brown presented a craft talk about writing and having a physical disability on June 8.
  • A panel of six editors from local presses Aunt Lute, Sixteen Rivers, and Black Freighter Press leads a discussion about changing the structures of publishing and/or increasing attention to marginalized voices from 3-5 p.m. on June 11.

For more information: email mfa@dominican.edu or call (415) 482-1956.

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