I didn’t know what to expect when I was invited out to the UCR Palm Desert low-residency MFA program last week. The accommodations were at the Riviera Resort in Palm Springs, CA. Googling the luxurious resort, I saw that there was a spa, pool, jacuzzi, fire pits, several restaurants, and a bedazzled billiards table, what would be known to the students as “Liberace’s pool table” (his past house in Palm Springs was a few blocks away).
Besides gloating about the location, they had me on a panel at 8 pm. When I was at low-rez, 8 pm meant student center for $2 Killians; would anyone show? The answer was a singular “yes.” The students packed the place to hear The Collagist Matt Bell and I talk about literary magazines. Unfortunately Matt was stuck in one of those winter mid-west storm and didn’t make it to the panel until it was just ending, but fortunately for the students we got to have another one. I think we assisted the students, offering a lot of the behind-the-scenes knowledge you only know from receiving so many submissions and cover letters.
Then I had some one-on-one consults with the students, who were all bright and sharp and awesome. The location may have been perfect for a vacation, but I thought the environment would be terribly for a bunch of writers at a low-rez program. Again, I was proven wrong as each night fifteen or so students huddled around one of the swank fire pits next to the pool and read their work, a great informal student reading. It was a great and welcoming crowd; I even read one night at the fire pit.
All in all, without getting mawkish, it was a great experience. A great MFA program is being run out there UCR Palm Desert, with a great staff, especially two of my favorite poets in Matthew Zapruder and Jill Alexander Essbaum.