Drew S. Cook was born at Ouachita Memorial Hospital, near the Ouachita River, cradled by the Ouachita Mountains, and just east of the Ouachita National Forest. The voices of and lanscapes of that region continue to inhabit his poetry. After graduation from Hendrix College (English and Philosophy), Drew worked his way from technician to middle management in the field of information technology for 13 years. Though he misses welding robots, spreadsheets, and the nice parts of HR, Drew is glad to be back in Arkansas and working towards his MFA.
Rachel Hoge: Hi Drew, thanks so much for agreeing to share your thoughts on the Arkansas Writers Program. Our program offers a unique focus on publishing by offering graduate positions with our new online, literary journal Arkana. As the Poetry Editor for Arkana, you were an integral part of the magazine’s launch. How has this position impacted your understanding of the publishing industry, and the process of collaborative, creative work?
Drew Cook: That’s been a great experience. As you know, I did a lot of the pre-work on our mission statement and other supporting documentation, and I’m proud of the way that all turned out. Our priorities and philosophy were arrived at as a group, and it was satisfying to gather that peer feedback. I’m proud of what we believe in, and I’m proud of what I had to say about it. Beyond that sort of big-picture thing, it’s been a great experience working in Submittable behind the scenes. It’s really strengthened my understanding of how the whole submissions process works. We’ve worked together really well as a team. I’ve tried to make sure that we respect the minority opinion, so that if one reader really loves a poem that didn’t work as well for everyone else, there is space for discussion and compromise. The readers are the real heroes of Poetry section.
RH: Has the quality of your own creative writing been further developed and/or challenged by our program’s faculty and students? If so, how?
DC: For me, the best learning has been my experience in fiction courses. I think if I could have limited myself to poetry only, I would have–to my detriment. I know (or think I know) a lot about poetry, so the fiction work has stretched me a bit. Of course, I love the poetry classes the best, but working on fiction has changed the way I think about the design of a poem. I’ve definitely benefited from getting out of my comfort zone.
RH: Artistically speaking, what do you find most appealing about our program?
DC: Before coming to UCA, I was already a fan of Sandy Longhorn’s The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths. There’s so much eerie, haunting, inventive stuff in there! So it’s pretty fantastic working on my thesis with her. That’s me answering the “artistically” part of your question. Generally speaking, it’s great how accessible the faculty are. They are generous with their time, and seem genuinely invested in the success of their students. I feel that is, hands-down, the best thing about the program–students and faculty have a great rapport. It’s really something special.
RH: As a second year student, how have you applied the knowledge and experiences of last year into your second year? How do you hope this year will shape your third and final year in our program?
DC: I mainly write persona poetry, so the work I did in the Topics: Persona Poetry course really helped me think about new ways to solve problems in my poetry. I’ll carry that forward for as long as I continue to adopt personae in my work. So far as this year goes, I would say that Arkana has prepared me for this cool internship at Trio House Press that I am just starting. That’s an opportunity that I only knew about because I was here at UCA.
RH: Why would you recommend the Arkansas Writers Program to an MFA applicant?
DC: Lots of reasons. For creative writing instruction, we have Dr. Stephanie Vanderslice, who is basically a rock star in that world. We have great instructors from the various genres, and, as I already mentioned, they are all really supportive and ready to help. Since it’s a young program, there are so many chances to shape the future of it. I’ve been involved in starting Arkana and the Graduate Writers Association. It’s really exciting to be in on the ground floor. It’s empowering and really builds commitment among students.
Stop by next semester to meet another graduate student from the Arkansas Writers Program.