Using Poetry as Vehicle for Change: MFA candidate, Margaret Kean
For Margaret Kean, poetry has always been a part of her. But finding the courage to write and share it with the world, has taken a long time. The MFA in Creative Writing program at Antioch has given her the courage to find and reveal her voice.
As a child, Kean read poetry, and in college, she majored in British and American literature, but she says she was too shy to try writing poetry. After college, she worked in public relations for 17 years, where she wrote stories and press releases. During the last 22 years she’s worked in fundraising and nonprofit management where she writes grants and proposals. At home, she has always kept a journal. But none of that was the kind of writing her heart desired.
“Poetry is different than the other writing I had been doing,” said Kean. “It’s personal. It requires a willingness to be exposed and vulnerable, to let your guard down, to listen for where the words want to go and let that be seen.”
Learning poetry craft was on her “bucket list” and she thought maybe in retirement she’d find the time. But as it turns out, she couldn’t wait that long.
In January 2016, when she was visiting one of her daughters abroad, a shift happened. She was outside of her usual routine, overlooking Hong Kong harbor, and journaling. It was then that she said to herself: “I’m going to do it. I’m just going to do it.”
While working full-time in development at the University of Southern California, Kean began her journey to becoming a poet. It started with reading poetry again — voraciously. Later in 2016, she found an online group where she could “play with words,” then she attended Idyllwild Arts’ Writers’ Week and private workshops. By Fall 2018 she was generating a lot of poems, but she felt she was missing a foundation about how to write well and pursue her life as a poet.
Antioch’s MFA emphasis on preparing writers for the complete life of a literary artist is perfect for Kean. Its structure, with a combination of five-month online project periods and 10-day on-campus residencies, offers a realistic path for her to work on her craft while working full-time.
“I feel like I am getting exactly what I needed,” said Kean, who had initially contacted Victoria Chang, the chair of the creative writing department to see if Antioch might be the right fit, and has formed close friendships with other faculty and students in her program. “Every time I come to residency it reinforces the decision that I made to do this.”
While her creative source is now nourished, the MFA program is also contributing to other aspects of Kean’s life. She said she is reading much more than ever, and not only poetry, as she finds that the more she reads, the more she brings to her writing. She is intellectually stimulated and knows her voice better than before, and that gives her more confidence in her life and career.
The poet that re-opened the door into poetry for Kean was Mary Oliver.
“Her writing made poetry accessible,” said Kean.”Her observations of nature and her expression of spirituality inspired me.”
Through the program, Kean is now reading a wide range of poets and her list of favorites will easily fill an entire bookcase.
She said: “I am in awe of poets who can use language to reveal the complexity of human emotions and lived experiences, and draw their readers into their stories. I’m fascinated with what happens inside us when we enter those words.”
Kean has discovered that a poet’s life involves more than writing poems. During an Antioch field study, she wrote curriculum for a poetry unit for high schoolers. While developing the nine lessons she included poets representing different writing styles, gender, race, age, and sexual orientation. She wanted the students to know poetry isn’t limited to just the older European white men she had studied as a youth. She also wrote and gathered writing prompts for students to help them express what is happening in their lives.
“These 15 year-olds are at a time in their lives of great change,” she said. “I wanted them to know their voices matter. I hoped that observing and honoring their life experiences in writing helped them understand how words can be life-giving, even when writing about tragedy and trauma.”
Reading their work after the unit has spurred Kean to think about how else she might engage with youth using her craft.
She clearly has a passion for poetry, youth, and education. However, where it mixes together after graduating in December 2020, is not yet clear:
She said: “I believe that poetry touches people deeply and can inspire them to be more fully themselves, and hopefully, more open to others. I do want my writing to mean something and to be heard. And I want to share my love and knowledge of poetry with others.”