History of the MFA
A Brief History of the NEC MFA Poetry
program in Poetry
The NEC MFA program in poetry opened in January of 2002 under the co-directorship of Chard deNiord (program director) and Jacqueline Gens (administrative director). The inaugural faculty consisted of Bruce Smith, Li-Young Lee, Gerald Stern, Chard deNiord, Thomas Lux and Anne Marie Macari. The idea for this program originated with Chard deNiord, who maintained that a single genre low residency program offered a more focused pedagogical environment than a multi genre program, particularly during residencies. deNiord presented his idea to his former teacher and eminent poet, Gerald Stern, who embraced his concept and presented it as a proposition to his friend, former colleague and New England College president, Ellen Hurwtitz during New England College’s 2000 commencement, on which occasion Mr. Stern received an honorary doctorate. Ellen Hurwitz welcomed deNiord’s idea and began meeting with him in the summer of 2000 to discuss the logistics of starting such a program. Over the course of the next year, deNiord worked with New England College administrators, faculty and staff to create the program's curriculum, pedagogy, mission (see NEC MFA Handbook), and accreditation standards.
In August of 2001, Jacqueline Gens joined deNiord as co-director and began to assemble the first class. For the next five years the program flourished, growing from its initial class of ten students in 2002 to fifty three students by the winter residency of 2007. Not only did the program grow in number, thanks in large part to then Vice President Michele Perkins’ initiative to procure significant tuition scholarships for incoming students, but in stature as well, distinguishing itself as the only single genre MFA program in the country. In addition to the above-mentioned first faculty, subsequent faculty from January, 2002 to January, 2007, several of whom Gerald Stern was instrumental in drawing to the program, included Maxine Kumin, Anne Waldman, Jeff Friedman, Paula Mclain, Ross Gay, Carol Frost, Michael Waters, Ira Sadoff, Jane Mead, Joan Larkin, Judith Vollmer, Judith Hall, Ilya Kaminski, Marilyn Nelson, Frank Reeve, D.A. Powell, Jennifer Clarvoe, Cecelia Walloch and Jan Heller Levi.
In the spring of 2006 the program was evaluated for the second time by the New Hampshire Post Secondary Education Commission. Flournoy Holland, a spokesperson for the commission and faculty member at University of Massachusetts MFA program, wrote the following: “I was part of the team in 2002 that reviewed the New England College low-residency MFA in its formative stages. I came away from our visit five years later with a general impression of excellence that exceeded my expectations, not because, in 2002, the prospects for the program were dim, but because the vision, design, and achievements of the program outshine and deepen my sense of what a low-residency MFA—south or north, new or old—might rightly encompass. The rigor and thoroughness of the curriculum; the spirit in which faculty and students engage with one another; the stature and range of the faculty—these are all exemplary. It is mighty and near-magical work to have achieved so much in so little time. This is truly a program to be proud of, and to support in every possible way.” This assessment involved close scrutiny of every aspect of the program and involved both faculty and students in its evaluation process.
In March of 2007, Chard deNiord was succeeded by Anne Marie Macari as interim program director for a year while New England College conducted a national search for a new program director. In 2008 poet James Harms was hired to fill this position. James Harms revitalized the program, reinventing its relationship to poetry itself. During his four years as director, and working in harmony with Jacqueline Gens, he expanded course offerings to give students the opportunity to study translation, performance, new media poetry and poetics, and critical writing. While honoring the new, the program maintains its strong connection to poetry’s origins. The New England College MFA Program in Poetry has become a place where tradition meets innovation, a community that emphasizes cooperation and support. The poetry faculty represents the program’s new philosophy—poetry as possibility—and includes Brian Henry, Ilya Kaminsky, Carol Frost, Malena Morling, Eleni Sikelianos, Tara Rebele, and Anne Waldman. In July, 2012 James Harms was succeeded by poet Carol Frost as the new Director.