Nina Mingya Powles (Writing for the Page, 2015)
The MA gave me a writing community for the first time in my life. I began to feel part of a lineage of Aotearoa writers.
Nina writes: 'My MA year was an incredibly enriching year of reading as much as it was a year of writing. At first I had been apprehensive about the "reading journal" component of the course, but soon I understood the importance of reading broadly and reading critically. At that time, my knowledge of Aotearoa New Zealand poetry was elementary at best; that year I devoured the collection of poetry books and magazines in the IIML's small but ever-growing library. The reading journal, and our reading journal workshops, became places where I challenged myself, learned to take risks, and stepped outside my comfort zone.
'Many students find group feedback the most nerve-wracking part of being in a writing workshop, but at the IIML, you and your classmates and your convenor form a safe space to share valuable feedback and critique. It wasn't always easy, but I learnt how to distance myself from my work, and how to decide which readers' feedback you value and which readers you don't. This is a crucial skill to develop as a writer, because you can't always write for everyone.
'I've since learned it's rare for there to be writers working on multiple different genres together in a workshop. My group was made up of not just poets but memoirists, nature writers and essayists. As a poet, it's wonderful (and maybe even essential) to have your drafts read by a non-poet! This jumble of genres also encouraged me to experiment with more prose in my own writing.
'I was able to enrol in the MA with the help of a fees scholarship from Victoria University. I also worked part-time two days a week during the course, but because I found the reading journal and weekly critique workload so intensive, I eventually cut that down to one day. But everyone is different. Some of my classmates worked at least half the week, and also were able to balance childcare alongside their studies.
'Above all, the MA gave me a writing community for the first time in my life. My classmates introduced me to poets and essayists whose work has gone on to influence me hugely. We also supported and guided each other through the anxiety of workshop feedback, and we held each other accountable in the lead-up to the end-of-year submission date. During that year I began to feel, for the first time, part of a lineage of Aotearoa writers.'
Bio: Nina Mingya Powles is a poet and zinemaker from Wellington. She is the author of several poetry chapbooks including Luminescent (2017) and a food memoir, Tiny Moons (2020). Her latest poetry collection Magnolia, 木蘭will be published by Seraph Press this year. In 2019 she founded the small poetry press Bitter Melon. She lives in London, and is working on a book of essays about bodies of water, swimming, memory, and being mixed-race.