Spotlight On: Alumni, Caki Wilkinson ′00


Caki Wilkinson recently won the Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Contest for 2007. Her prize: publication of her poem “Bower Bird” in the magazine and a $1,000 award.  Wilkinson’s words are striking as she pairs images in an effortless, yet surprising way. Her description of the Bower Bird’s favorite human things reveals this unique flair, “milk caps or pairs/of pearly buttons once attached to tags; /matchsticks, cigar bands, red synthetic hairs/ uprooted from some coconut baboon or other Florabama souvenir/…/even the jagged moon/of a fingernail still dusty from the hoover.”

Wilkinson’s interest in animals--she treasures her cock-a-poo Lilah--both inspires her work and helps her to maintain perspective in the midst of her intense graduate program: “It’s an appropriate metaphor for the artistic process,” she says of observing and researching the habits of animals.  “It’s a cipher for human behavior as well – working with metaphors about people and academic environments and animals in cages,” she says with a laugh.  She manages to have fun with the research aspect of writing and still writes her first drafts with pen and paper, forgoing the blank computer screens so many of us face. 

In addition to writing, Wilkinson has a great passion for learning as well as teaching.  It is an interesting dynamic that she has been entertaining for the past few years: “Teaching is something that’s fun for me. It gives me energy.”  After graduating Rhodes in 2000, Wilkinson took a year off before going to Johns Hopkins University to study for her M.F.A. in poetry.  She was one of ten students in the program, which she valued immensely: “It was reminiscent of Rhodes in that you got to know and trust your professors.”  For her Ph.D, she decided on the University of Cincinnati because of its unique program which offers a doctorate in English with the option of writing a creative dissertation.  In fact, if she weren’t pursuing a doctorate, she’d most likely be teaching younger children in a city like Memphis or Cincinnati.

Wilkinson, who is fascinated by Marianne Moore and enamored of Elizabeth Bishop, has always known that she’d be a writer.  She advises aspiring writers to have patience and to take time after college to figure out what kind of writing they’re interested in.  “Go somewhere you’re comfortable,” she advises along with recommending that students apply to programs with writers they admire and respect – “It will make a huge difference.”  Wilkinson’s infectious energy and distinctive writing promise to make a lasting impression in the world of poetry as well.

Read Caki Wilkinson’s prize-winning poem in The Atlantic.