Assistant Professor of English
Rhodes College Class of ‘03
In 2003, Caki Wilkinson graduated from Rhodes with a degree in English. What she never dreamed was that almost 10 years later she would be back at Rhodes teaching poetry in the same classrooms where her professors mentored and inspired her. “It feels familiar and strange at the same time. But I’m super excited to be back and working with some people I know and students I don’t know, but really like,” she says.
After graduating from Rhodes, Wilkinson took a year off to get her bearings while working as a waitress in Brooklyn. She used this time to apply to graduate programs. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts from Johns Hopkins and, after another interim year, decided to pursue her PhD at the University of Cincinnati. After finishing her PhD, she spent last year at Sewanee, The University of the South, teaching poetry and organizing the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. But she says that “it’s nice to be back in Memphis.”
Wilkinson has always been a poet. Inspired by the works of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, she started writing poems at a young age. She chose Rhodes because of the creative writing aspect of the English program. And it wasn’t until she came to Rhodes that she started to see poetry as something more. “I started thinking that it was something that I could do. Not for a living, because being a poet is not something you can do for a living, but as something I could incorporate into doing what I wanted for a living, which was to teach and to teach poetry and poetry writing.”
And that’s exactly what she’s doing. Wilkinson teaches a variety of poetry classes. “It’s really wonderful. I’m reading things again that I haven’t read in a while and I’m just very inspired by the things we’re doing in my classes,” she says. With her new, more flexible schedule, she will have more time to work on her poetry. “I’m excited to see what kind of new stuff I’m able to do here. My day-to-day routine is very conducive to writing poems.”
Despite having time set aside for working on poetry every day, she says, “Usually poetry comes to me when I’m supposed to be doing something else. So if I’m on the plane and I’m supposed to be grading papers or reading a book, then all of a sudden I want to write a poem. Or if I’m somewhere and I don’t have a pen or paper to write something down, then poems come to me.”
One thing she always tells her students is that, “You can write a poem about anything.” She finds that students have a romantic idea of what you can write poems about. “I feel like I see a lot of students who come into my class for the first time and they think, ‘It’s poetry class, I have to write about flowers and butterflies.’ Write about things that you either know or want to know more about.”
Wilkinson does research on different topics to use as the basis for poems and also finds strangely un-poetic things to write about. “I think the things that interest me the most in poems are things that don’t seem poetic. Subjects that you wouldn’t think would be in a poem, I try to work that into a poem somehow.”
Storm and Stress
By Caki Wilkinson
That a spider web supports a bead of rain
is as significant
as rain’s resolve, poised where some spinneret
has pitched its threads aslant,
since, held or holding, each endures a strain—
one presses, one reacts.
Don’t ask me what it’s worth. Despite the facts
of matter’s favored states,
such concentration’s of no consequence
beyond this life, a net
tailored to break, too late for recompense
when weight evaporates.