S71 Contributor Interviews: Caroline Wilkinson

4 mins read

Wilkinson PhotoWhat is it about the genre or cross-genre you write in that interests you/draws you in?

I write in many genres, working to find the right one for the given material, which can take several tries. “Lyme Disease” probably found its shape as a poem because the experience it recounts comes out of Romantic poetry. In the first stanza, the speaker finds herself as a piece of food in a nineteenth-century ode.

Also, around the time I began writing this piece, I had been thinking of my correspondence with a poet, Amy King. The two of us were writing to each other about our experiences with illness, and after I recounted a prior bout of Lyme, she asked me if I was OK. (My symptoms had been rather dramatic.) I told her I was better. In fact, maybe my health was stronger as a result since I have taken extremely good care of myself in the wake of my illness. I, however, added that I would never recover in one way. “You will never fully convince me that what I saw during my fevers was not real.” The poem shows why.

How does this published piece fit in with the larger thematic concerns that you see in your overall work?

The body and land ownership are two reoccurring themes in my poetry and fiction. In “Lyme Disease,” the speaker lives on a historic estate and, when ill, becomes overwhelmed by that history. In other poems, I look at how economic rules governing property, such as redlining, affect human connection and speech.

Generally, I am interested in how people’s living situations shape their interior logic and alter their physical health. The plots of my fiction move forward through medical bills, rent, mortgage payments—factors that drive the plots of most Americans’ lives. I want to create work that connects to my observed world and to possible readers within it.

What are you influenced by?

For the past couple of years, I have wanted to create a lyric poem that makes a significant emotional shift within a short space in simple language. It has been an ambitious wish, given that I almost never write this sort of poem, which I see as being perfectly realized in Louise Gluck’s “Mock Orange.” I instead tend to write lines that move quickly through playful, dense language. This poem, though, was more of an answer to my wish. Its influence is the lyric at its most paired down.

What does your typical writing schedule look like? What aspects of working do you look forward to? What aspects frustrate you?

I am fairly methodical in my practice, writing around five hours a day. I always try to focus on poems and fiction that deeply interests me, finding that my own engagement shows through in the work. This strategy can lead to my primary frustration, which is getting overly engaged in a single moment, passage, scene. I have had to learn to sometime let the writing rest so that I can come back to it with a renewed vision.

For fun, if you could pick one meal that matches the piece we published, what would it be and why?

A clear broth right before the fever breaks.

CAROLINE WILKINSON’s poetry and fiction have appeared in many literary journals, including DIAGRAM, Drunken Boat, and Memorious. She won the A. David Schwartz Fiction Prize at Cream City Review. Having received her MFA at Washington University in Saint Louis, she is in the creative-writing Ph.D. program at University of Tennessee.