It may be the middle of summer, but for the devoted writing students of Wilkes University’s MA and MFA programs this week marks the start of a very busy term. Kait Burrier is one of the newest editions to the Wilkes community and she was pleased to share her initial experiences with the program and discuss what she looks forward to in her first full term. Welcome Kait!
I’m from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, but I applied to programs all over America and abroad. I knew I wanted a terminal degree from a multi-dimensional creative writing program and that I wanted to practice poetry, drama, and possibly translation. Once accepted to Wilkes, I scheduled a meeting with the director and told her my goals within the program. Dr. Culver gave examples of alumni who graduated with project ideas similar to mine, and the faculty members who mentored them. The pool of faculty is impressive, and the low-residency aspect provides the benefit of a cross-national community within the program. This nationwide network of support is an excellent resource; Dr. Culver ensured me that no matter the project, there is no exhaustion of the intellectual resources within the expansive Wilkes community. That commitment and community is why I chose Wilkes.
I had no idea what to expect from a low-residency program; what I discovered was a supportive, vibrant community of writers who are all in different stages of the writer’s life. Between the faculty, my peers, and the program’s resources, I was more impressed each day of the residency.
Did anything surprise you during the first residency?
I was initially surprised by the diversity of the group—I’m one of a small few in the cohort who finished undergrad in the past year, so the other 15+ students are at completely different stages in life. There’s definitely a plurality to writers that allows for multitasking, whether we’re juggling the craft with a career, a family, etc. My cohort has a rich resource in diversity of voice and experience; we have a lot to offer one another.
So, now that you’re about to head into your first-year Foundations courses, what do you hope to accomplish through the Wilkes writing program? In which genres will you work and what might you work on?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m working on poetry and playwriting. Poetry and drama complement one another. I plan to apply lessons from one class to the genre of the other, hopefully finding a happy hybrid. I’m interested in translation, both in the linguistic sense and in the traditional sense of changing a piece’s form in order to communicate an idea through a new lens or to a different audience. I’ll be experimenting with cross-genre “translation.”
You attended the Pittsburgh Poets Playshop last summer. What was your experience? How has the workshop contributed to your writing?
The Pittsburgh Poets Playshop influenced my philosophy on writing, mostly in its contribution to how I generate material. The moderators, Crystal Tzara and Renee Alberts, drew from the spontaneous methods of Surrealist and Dadaist poetry. There’s an emphasis in playshop; we’d play with words, teasing and prodding at the word choice and phrasing, until a line would suddenly bite back at us as poetry. Language was broken down and reconsidered in found-word and cut-up poetry. Narrative was left to chance in games like the Exquisite Corpse. There was no room for ego or insecurity in the impromptu, exploratory Playshop, and we’d share our work in person and online. A sense of community developed in the same way as it has in my Wilkes cohort, though on a smaller scale, through our writing exercises in person and online.
You’ve also held some artistically interesting jobs. What was your favorite aspect of working with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History?
Working at the CMNH was fantastic. I was an assistant in the education department, so I held a few regular positions: monitoring the interactive Discovery Room, assisting docents and teachers during lively Overnight Adventures, and researching for and developing other departmental projects.
I especially enjoyed providing literary dramaturgy and playwriting for the Science Onstage program, which provides on-site educational theatre to students in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. I had the privilege of working in a creatively stimulating environment where the change of an exhibit meant a new project. The Carnegie Institute—which houses two museums, a library, and a music hall—is bursting with creative energy.
What are your plans for the rest of the summer? Do you have any plays or writing projects in the works?
I’m staying local this summer and focusing on workshops, poetry readings and performances in the Scranton area. I have a seated reading scheduled for a ten-minute play in late August. Also, I recently performed with a dance theatre company, Ellen Doyle Dance Experience. That has me revisiting past movement pieces in the context of current scripts, and vice verse, reconsidering the elements of the dialogue and action in each composition.
I’m enjoying my subscription to Poets & Writers magazine via Kindle. I value their contests section, which typically leads me to most of the journals where I submit poetry.
Let’s see; I typically enjoy nonfiction. Food always creeps into my poetry—it’s so inspiring and offers luscious metaphor—so I’ve been poring over some cookbooks I recently inherited, for inspiration. My theater read du jour is Ghostlight: An Introductory Handbook for Dramaturgy by Dr. Michael M. Chemers. I recently finished Kaylie Jones’s striking memoir, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, which I picked up during the past residency. Jones’s incisive voice guides the reader through the piercing content with wit and grace.
Think about the sessions from the June residency. Any lasting impressions you’d like to leave us with today?
I’ve been reminded to constantly challenge myself, because even if it seems I cannot reach my goal on my own, I now have the Wilkes community to encourage and support my efforts.
Thanks to Kait Burrier for taking the time to chat with us!