Cassandra Caverhill completes creative writing MFA with winning poem
'Pandemic Haircuts’ poem captures ups and downs of COVID-19 year and life events
By Julie Carle
Cassandra Caverhill knows how to pack a lot into her poetry. She likes to write about families, their traditions and their dynamics. She delves into the past, present and future, and she addresses heavy topics like mental and physical health and natural disasters.
Caverhill, a May 2021 Master of Fine Arts in creative writing graduate, was recently named a winner of the Intro Journals Project by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs for her poem “Pandemic Haircuts.”
The poem was written as part of her creative writing master’s thesis and submitted to the competition through the Bowling Green State University creative writing program. The literary competition discovers and publishes the best new works by students enrolled in association member programs.
According to Caverhill, “the piece is about love, loss and preservation in the time of coronavirus.”
Using her signature narrative style, the poem is about more than a haircut during the pandemic. Her words elicit images, real physical responses and gut-wrenching emotions. Her thesis centered around narratives and “how we process difficult situations like the pandemic,” she said.
Caverhill’s poem will be published in the spring edition of Reed Magazine, San José State University’s literary journal and California’s oldest literary magazine.
The Windsor, Ontario, Canada, native found her way to the BGSU creative writing program thanks to her husband, Michael Bradley, who was familiar with campus and the program.
After graduating from the University of Windsor with a dual degree in communication studies (with a focus in radio) and drama, Caverhill wrote about the arts and music for magazines and CBC radio in Windsor.
“I was trying to have this overlap between my love of music and my love of writing. I always wanted to do the creative work when I was pursuing those other areas, but I just didn’t have the courage to do it and didn’t necessarily feel like I had anything to say,” Caverhill said.
Bradley saw something in her writing and encouraged her to take the next step
“He made me feel like there was something there, and I started working with some local writing groups in Ann Arbor and studying under a poet named Zilka Joseph, who's my mentor,” she said.
While she started to write poetry and creatively at the age of 31, which is a later start than many people, she wasn’t deterred from trying. In addition to working with her writing mentor, she also was determined to find a creative writing MFA program that would help her grow as a writer.
“I decided if writing poetry is something that I’m really interested in, I need to learn more about how to write poetry because there are so many things to learn. I just felt like if I was going to dedicate myself to writing that an MFA program was the avenue to pursue."
Inspired by Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way,” Caverhill said, “It was kind of like it’s now or never.
“The book talked about being a blocked artist and how not doing the work is actually harder than doing the work. It truly changed my perspective.”
BGSU was the only MFA program she applied to. She and Bradley had walked around the campus and liked the feel of it. “It was very similar to my undergraduate experience – something smaller, more community-focused – so that was really appealing to me.”
She also liked that the program draws students from across the country with different backgrounds, different life experiences. Students have the option of focusing on poetry or fiction.
“You could come into the program and bring your own experiences into your work.”
She admitted the program was more challenging than she expected.
“It was it was a bigger change of pace than I anticipated, and I had been out of school for over 10 years. I was worried if I should actually be here, because you always hear students talking about imposter syndrome,” Caverhill said. “But then you find your bearings and have the opportunity especially during the studio semester to test new work.”
She was able to experiment with found poetry and erasure poetry, which she admitted she never would have tried before. “Even when I tried them, I thought, ‘I have no business doing this,’ but the response from my colleagues was really surprising. That’s kind of been a delightful area of discovery.”
Caverhill also has enjoyed teaching undergraduate creative writing students.
“I’ve loved the community I’ve been able to create with my students. The last class, especially, it was really uplifting to see how dedicated they were to trying poetry and learning how to be better writers.”
In teaching The Craft of Poetry, she also discovered how much she had learned to be able to teach and explain poetic terminology.
“There’s a phrase that ‘you don’t necessarily know something until you teach it.’ I’m not saying that I know everything like the back of my hand, but I know I’ve walked away with more knowledge from this program than I realized.”
Teaching has also given her the idea of becoming a tutor for a literacy organization as a tribute to her grandmother who was an Italian immigrant and did not get the opportunity to go to school.
“All her life she didn’t have a lot of reading and writing skills in English. She got involved in a literacy program and grew by leaps and bounds. Seeing that as a child was really formative, and I want to be able to help other folks like that,” she said.
She also hopes to return as a volunteer with a prison books program that collects used books for prisoners across Michigan.
With the MFA in hand, Caverhill is stronger and more assured of her writing skills. She will continue writing and restart her freelance editing business.
“I don’t think my writing could have changed the way it has had it not been for this program,” Caverhill said.
To learn more about Caverhill’s business and her writing, visit her website.