In the Mason BFA program, what genre did you concentrate in and why?
I was open regarding concentration. I thought that I might have more success pursuing a career as a writer if I concentrated on either fiction or non-fiction rather than poetry. In the end however, it all came out in lines. Hopelessly, I am a poet. The great thing about the BFA program at GMU is that it provides students the opportunity to dabble in all of the CW concentrations before making a steadfast decision on one. Similarly, my professors strongly encouraged exploring cross-genre integration in one's writing, including offering classes that focused on cross-genre writing.
I love and write poetry because it is my mother tongue. In our lives as humans, it is important to reach and be reached. With this in mind, I speak my language as best I can, taught ever by those who spoke it before me, and I reach out for others in the universe. Now more than ever, I feel that poetry is the pocket of air trapped in our overturned boat, the language that fills our lungs and keeps us treading on, searching for fellow survivors.
How did the BFA program help you develop your craft?
During my time at GMU, I learned what craft was. I learned the value of studying the craft of others in an effort to better my own. My poetry professors taught me to read closely, deeply, and in fact quite painstakingly, in order to understand how a poet's use of craft influences the reader's experience with the poem. The betterment of my own craft happened outside of my consciousness and I think really came from studying and being effected by the poetry of other's.
What are you up to now? How did the BFA help you get there?
Now, I attend the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College where I am working toward obtaining my MFA and curating a manuscript that will hopefully become a first book. I accredit my experience in the BFA program at GMU as the main reason that I am where I am today. My writing grew during the time I was there. I grew. And when I came out on the other side not only was I prepared for a rigorous grad school program, I was more assured than I had ever been that I loved and wanted to study poetry.
So far, at Warren Wilson, I've worked with the poets Daisy Fried, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and Kaveh Akbar.
I just finished an intense study of C.D. Wright's Deepstep Come Shining. It is my favorite book so far in life and I highly recommend it. Since then, I have been taking kind of a deep dive into gay girl poets throughout history. Firstly, this is because I have to teach a class at WW before I graduate. Secondly though, I feel undeservedly privileged to live in a time and country where I can be a gay girl poet and say it and write about it and do it under my own name. A lot of people didn't and I want to get to know their work and lives. I just finished up Elizabeth Bishop's Complete Works and now I'm getting into Audre Lorde.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about your time in the BFA?
Hang on to your friends from the BFA! They will become some of your best readers and editors.
Whitney Olson, BFA '18, is currently an MFA student at Warren Wilson College. Her poem "Where Are You, Jesus" is published in Limp Wrist Magazine, selected by Dorianne Laux as honorable mention for the 2021 Glitter Bomb Awards. She has another poem forthcoming for publication in Rattle Magazine #74 in December. She lives in Philadelphia, PA with her wife and dog and works as an Occupational Therapy Assistant during the day and a poet the rest of the time.