Kayla Gatalica is currently a junior at Case, majoring in English and International Studies. She has taken introductory, intermediate, and advanced poetry workshops and has earned significant recognition for her work: the 2008 Nemet Scholarship for Creative Writing; the 2007 Finley Foster Poetry Prize; the 2008 Emily M. Hills Poetry Prize; and the First Prize in Poetry from Case Reserve Review—spring & fall 2007. This past summer she worked as an intern at Autumn House Press in Pittsburgh, experience she is putting to use as the new Editor-in-Chief of Case Reserve Review.
To read one of Kayla’s poems is to engage with the competing pulls of desire and divestment. In her approach to language, she seems as interested in its sensuous materiality as she is in its peripheral silences. Offering shelters in and against time, transiting the borderlands of speech and wordlessness, her poems asks us to feel language in its active risks against failing, in its slips and attenuations. Like some of her favorite poets, Eliot, Whitman, and H.D., she calls us into a world of fractured experience, a world through which grace arrives in weird, luminous portions: “Naming the leaves, /I spill the cloudsky secrets/the shine of this.”
Felt my lungs shaking again,
the stilts of a great house holding
itself against a battery of wind.
My face salt-licked,
a horizon for hurricane tearings,
my eyes like two lighthouses—
I saw my self in a flash of sea,
driftwood versus tide,
swallowing water in bellyfuls,
my hands grappling with salt.
Why are there so many stones in your palms?
I held light in mine, I held
water the same color as my skin
until it slipped through
the breaks between my fingers.
Hands are like lips or doors that way—
how they hold just enough.
You had me, a bone in your dog of a mouth.
Bury me somewhere warm, Brother—
bury me with a blanket of dirt,
wehre some woman will plant yellow flowers.
I want those petal-roots.
I want them like sun or something else yellow.
And the grass will grow around me, each blade
a thing to push against, to uproot
like worms after rain, eating through the mud.
I’m not hungry, but you might visit.
WHAT IS PRUDENCE BUT THE PLACES NO ONE COULD REACH?
I stood on my head
to turn the world in its womb,
the lights downtown, a halo
of places I had not yet been.
While the traffic tapped on my window,
scuttled my ears
come out, come out, come.
road, stores, skyline. Eyelines,
everything as corners, light
I’m penciled in between,
two steps from petal,
a softness like lips.
A mouthful of shapelessness,
spit-out spattered on the pavement.
We mix in with the scuffed
pebbles, fragments of leaf.
Where is my place in that dirt, hapless scatter?
Let me tear my stems, the unswerving too-straight
stalks, green continuity.
A breath divides earth and underbelly.
Ask me why I do not turn
from the leaves, the rain
assaulting my cheeks.
ON AVOIDING DIRECT SUNLIGHT
I come into this green, earthen,
my mouth working loam,
feet peddling grass.
I soak up the playing rain,
tapping its curious fingers on my windows.
I grow up—
warding off storms, erosion.
And one day, I’ll wake up—
My face tilting to the light I would not see,
hands sinking in dirt,
knees bearing the imprint of ground.
Naming the leaves,
I spill the cloudsky secrets,
the shine of this.
Q&A with Kayla
You worked at Autumn House Publishers in Pittsburgh this summer, right? How did your role as reader of poetry manuscripts direct, and/or redirect your thinking about your own work?
I worked as a summer intern for Autumn House Press in Pittsburgh, PA (www.autumnhouse.org) under Michael Simms and Richard St. John. Reading and processing potential manuscripts for their annual poetry contest became a big part of my job. I screened a few hundred manuscripts, so I was exposed to many different kinds of poetry by aspiring and accomplished poets. In some ways, I think these hundreds of writers may turn out to be some of my best teachers. My work at AHP also opened my eyes to the publisher's side of the writing process (and business); I'll know more about what a publisher is looking for if/when I submit my own work for publication.
You just took over as Editor-in Chief of The Case Reserve Review, right? Can you talk about some of your goals in this context?
Currently, I am the Editor-in-Chief for the Case Reserve Review. I'm really excited about this position because I care about creativity, which is important for this publication promoting student poetry, prose, and photography. My first goal as editor was to compile a staff of students who, like me, value creativity and are dedicated to its backing at CWRU. Now we are working on raising campus awareness for the group and revamping the embarrassingly outdated website!
Outside of workshops, what courses at Case have influenced your poetry writing?
I took History of the English Language (ENGL 310) with Professor Todd Oakley in the spring of 2008. I think the course just made me more aware of the numerous influences at work in the English language. I've always tried to be attentive to the many levels on which a single word can operate, and knowing a bit more about the history of English provided me with an additional platform for exploring word significance and versatility.
Spanish is becoming an increasingly important influence on my own poetry. I enjoy poetry by Octavio Paz and Gabriel Garcia Lorca, and I am intrigued by translation's effect on a poem.
In his poem “Ars Poetica,” Archibald MacLeish gives us the modernist quip/credo: “A poem should not mean/But be.” What is your perspective on making and finding “meaning” in poems? Do you subscribe to Eliot’s claim that “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood”?
As a writer, I believe more in finding meaning than making it. Poetry is a process of asking questions and finding the answers. I do not know what I will write before I begin, so the concept of making my poems mean something is alien to me. As readers, however, I think we can make meaning in a poem. Every poem shares with its readers; what it shares, though, is different for everyone, depending on what each reader finds in and makes of the work.
Name three places for poetic inspiration on the Case campus (not including the bust of Hart Crane behind KSL).
Three places for poetic expression on the Case campus:
1) Wade Lagoon
2) Hessler Street at night
3) Algebra Teahouse
Name the least poetic place on campus:
I think everywhere can be a "poetic place," but I feel creatively dead when I'm by the fountain at Yost.
Name: Katie Steiner
I’m an English major because:
I like language;
I enjoy reading;
I enjoy discussion-based classes; the course offerings accommodate wide-ranging interests—I’ve taken everything from Shakespeare to linguistics to journalism to film; the skills you develop are immensely translatable—every profession needs good readers, clear speakers, critical thinkers, and effective writers.
What’s currently in the pile of books next to my bed: Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams, The Parthenon Frieze by Case’s own Jenifer Neils , How Good People Make Tough Choices by Rushworth Kidder , Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America by Eric Nuzum, and a heap of art museum catalogs accumulated from my travels abroad.
Favorite book ever: Usually whatever I happen to be reading at the moment, but To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath are high on my list.
Favorite play ever: Twelfth Night—bring on the yellow cross-gartered stockings!
First book I ever fell asleep reading: Thoreau’s Walden, although it did grow on me eventually.
Guilty pleasures: Anything by Jane Austen, Bridget Jones’s Diary (Jane Austen in disguise—v. v. amusing), The Hobbit —yes, I am officially a nerd.
Book/author I love that no one would expect: While I wouldn’t call it literature, I do enjoy reading the weekly columns by Steve Rushin and Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated—both are tremendously talented writers with interesting points-of-view.
Three writers I’d like to have a conversation with: I would need a time machine and a plane ticket to the UK , but here it goes: 1) Geoffrey Chaucer—we could speak Middle English together over a pint! 2) William Shakespeare—wouldn’t you like an answer to the “authorship question” once and for all? 3) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—I like stories, and he wrote some darn good ones.
First literature-connected memory: Attending story time as a young child at the Cuyahoga County Public Library branch in South Euclid . Children’s books count as literature, right?
Best place to read on Case campus: I am especially partial to the black leather chairs in Kelvin Smith Library, but you have to bring a sweater—it’s downright glacial in there. During the warmer months, Wade Lagoon makes a rather serene hang-out—just watch out for those pesky goose droppings!
Favorite music to write papers by: None! I don’t understand how people can write with music playing in the background—I’d go nuts.
Most influential class so far: Definitely Tom Bishop’s course on Shakespeare’s tragedies—this was one of the most stimulating and challenging classes I’ve taken at Case, and it truly solidified my decision to become an English major.
Best advice to new English majors: Get a copy of the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook—make citation your friend. If you don’t understand how to give credit where credit is due, don’t be shy to ask for help.
Treat writing as a process. Start with an idea. Mull it over. Refine it. Make notes. Draft and outline. Write the paper. Revise it. Give it to a friend to look over. Revise some more. Good papers take time—make sure you give yourself enough of it!
Name: Boris Dvorkin
I’m an English major because: I’m a computer science major, too, and I don’t think anyone can take nothing but CS classes for four years without losing a significant portion of their sanity.
What’s currently in the pile of books next to my bed: Programming Languages: Principles and Practice, by Kenneth Louden; Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World, by Donald Howard.
Favorite book ever: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Yeah, I know, it’s everyone’s favorite book ever (or at least it should be), but without it I never would have realized that literature can be zany and ridiculous and serious at the same time.
Book/author I love that no one would expect: Jane Austen. But not because of all that cheesy gooey romantic stuff! My interest in her books likes purely in their … uh … literary … meritoriousness.
Last book I recommended: The Planet on the Table, a collection of sci-fi stories by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’m not usually a big fan of either sci-fi or short stories, but there are some trippy tales in there.
Three writers I’d like to have a conversation with: Let’s go with three D’s: Douglas Adams, Dave Barry, and the Dude who wrote Beowulf.
First literature-connected memory: When I was three or four, my parents taught me to how to write all the letters. I was good at all of them except capital M, which I drew like a hammock slung between two poles. I didn’t understand that the middle needed to be two straight lines, and so I have this terrible recollection of sitting at the kitchen table, writing an M over and over again because my parents wouldn’t let me leave, frustrated and wondering WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH MY FREAKING M. This incident probably explains why I did not enjoy writing until about half way through high school.
Best place to read on Case campus: The computer lab in Olin 703 has an air conditioner whose hum is horrifically obnoxious under normal circumstances, but quite soothing when you’re reading something.
Favorite music to write papers by: “favorite” isn’t an issue here. If I listen to something with words, it distracts me. If I listen to classical music, it puts me to sleep. The only option, therefore, is jazz, but I really only put that on if my suitemate Kevin won’t quit his screeching whistling.
Most influential class so far: I’m going to cheat and put two. English 150 was so much fun that it convinced me to add an English major. And before I took English 300 (pre-1800 Brit lit), I believed that everything written more than twenty years ago was by default excruciating and odious.
Best advice to new English majors: Don’t listen to people who tell you not to use adverbs. Adverbs are incredibly awesome; same advice applies to semicolons.