There Is No Time For Grief, Kyle Calls Readers to Action
Bitter and sombre, Catherine Kyle picks at the stitches around her readers’ faces. Reminding them with every flick of her nail that they are part of the animal kingdom too no matter how hard they try to separate themselves from it with face masks or smoothed canines. In her 2019 collection, Shelter in Place, she stresses that they are spinning in tandem with this boiling planet. A planet so riddled with disease even the thought of having children, those “…lavender genies or wisps of feathered incense…” seems selfish. Kyle studies this turmoil between humanity’s animal desires and ethics in “Dear Phantom Children”.
She goes on to bite at the incessant mantra of “…self-care on screens and screens and screens.” It is a band-aid over a slit throat. Her verses dig their fingers into the reader’s wound before closing in on the trachea like a vice. The message of her work is dire and the nausea of doom resurfaces with every turn of page. But Kyle is exquisite with her planning and delivery resulting in a text that never seems to repeat itself or dull its sharpened teeth.
The voice issuing stark truths of this world’s coming demise is not the shouting of a starry eyed revolutionary. It is a cynical voice from the trenches. “How do you combat / or reform something / of which you are / a part?” the wearied speaker asks in “Embedded”. ‘Tell us, just what / do we bring to a duel / when the whole room is made of swords?” It seems that her work was made for exactly this time even though it was released well before coronavirus had entered the public vocabulary.
“Shelter in Place” fits right into this age of quarantines that somehow only allows gyms and pools to remain open for high branches of government while their constituents lock themselves in to fight disease. The work bark with contemptuous laughter, “Congrats! Very little / will change.”
But Kyle is not some far off general throwing the emotions of her troops into the “…chomping chasm…” for the despair’s sake alone. She rather resembles the grisly sergeant who scares new readers into becoming fighting fit, to prepare them for the “Open war…Sulfur and strange fire…” because she loves them. As they make their way through her boot camp, being broken down in spirit and mind till they are reduced to the finest “…lullaby elegy power…,” she begins to give them strength and teaches them how to combat their “…friendly / neighborhood / corporate / overlords…”
By the time Kyle is done with them, the readers have been remolded. They have been taught that while “…the world is full of…real bastards…,” it is good, can be safe even, to peak out and let their “Shelter open just a crack, to let each other in -“. Shelter in Place is a work for our time. It is not an easy read on the soul, but it is an effective collection that will stir its readers to take action.
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