Book Review: Shelter in Place by Catherine Kyle
“Shelter in place means selecting a small, interior room, with no or few windows, and taking refuge there. […] Bring your pets with you.” –Fact Sheet on Shelter-in-Place, American Red Cross
Shelter in Place by Catherine Kyle is a page-turning collection of poems that challenges the human experience within the context of technological evolution. Kyle begins the book with the above description from American Red Cross instructions about how to “shelter in place”.
The significance of sheltering in place
I grew up in an area of the United States affectionately termed “Tornado Alley”. Sheltering in place was something I learned as a child. We had tornado drills at school. We watched the “Wizard of Oz” for entertainment once a year. Disastrous weather nestled itself between the daffodils and tulips of Spring. At the crux of sheltering in place is something terrifying, it is the message that something lethal is headed your way and there is no where for you to escape. This is why we headed to basements and folded ourselves under classroom desks.
From Generation to Generation
“Humanity, the raft that everybody wants
to steer. For now, don’t worry babies; look—
aurora borealis. Take a load off, babies; look
at Ursa Major rise.”
–Dear Phantom Children, Catherine Kyle, Shelter in Place
Near the beginning of the collection it is this poem that tugs at my heart. It reminds me of our desire to protect children sometimes to their own detriment. We are wrapping them in cotton wool, trying to make a better life for them than we had and it is easy to forget that the world is their inheritance. Each generation hold within it the ability to pass along something rich and sustaining or to squander it away. With the advent of technologies, children are growing up understanding more realities about the spaces they inherit. News outlets are reporting issues with children dealing with depression over climate change, which is something that was unheard of prior to evolution of our media driven culture. There must be a balance between information and terror. Kyle’s poetry makes me wonder how we can achieve that.
Technology, Language, Communication and Schrödinger’s cat
“swallow your tongue. We don’t
have time to play counselor. Send us
“Face with Tears of Joy” and
we will send you ours.”
–Word Of The Year, Catherine Kyle, Shelter in Place
In 2015, for the first time ever, the Oxford Dictionaries chose an emoji for its “Word of the Year”. The emoji chosen was “Tears of Joy”. That year, I overheard heated conversations about emojis and language. Technology continues to change the way that we communicate. Kyle’s poetry asks us to consider whether these changes bring us closer together or pull us further apart.
As language evolves is our ability to communicate dying or thriving? Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or dead? We now live in a world where birthday cards have been replaced by birthday texts and sometimes only birthday emojis. Some would say that we’ve distanced ourselves. We also live in a world where I can have a meaningful relationship with a person I’ve never met in “real life” that lives in a different country, time zone and speaks a different language. When I send a birthday emoji, we both understand what I’m saying. Perhaps we are closer than we realize.
This Neighbourhood Sponsored by Domino’s Pizza
people are lovable,
–Personhood, Catherine Kyle, Shelter in Place
Potholes can be a serious and dangerous problem for drivers. Apparently, it’s an issue for pizza, too. Thankfully, Domino’s Pizza had a solution. In 2018 the chain launched a campaign called “Paving for Pizza” and showed up in select neighbourhoods to help fix roads. Local streets were littered with safety cones complete with the iconic blue and red advertising logos. The clever tagline on the truck read: “Bad Roads Shouldn’t Happen to Good Pizza”.
Kyle’s poem, Personhood, asks some pointed questions. In a world where everything seems to be sponsored by companies advertising goods and services, how do we define ourselves? My father shook his head at t-shirts with advertising logos on them. He would ask why people advertise for companies for free. I was a teenager of the late eighties and I’ll be honest, I just thought dad was being a drag.
It wasn’t until I started to see the young women in the corporate office I worked in decide to monogram their signature Louis Vuitton bags because they kept getting them mixed up that I started to understand how deeply ingrained branding was with identity. These women used their handbags as status symbols. They now had corporate careers.
And now your neighbourhood just might be brought to you by Domino’s Pizza. Who are we?
Living IRL (in real life)
“it’s a miracle our hands
can stop typing long enough
to interlace at dusk. The
Squeeze, some call it.”
–The Squeeze, Catherine Kyle, Shelter in Place
There used to be a clear distinction between what was real life and what wasn’t. I used to say “my online friends” back in the late nineties. Now, they’re just my friends. But the truth is, sometimes the lure of technology can pull us away from those physical, grounding moments “IRL”. In The Squeeze, images flood my mind from evenings out at restaurants and days in coffee shops. So many times, I have seen tables of people with their faces lit up— by the glow of small square screens. I make a conscious effort to put my phone down and turn it over (less temptation), when I’m having a face to face interaction with someone. I don’t say that to make me seem like I’m better than anyone else. In fact, I find it concerning that I have to make a concerted effort.
Catherine Kyle’s Shelter in Place is a collection that makes me re-examine the way I communicate and interact with the world. Throughout the collection she offers us the good, the bad and the ugly of our evolving digital world. Her powerful words demand a pause and serious consideration about the human condition and how we might navigate the future. Kyle asks us to consider the notion of “place” and “shelter” and how that changes for humanity as our world transforms.
About the Author
Catherine Kyle grew up in Seattle and currently lives in Boise. Her other collections include Coronations, Saint: A Post Dystopian Hagiography, Parallel, Gamer: A Role-Playing Poem, Flotsam and Feral Domesticity. Her writing has been honored by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, the Alexa Rose Foundation and other organisations. She is an assistant professor of English at the College of Western Idaho and also teaches for The Cabin. Her website is catherinebaileykyle.com.
About the Book
Shelter in Place by Catherine Kyle was published by Spuyten Duyvil and can be purchased via their website.