I first met Cathy Staples on my first day of class freshman year. As a current senior, I look back at our initial encounter with a smile, as I remember how full of joy she was with the prospect of sharing her expertise with all of us. Sitting in her kitchen four years later, I can’t help but reflect on the impact she has had on the way I read, write, and analyze literature and art. Her home smells like homemade applesauce and freshly brewed tea. When she isn’t leading freshman in the ACS class, sophomores in the Writing Seminar, or upperclassman in her annual poetry workshop, Cathy is creating works of art in the form of poetry, and her efforts in this field are the purpose of my visit. As I sit down with her, she explains her fascination with the written word, clarifying that she has always been captivated by words and inspired by images. She recalls that she first shared a piece of her work with her father when she was in 5th grade, and that he questioned its originality because he was so impressed by the sophistication of the poem’s language. As she continues, the words she uses in everyday language tend to mirror the musicality and cohesiveness of poetry – she is so articulate in sharing her experiences and is truly an artist with words, linking them together in unique and descriptive combinations.
Cathy points out that poets are analogous to magpies, in that, they collect inspiration from their surroundings – observations in the environment, emotions of relationships, and the work of admired mentors. In fact, poetic language creates an extraordinary picture of ordinary things. And what inspires Cathy in particular? Everything. As a horseback rider, she is able to immerse herself in the natural world and gather a working knowledge of the land. As an avid walker and dog-lover, she often travels through Valley Forge Park to take in the scenery, no matter the season. As a traveler, she is constantly exploring different cultures and ways of life. In each new adventure, Cathy uses a well-developed and unique lens that allows her to see the world through the eyes of a poet, keeping track of her reflections in a number of journals. But her motivation does not only come from the present. Cathy expounds upon the importance of the past, believing that the foundation of an individual’s psychology begins in childhood, and as a result she often taps into her memories for her poems.
Despite her seemingly limitless knowledge of the written and spoken word, Cathy is the first to acknowledge herself as a student of poetry. Before she begins writing, she dives into the work of those poets whom she admires, namely a wide array of Irish poets, and an American poet she recently had the pleasure of working with – Claudia Emerson. She analyzes the work of others, paying special attention to their metaphors, syntax, and rhymes, which she has subtly incorporated into a select number of her own poems. In her own words, poetry is an ‘active process,’ with no clear beginning or end. Further, it is also a process that is endless in terms of what can be learned. Cathy had the opportunity to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference this past summer, which describes its mission as helping “talented writers better understand their craft, learning from the best minds in the industry.” There she was mentored by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Claudia Emerson. She describes the experience as a life-changing two weeks of total isolation from the outside work that provided her the chance to direct all of her focus towards developing her poetry. The success of her time at the conference has encouraged her to continue to search out mentors to help her keep moving forward.
Cathy is a widely published poet, and you can find her works concentrated in two collections – a chapbook, entitled Never a Note Forfeit, which is the winner of the Keystone Chapbook Prize, and a full-length volume entitled The Rattling Window, which is winner of the McGovern Prize. Additional honors include the University of Pennsylvania's William Carlos Williams Award, the New England Poetry Club's Boyle/Farber Award, and the Southern Poetry Review's Guy Owen Prize. Her success is undeniable, and she has graciously chosen to share her poetic gifts with Villanova Honors students by hosting a Poetry Workshop each spring semester. For one weekend, she guides students though the work of master poets before bringing them to a local art museum, where students are asked to participate in short activities with the goal of finding inspiration in the paintings. With her strong but soft guidance, students are able to create beautiful works of poetry as they soak up Cathy’s knowledge of the craft. It is truly incredible how one word, or one aspect of a painting can trigger an outpouring of emotion and reflection. As students, we are able to learn firsthand that inspiration can be found in the most ordinary circumstances.
For more information about Cathy’s published work, future plans, and inspiration, you can visit her website: http://catherinestaples.com/
Written by Newsletter Co-Edior, Nina Rizk, LAS '14. Nina is receiving a degree in Comprehensive Science and Psychology, with a Concentration in Ethics of Healthcare and a Minor in Honors.