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Caitlin Doyle says she "fell under the spell of language" at an early age.
“Poems seemed truly alive to me, glittering with an otherworldly magic, and from then on that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do," she says.
As a first-generation college graduate, Doyle recently earned a PhD in English literature and creative writing through UC’s Department of English and Comparative Literature and is being honored with UC’s 2019 Presidential Medal of Graduate Student Excellence. Two graduate medals were awarded this year. The other awardee is Courtney Giannini, who is receiving a doctoral degree from the medical science program in UC’s College of Medicine.
The award is presented each year to only a few graduate students who exemplify the university’s ideals of scholarship, leadership, character and service as outlined in UC’s strategic direction, Next Lives Here.
Doyle's work has been described by former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser as “haunting and memorable poetry about the familiar and the strange.”
As she prepared to graduate, she recalled how poetry and literature have shaped her dreams, education and visions for her future.
“Because of the opportunities for artistic innovation and intellectual independence that I’ve encountered at UC, I’ve developed a broadened sense of possibility for my ongoing journey as a writer, educator, scholar and editor,” Doyle says.
Doyle has also been recognized for her doctoral work with a $15,000 P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization) Scholar Award, which is granted to 100 women doctoral students in the United States and Canada each year and are “chosen for their exceptional level of academic achievement and their potential for having a significant impact on society.”
As a result of the P.E.O. honor, Doyle earned the additional distinction of being named the 2018-19 Presidential Endowed Scholar, an award they say is “reserved for our finest scholars.”
She achieved her bachelor of arts degree at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and earned a master’s degree in poetry at Boston University.
Doyle says she chose UC because the Department of English and Comparative Literature possesses such an excellent reputation as the home of one of the country’s top doctoral programs.
“Before applying, I already knew via word of mouth about the number of thriving and excellent poets who graduated from UC’s program,” she adds.
During her time as a George Elliston Fellow in Poetry in UC’s Department of English and Comparative Literature, Doyle’s poems, essays and reviews have been published in a wide array of journals and anthologies, both in the U.S. and abroad. And she was featured in the PBS “NewsHour” Online Poetry Series in 2016.
In addition, Doyle won the 2017 Frost Farm Poetry Prize and received a residency fellowship at the Yaddo Colony in Saratoga Springs, among numerous other awards, fellowships and honors.
Doyle took advantage of UC’s many scholarly opportunities to rise to the top as an accomplished poet. As a result, she has received several prizes and fellowships within the UC Department of English and Comparative Literature and was the recipient of the university’s Exemplary Scholarship Award in the Arts & Humanities, the Excellence Award for Exemplary Service in Arts & Humanities and the university-wide Excellence in Teaching Award at the doctoral level.
An especially poignant moment in Doyle’s doctoral career was being commissioned by Grammy-nominated composer Anna Clyne to write lyrics for a program featuring the nationally acclaimed Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The concert, titled “Silent Voices: If You Listen,” took place at the National Sawdust theatre in Brooklyn, New York, in late April 2018.
An earlier interview on Cincinnati’s WVXU radio
During the interview, Doyle read three of her poems, discussing with the show’s host her early influences as a poet, the relationship between form and content in language and her poem-making process. Listen here
As a campus leader, Doyle served as the vice president of UC’s English Graduate Organization and worked as a composition program mentor for incoming graduate-level teaching assistants. She has also invested her time in a number of independent community service activities. She taught a poetry master class for disadvantaged kids through UC’s African American Cultural and Resource Center, led poetry workshops for teenagers at multiple branches of the Cincinnati Public Library and served as one of the founding members of the Ohio chapter of the Irish American Writers and Artists Organization.
Doyle also served as an associate editor of “The Cincinnati Review,” a renowned literary magazine located on UC’s campus.
Doyle credits her family and upbringing as the catalyst for her love of language. From the age of seven, growing up on Long Island, New York, Doyle always knew she wanted to be a poet. After reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Illustrated Poems for Children,” she became obsessed.
Doyle also absorbed a reverence for language from her parents, in particular from her father, who emigrated from Ireland to America in his early twenties. Poetry played a central role in his schooling as a child in Dublin, and he knew many poems by heart, which he would often quote and recite while Doyle was growing up.
“When my dad was a boy in Ireland, poetry played a significant role in the education system,” says Doyle. “Poetry was also part of the regular social parlance. His stories about people delivering poems from heart at parties, events and gatherings made a vivid impression on me when I was a kid. I envisioned poetry as something that lived beyond the page, a form of language that vibrated with the energies of everyday life.”
“Robert Graves once remarked that in a good poem, the letters on the page stand out in relief,” says John Drury, UC English professor. “That applies to Caitlin’s richly detailed, deeply layered poems. Her poetry is full of verbal music, imaginative turns, and surprising insights.
“A good example is ‘Wish,’ which appeared on a widely read national website, ‘Poetry Daily,’ after its publication in ‘The Yale Review.’ Here are the first six lines:
I told him I needed time — he gave me a cuckoo clock
(I couldn’t work the winding key)
I told him I needed space — he gave me a telescope
(or make the moon look back at me)
“This marvelous poem, which sounds both simple and mysterious, like a nursery rhyme or folk tale, is actually a disguised sonnet. It demonstrates how to follow a poetic tradition and still be an innovator.”
With her doctoral degree, Doyle plans to teach poetry at the university level while continuing to publish poetry, literary criticism, reviews and essays.
“Above all, through my interactions with peers and mentors at UC, I’ve gained a deeper understanding for how devoting one’s life to language can help shape a world in which words act as conduits, rather than barriers, between human beings,” says Doyle.
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Featured image at top: Caitlin Doyle, new PhD from UC's Department of English and Comparative Literature, stands near the Mick and Mack lions in front of UC's McMicken Hall. photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative Services