Those of you who follow the Miramichi Reader may be familiar with Kayla Geitzler’s series of articles on being a writer. If not, look them up. Each piece deals with different aspects of writing, is honest, to the point and contains valuable information about the process. Often, she shares her own experiences in these articles. Today, I’m happy to share some of her personal stories with you.
When Kayla Geitzler was just two years old her mother taught her to read. This gift opened the doors to countless worlds and the unique cultures contained in books. By age five she was inspired to be a writer and announced this goal to her family. “My Dad said, ‘Oh dear God!’ But my grandmother said, ‘Don’t worry, Charles. She’ll be the next Lucy Maud Montgomery.’ And she went right out and bought me all of her books.”
Yes, Kayla became a writer. Not the next Lucy Maud Montgomery but an award-winning author in her own right with her own voice and style. She is published nationally and internationally. Years of determination, perseverance and persistence contribute to her current success, her belief in her unique voice supported her on this journey.
Kayla’s school years don’t contain happy A-student stories with friends and family lauding every achievement. “At home, most messages to me were about how stupid and ugly I was and that no one would ever love me. At school, there was always a teacher who reinforced the idea that I wouldn’t achieve much in life, as I often daydreamed or wrote poems in class. My peers took a lot of joy in bullying me, pointing out the most obvious: I didn’t fit in, I was ‘weird’. At that time, I believed that great expectations were for kids who excelled at sports and did well in every subject. So, I wasn’t motivated to achieve much academically. At sixteen, I was already independent. I was working 40 hours a week as a supervisor at a fast-food restaurant. Sometimes when I skipped school, I went to work. The manager and the cook got used to my random appearances during the lunch rush or starting my shift early.
“All this translated into a life I had already failed. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I knew that my dysfunctional home environments had already shaped my future and I didn’t think it would be a very happy one. I felt pressured to live up to an ideal middle-class life, to prove that I could be ‘normal’, that I could achieve conventional markers of success even though those weren’t the things I wanted for myself. I was strongly discouraged from becoming a writer, but it didn’t stop me from imagining poetry and story. I still spent most of my spare time reading and writing.”
Books were her friends, comforters and educators. “Lucy Maud’s Anne books are not my favourites, but I think they gave me a lot of encouragement to be myself and for making me into a writer. I actually preferred the Emily series. When I was thirteen, I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It is one of my favourites and I re-read it every year.” Literature by writers from other cultures resonated with her. “I come from a family of world travellers and I grew up reading National Geographic Magazine, so I’ve been reading about world cultures for most of my life. As I grew older, I didn’t find myself in a lot of the books that I was reading or in the TV shows that I was watching; shows with kids from privileged backgrounds and really stable home lives. When I read The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid and The Lover by Marguerite Duras, they resounded in me. There was more life in those pages, more honesty. Nothing was being hidden, nothing was tucked away behind nice language even though their writing styles were beautiful.
“There are almost always parallels between cultures. When there aren’t any, it’s really exciting to me, because you have to stretch your mind, to know something from a completely different viewpoint. You are a stranger within those pages. You have no markers. You have to just go along and absorb the story that’s being told to you.
“Some of my favourite poets are Forough Farrokhzad, Pablo Neruda, Anne Simpson, Layli Long Soldier, Alden Nowlan, Safia Elhillo, Kim Hyesoon, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Jake Skeets. I also love to read Sei Shonagon, Helen Oyeyemi, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jeanette Winterson, Ocean Vuong and while he’s less than politically correct, I enjoy Hunter S. Thompson.
“One of my favourite authors is Tanith Lee, who wrote fantasy and sci-fi. Prolific, she wrote over 70 novels and 300 short stories. She had her own unique prose style and endless imagination that built striking worlds. She often pulled from Greek mythology or other classical references such as the Scheherazade or the Brothers Grimm, so these fantastically conceptualized retellings were fascinating to me. I believe the most valuable thing I learned from Tanith was the power of our true voice and our unique ideas. Even Einstein said that imagination was critical. I wish I could have met her. She died of breast cancer in 2016.”
In high school, only a few teachers recognized her talent, intelligence and potential. “Mr. Mitten was a great English teacher. I didn’t often hand in my assignments and he used to get annoyed, often telling me I should be leading the class. When we did Haiku, he was really impressed with mine. He told me I could write professionally. Had I thought of that? Not seriously until that moment. After that, he handed back all my poetry and made me rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, saying, ‘You can do better.’ He had a Master’s in English and he talked about what he learned and how that knowledge broadened his life. He used to keep me after school sometimes and read Chaucer to me. How many teachers keep a kid after class to read them Middle English?”
After graduation, Kayla decided to work for several years before enrolling at UNB. Kayla worked on cruise ships as a duty-free sales associate for Starboard Cruise Inc. They held the duty-free gift shop contract with Carnival Corporation at that time. Her experiences on the ships inspired her first poetry collection That Light Feeling Under Your Feet.
On return, she enrolled as a mature student at UNB. “During the third year of my undergrad, I won the Angela Ludan Levine Award for my poetry. To receive it, I was invited to the Dean’s List Supper. When the MC asked us to stand up and receive applause for our academic achievements−making the Dean’s list requires a 4.0 GPA−I remained seated and this confused my peers. I hadn’t made the list, I’d won an award for my poetry. I got some weird looks from them. Mary Rimmer, the Chair of the English Department, struck up a conversation with me and said, ‘Come to my office Wednesday morning.’ I had no idea why and I didn’t dare say no.
“That morning in her office, she pushed some paperwork across the desk and told me to sign. ‘What am I signing?’ I asked and she pointed to the paper and said,’ Just sign.’ So I did. Dr. Rimmer told me she had pulled my transcripts and she thought I was bored. ‘Welcome to Honours,” she said and explained how the courses worked. Dr. Rimmer was right. I worked hard to prove I deserved my place in that program and despite also working full-time, I graduated from my BA with the distinction of First Class Honours.’”
Upon entering her MA in English Creative Writing, her poetry professor and mentor Ross Leckie observed that she was not only a natural writer but a natural editor. Kayla enjoyed that process and felt this is where she wanted to direct her career. While finishing her Masters and a Diploma of University Teaching, she was also working two part-time jobs—as a grammar instructor at UNB and for Aitkens Pewter in Fredericton, her favourite retail job—while writing her thesis, the first draft of That Light Feeling Under Your Feet. Masters completed, Ross asked if she was going to write full time. “As much as I want to,” she said, “I have to be realistic about paying down my student debt.” And like many, travelled west for work where she gained invaluable technical editing and writing experience. Poetry is just one of her amazing writing abilities.
In Calgary, she worked at TERA Environmental Consultants as a technical editor on Canada’s largest pipeline projects. “Like my team members, I did copy editing for all documentation. Everything was formatted to TERA’S in-house style. I liked the long reports—Air, Water, and Soil reports each took an average of five days to read through, format and verify Act citations. Archaeology, First Nations Engagement reports, Wetland, Fish and Wildlife reports took me about three days. I often had to break from these to work on urgent client letters. One project was six months of seventeen-hour days with eight hours on the weekend. I went to work and came home in the dark.
“I worked with an amazing group of really accomplished and kind individuals. I learned a lot from them. We were very supportive of each other and had a lot of fun. They were never angry when I arrived late to work, received too many personal calls or became frustrated easily and cursed in my cubicle. I felt immature and incapable, but I think they suspected that my ex-husband was mistreating me. They were only concerned.” Hard work certainly, but in this position and the next, she gained invaluable environmental knowledge and honed her editing skills all of which she brings to her readers and clients.
After two years in Calgary, she moved to Denver, Colorado, a challenging time for her because she was struggling in an abusive relationship. Used to writing poetry freely, during that period, Kayla was only able to write one poem. Recently, she recounted some of her trauma in her poem “The Spiders” based on a particularly dangerous point in her former marriage. It is published in the American literary magazine Matter.
Separated from her husband, she returned home to Moncton, where she rewrote her manuscript That Light Feeling Under Your Feet. Her encounters with passengers and staff show strongly in this collection of poetry based on her experiences working as a “Shoppie” or gift shop employee on three cruise ships. At times the poems are chilling and sad and run the gamut of emotions. This book won the WFNB Bailey Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript, was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry and the Fiddlehead Poetry Prize. Once published, it became a Calgary Bestseller.
Poetry in Voice says this about her work. “Kayla’s poetry examines human relationships and the natural and spiritual worlds, using powerful language and styles that often echo traditional writings of her heritage. All Lit Up has named Kayla a “Rad Woman of Canadian Poetry.”
Next, she spent two years at NAV Canada as the Moncton Region’s sole Instructional Design Support. “I was working on national and regional (YQM) projects, away at the NAV Centre in Cornwall, Ont. on average one week a month. I designed, wrote and revised courseware for Air Traffic Controllers, among other things. Most of my ATC colleagues were unsure of what exactly I was doing but they valued me. They knew I could write and format documentation. That I could translate their technical speech into everyday language. Despite my hard work, I knew there was always the possibility that my contract might not be renewed. By the time the inevitable happened, I had developed real confidence in myself because I’d had to work alone juggling huge projects and deadlines.
“The afternoon I lost my job, I went to Pointe Wolf in Fundy Park. ‘What am I going to do now?’ I thought. ‘OK, so I’ve decided to stay in New Brunswick. What does that mean for someone in my field? I’ll work on contract for the rest of my life, not get a pension. I can tolerate financial insecurity, but do I have any passion and enough stamina for that?
“I was floating on my back in the river looking up at the sky when I decided, Fuck it all. It’s time to do what I want to do! She received a year’s funding from the Westmorland CBDC and started her own writing business, Kayla Geitzler Editor & Writing Consultant in 2019.
First, though, she took a trip to the Philippines where she received a Kalinga tattoo from Fang-Od, a one-hundred-year-old mambatok woman, but that story is one for Kayla to tell.
In 2019, Kayla was honoured to become Moncton’s inaugural Anglophone Poet Laureate. Along with Jean-Philippe Raîche, the inaugural Francophone Poet Laureate, she was tasked with composing and presenting original poems during the Frye Festival and for council meetings and Moncton events. She is the host of the Attic Owl Reading Series and has co-created Poésie Moncton Poetry with Jean-Philippe Raîche and the Frye Festival, a project using video poems to archive poets of the Greater Moncton region. She contributes to Kayla Writes, a column for established and new writers in The Miramichi Reader.
Now that she is writing and consulting in her full-time business, not only does she bring her skills in assessing all writing from technical to fiction, she brings the knowledge and gifts of multicultural writers forward to her students in her ongoing masterclasses. They are intrigued by the different voices and perspectives. Participants range in experience from poets to fiction writers and visual artists, all with the goal of improving their work. Several students shared they felt a shift in perspective and vision and were pleased because after finishing their English degree the reading and writing of poetry was far from a goal.
According, to Steven Spears her classes are transforming. He writes poetry and short stories, mainly in the genres of paganism, horror, nature, fairy tales, among others. Pleased with the impact on his work as a result of the classes, he says, “Kayla has improved not only my writing but how I look at it as well. Through her, I have been able to see my writing in a new light and take it further than I thought it could go. My stories and poetry have improved 1000% since I have been working with her.”
Nancy King Schofield is a well-known visual artist and writer. Many of her paintings have been selected as cover art for several anthologies, most recently Cadence a multilingual collection of NB women’s poetry curated and edited by Kayla and Elizabeth Blanchard. “I have taken several Masterclass Courses under the direction of Kayla Geitzler, MA. As a teacher, she excels in every area. She presents a comprehensive study plan that coordinates the interests of participants in genres, cultures and literary forms and is able to bring out the best in everyone. I look forward to her next course offering.”
Elizabeth Blanchard recommends Kayla’s classes and editing skills to anyone who wishes to improve their writing. “Kayla’s classes and editing services have helped me sharpen my writing skills. She teaches you to look at your work with fresh eyes, challenges you to think more deeply about how your life experiences shape your voice, and the value of writing honestly to that voice. As a writing coach, her critique and feedback are constructive, on point, and always respectful of your intent and what you are trying to accomplish.”
Kayla believes authenticity is vital, “Write what you want to write. Your voice is unique and that’s why it’s important. Don’t let trends discourage you. And don’t listen to people who decide you aren’t a ‘real’ writer if you aren’t published, they’re wrong.”
In one of her articles in The Miramichi Reader, she stresses the importance of a supportive writers’ group.
“When you decide to form your own writing group, be brave! Reach out to a few people who love to write, who have integrity (integrity builds trust) and connect. Trust between members creates a safe space for constructive feedback on writing.” During university, she discovered how cruel some students could be in critiquing work and possibly didn’t know they “didn’t need to be an ass to give feedback.”
Her masterclass students attest that her classes and workshops are safe spaces; they feel free to respectfully comment on others’ work and listen to feedback on theirs.
The first book Kayla edited was Life a Gift Passed On: An Anthology of Elders’ Stories. It was nominated for a New Brunswick Book Award and has been distributed as far as Australia, the United States and western Canada. She loved the stories, particularly those from First Nation members. “When I accepted the project, I didn’t dare let on that Life a Gift Passed On was my first ever manuscript that I would be preparing for publication. But Judy’s sharp, so it didn’t take her long to figure that out. I was concerned about my lack of experience, but she was thrilled with my edits. She appreciated how I remained true to each elder’s voice and culture. I always feel that I owe a lot to my clients, that honouring each person’s voice and story is crucial. I will always be grateful that this legacy project was my first book.”
Shortly after, Kayla manifested a dream she had since high school.
The Story of Cadence.
“When I was 17 and supposed to be concentrating on my final high school math exam, I was daydreaming about creating an anthology of NB women poets in their mother tongues (English, French, Mi’kmaq, etc.). Regardless of the passage of time, the idea never left. Finally, in 2018, I approached Frog Hollow Press and the editor of the NB Chapbook Series at Frog Hollow Press accepted the idea. I began emailing NB cultural associations to ask if they had any female/female-identifying poets who might be interested in joining us. That’s how I met Dzung T. Dang, through the Vietnamese association. Dawn Arnold, the mayor of Moncton, put me in touch with Reem Fayyad Abdel Samad. I went to Elizabeth Blanchard to ask for her help with the Francophone poets. I was beyond thrilled when she accepted. Elizabeth is a phenomenal writer and as a black hat, there may be none better!”
For Elizabeth Blanchard, it was an excellent experience. “In the fall of 2018, we met on Main Street in Moncton at Café C’est la Vie, a coffee shop that also serves as the venue where Kayla hosts Moncton’s long-standing Attic Owl Reading Series every month. Sitting at a small table near the front window, she shared with me her vision of a poetry collection reflective of New Brunswick’s unique linguistic, social and cultural plurality as seen through the lens of its women poets. A short 18 months later, Cadence Voix féminines Female Voices was launched. Published by Victoria, B.C.’s prestigious Frog Hollow Press, the anthology celebrates the work of twenty-five New Brunswick women authors and translators of Mi’kmaq, English, Acadian, French, Vietnamese, German, and Lebanese heritage. “Cadence is but one of the many literary projects with which Kayla has been involved. A gifted and acclaimed poet laureate in her own right, she invests a lot of time and effort in working with writers, emerging as well as established, and in doing so, furthers the writing community as a whole. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her.”
On reflecting on her process and success, Kayla is proud that she achieved more than she could imagine in the writing field. She has worked tirelessly to rise above the low bar set for her. Most of all, Kayla has proven to herself that she can overcome the unfounded projections of others. Entrepreneurship presents many challenges, but she belongs to a network of strong women who support each other. “Look at all the amazing people in my life. I’ve got Judy and Nancy and Shannon, Elizabeth and Zina and Shoshanna, a great community and we can all be ourselves with each other, on the page and off.”
The following is a picture of Kayla’s grandmother and a poem in her honour: Dear Apple Blossom Queen of 1942
It won an honourable mention for the Great Blue Heron Contest and was published in The Antigonish Review. She wrote this poem for the grandmother who bought her the L.M. Montgomery books. “The poem is about her resistance to infirmity and the fire she always had. So I felt I had to give it the same sort of sass. I couldn’t write something pretty. She was a proud woman, hale but hindered. She had to be told to stop. I also wanted to show what’s handed down or remains through the stories she told me about herself when I was a child.”