Meet Katya Engalichev, PCA Student and Poet
When Katya Engalichev was an 8th grader at Oyster River, she got a piece of advice from her language arts teacher that proved foundational for the young author: “write for yourself!” This, coupled with Mr. Stephen Foley’s charge this year to “never write to impress, write to express,” elicited a new seriousness in the way Katya approached her craft. She began writing poetry with “increased frequency and really exploring the intricacies and beauty of the genre.” Katya credits Mrs. Linda Rief, her teacher at Oyster River, and Mr. Foley, Upper School Dean of Men and English teacher at PCA, with keeping her focused on the real importance of writing. “[Previously] it was easy for me to get caught up in the post-writing stage of my work–the part when it was either graded, or I heard what someone thought of it…I would lose sight of the reason for my writing, which is the sense of fulfillment I get from simply putting words on a page.”
Katya has done more than simply put words on a page. Her most recent collection of poetry was awarded a prestigious Gold Key from the National Writing Project in New Hampshire. From over 400 entries this year, Katya’s mini-anthology “Surrealism, Legato, Surrender, October, Dedication” was one of 23 recognized as exceptional by a panel of writers, teachers and professionals in the literary field. Her poems will be published later this year in Middle/High School Voices, along with the works of other regional winners. This on the heels of last year’s successful submission of a poetry collection and a persuasive essay, for which Katya was recognized with two Silver Key awards. She will go on to attend the Middle/High School Voices conference this May and an awards ceremony at Plymouth State University.
I asked Katya to choose her favorite poems so we could discuss them. It occurred to me later that this was probably akin to asking a mother to choose between her children. She had a hard time choosing a favorite from among her work: “I can’t really look at them objectively. As soon as I decide I like one better than another, I change my mind!” So I asked Katya to tell me about my two favorites, Legato (which, translated from Italian, means “tied together”and is a musical notation that indicates a seamless transition between played notes) and October, another poem inspired in part by music.
In the mornings,
I play a song that
Some drifting thought
Wrote for you.
In the mornings, I slide
My finger up the string. I
Try to count the
Hours someone spent
Into cheap nylon.
Sometimes I remember that a
Machine did all that work,
That there’s no use for
Ordinary souls anymore,
Except in love, war,
I think that you would smile.
And shake your head,
I think you would tell me
Not to wallow in my
Endless contemplations, but to
Play. First string, second string,
Early light melting
Into breathless harmony,
Raw and unblemished, until
I can count on one hand the memories
That hurt. Until every one
Makes me laugh, until I’m warmed from
The inside out.
In the mornings,
I play a song.
Remember me? I was there when you
Shattered. I was there when the
Cold wind bit at your cheek
Cast you aside,
Left you for dead,
And you screamed-
Have you thought about me, since then?
I’ve spent a few thousand hours dwelling on
You and the way it must have felt
To fall into that trap of
Trusting the falsity in a summer smile
The way you thought your flying
Wouldn’t end. You forgot about
Your heart, didn’t you-
Are you afraid that I’ll remind you?
As if I’m stronger than the nightmares that
Plague you; don’t think I don’t know about those.
I know all about the hollow space inside you
From when you believed in your own
So strongly that it broke you-
Remember you? The one who used to
Gaze out windows, pondering life
Telling me all of your philosophical musings-
And then you’d laugh.
This was before you believed in the extremes;
Perfection and destruction. This was when
Everything was intertwined. You used to say
That there are only shadows on
The ground because of the light in the sky,
And the leaves fall like tears but form
A glorious carpet of fire, of love,
Upon the earth-
HH: Tell me, who are you addressing in Legato? Is this autobiographical in any way, or are you just writing poetry?
KE: Legato is an interesting one. Everyone who has ever read it or heard me read it at Coffeehouse has been especially curious about the story behind it. And the truth is that the story behind it is mostly fictitious! There’s a paradigm out there that poetry can’t be fiction, but it can. And anyway, all fiction is based on truth. I began writing it about two things-the feeling of missing someone, and guitar strings. The story sort of unfolded on its own. The speaker is me, I suppose, but the situation is not mine. So to answer your first question, I’m not really sure whom I am addressing! That’s what I really love about this poem in particular-that I created a mystery even for myself.
HH: What is October about?
KE: October is another one like Legato. It’s hard to explain how I write these, October especially. I wrote it to a classical piece by the same name. I feel like my subconscious kind of takes over sometimes when I’m writing poetry, the right words come into my mind at the right times, and I try to arrange them in a way that will effectively convey either a feeling, a message, a story, or at my best, all three. October is about the idea of change. It’s pounded into our minds these days that change is always a good thing, but I don’t agree. I wanted the story that I told in October to be angry, but also sad–angry because the person addressed as “you” made choices that led to a complete negative transformation without regard for the speaker or really for themselves, and sad because the speaker has, through this change, lost the person they used to know and love. And October is a changing season.
HH: It sounds like you also play an instrument-violin?
KE: I actually play the saxophone, but I do like the violin and it shows up often in my poetry, though I don’t know quite why! I like the grace that a violin has, the movement of the bow and the sound of it.
HH: Does your love for music play a part in, or somehow facilitate, your writing?
KE: Sometimes I just listen to a solo piano piece and write to the music, staying with the beat and not letting myself stop until the very end. That’s how I wrote Surrender and October.
HH: Can you give me some “behind the scenes” insights into your poetry-writing process?
KE: Behind the scenes…I think that the reason poetry works so well for me is just that I am acutely aware of everything going on around me at all times…I’m constantly studying, noting, and processing both obvious information as well more intuitive observations that I gather from the people and the world around me. I think my brain is on analysis overdrive, and I need an outlet for everything I’m thinking so intently about! And that outlet is poetry. My “writing process” is never one concrete procedure. I usually just have these spinning thoughts that I take and kind of sculpt until they’ve formed a poem. Other times I will hear a phrase that catches my attention, or have an interesting abstract idea and make a mental note to expand on it later in a poem.
HH: Do you find writing poetry cathartic?
KE: I definitely find poetry writing cathartic. I can’t express anything verbally the way I can in writing. Writing is just so much easier for me, so much more natural. So the most reflexive way for me to express any emotion is to write a poem, because I can take the feeling and make something tangible out of it, instead of keeping it unseen inside of me. And further into the concept of catharsis, I think that I’ve become so attuned to emotions because of how much time I spend working with them, so to speak, in my poems. Poetry isn’t necessarily about emotion, but a significant portion of mine begins with one.
HH: Who are some of your favorite poets/authors?
KE: My favorite poets are Mary Oliver, William Butler Yeats and Naomi Shihab Nye. My favorite authors are John Green, Jodi Picoult, Marcus Zusak, Ruta Sepetys, Sue Monk Kidd, Chris Cleave…well, and many others. I love to read.
HH: Back when I was in school, “write what you know” was common advice. What do you think about that?
KE: I think “write what you know” is a good place to start, for sure. But I also think it’s a bit limiting. If we all wrote strictly what we knew, then we’d have no books to read by Roald Dahl or Ray Bradbury or H.G. Wells. I think imagination is important. If you plan to actually publish a book or something, then you should have a thorough understanding of what you are writing about (if it does in fact exist) for the sake of valid information. But for a kid in school, I think letting go and just writing whatever comes to mind–be it real or imaginary, hypothetical, philosophical, whatever–will keep writing fun.
HH: Do you foresee a career in writing of some sort ?
KE: Definitely. I’m interested in being an editor for a fiction publishing company and doing my own writing simultaneously. I have lots of different interests though, so I’ll probably end up doing lots of different things. But I’ll always be writing. My two other passions…are riding horses and drawing. My family has a very small farm, and we have two horses, goats, chickens, and we often raise steers and pigs for meat.
HH: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
KE: There is a quote from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Dumbledore (one of my favorite fictional characters of all time) says, “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind…At these times…I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.” Poetry is my Pensieve.
Written by Heather Hewitt, PCA Parent
Read more poetry and stories written by our talented PCA students in this year’s soon to be released edition of PCA’s Literary Magazine, SOAR.