Profile: Caitlan Mitchell by Marcus Palmer


Hailing originally from Maryland, Caitlan Mitchell is currently a MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School in Boulder, Colorado.

As a matter of habit, I (& a few other local poets) attend the So, You’re A Poet Monday night open mic at the beginning of the Naropa Summer Writing Program to get a glimpse at the new talent in town. After twenty-five years of this, it has become something of a game to make comments to each other such as “BA student” or “MFA candidate” in our giggling arrogance. While in this case such labels are indicative of skill level, they are not applicable to gauging raw talent. Though truth be told we gather at this particular annual reading to often do a little summer ‘hunting’, we are also genuinely interested in meeting the poets that are drawn to the Kerouac School. The first open reading of the summer program is frequently the only chance we will get to hear that summer’s crop of writers, as the SWP is quite intensive, especially for rookies, and they may not gravitate again to the local open mics.

In the summer of 2012, I was sitting at this reading with a champion slam poet discussing the merits of the array of performers that night, and we were inadvertently struck dumb. No wiseass cracks came tumbling from our gaping craws. What we had just witnessed on stage was the miracle of poetry outshining the affectations of the poet, overshadowing the craft of the work, even superseding the divinity that she channels. At the table we just looked at each other and said: “Well.”

As the reading was packed with new arrivals in town, we were seated towards the back of the audience and couldn’t see that well, so I wasn’t making much effort to identify faces with poems until they left the stage, and then only if they went onto the list of people I would have to make it a point to meet. When Caitlan began reading, the level of her skill and confidence on the microphone was readily apparent and all conversations in the packed venue ceased. By the second or third stanza I had craned my head around to see who she was. By the second poem I was on my feet intently paying attention, and stayed that way.

I mention this tale because it is a rare beauty when a poet has the necessary skill both in their writing and in their stage presence to captivate an audience, and that is what Caitlan offers her listeners. In spades. She writes poems that are usually longer than a page, ‘braiding’ together her themes into a whole that has all the power of a Rant or Brag without falling into the cliché of those forms. Perhaps more importantly, Caitlan is a female poet who writes around the issues concerning that gender without allowing said issues to cloud the work, as we find so often when poets take their ‘personal’ issue to the stage. Caitlan is an avatar of the goddess, and she wears it well without arrogance in her writing.

Since meeting Caitlan that summer, I have had the opportunity to get to know her fairly well. We have become friends and research colleagues, and thus have gotten into the depths of each others thoughts, and what I have found inside her head is stunning. Stops me mid-thought. Causes me to actually weep from the beauty. The last time I saw Caitlan do a featured reading there were tears of joy running down my cheeks the entire time, I was clasping and unclasping my hands like a kid in the candy store, squirming in my seat and stamping my feet. I couldn’t even talk to her afterwards.

That’s what poetry does.

– Marcus Palmer

Caitlan Mitchell will be featuring with Marcus Palmer tonight at The So You’re a Poet series at The Laughing Goat (1709 Pearl St) at 8pm, open mic to precede