Author Q&A with Kelsey Smoot
by Christine Nessler
September 27, 2023
Kelsey L. Smoot (They/Them/He/Him) is a full-time PhD student in the interdisciplinary social sciences and humanities. They are also a poet, advocate, and frequent writer of critical analysis. Smoot’s poem, “For Kenny“, featured in Issue #12 was the winner of the 2023 HoneyBee Prize in Poetry.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a Black queer transmasculine poet, writer, and PhD student based in Atlanta Georgia. I study identity formation at the nexus of race, gender, and sexuality.
What inspired you to write your poem For Kenny?
Kenny is my older sister’s best friend. He’s one of the weirdest, funniest, sweetest dudes I’ve ever met. He’s also a poet, and is the person who first encouraged me to write poetry. Fittingly, he gifted me a copy of Letters to a Young Poet after I shared my first poem with him. “For Kenny” is actually the second published poem that I’ve written about him; the other one was my first poem to ever be accepted for publication. Really, he’s a muse of mine. I love writing poems about people as a way to show them that the most granular details of their existence are of note to me.
The moment in the piece where Kenny “sucks at the grizzle of the meat” truly did happen, exactly as I described it. I remember sitting there with my sister and Kenny, and thinking I’ve got to write something about this moment, and this person. He really evokes a lot of feelings in me.
How has Kenny impacted your life?
Kenny has made me think very critically about the systems we live under (namely, capitalism) and its intersectional impacts on marginalized folks. It’s hard to put our relationship into words because he isn’t someone I see or speak to regularly. But whenever I see him, he ends up sharing some token of wisdom that plays incessantly in my mind for days on end.
What do you hope your readers take away from For Kenny?
I hope the richness of who Kenny is, and what it feels like to be in community with someone who embodies a multitude of tensions shines through the poem. Kenny is constantly vacillating between stoicism, jubilance, pessimism, and optimism. I think his sweetness, his intensity, his privilege, and his oppression are all sites of interesting analysis. I hope it’s also clear how much I admire him.
How do poetry and your studies in social sciences and humanities intertwine?
My favorite topic to write about, in any format, is identity. Poetry, like theory, has helped me to expand the ways in which I both conceive of and articulate embodied human experience. I use poetry to try to marry my creative inner world with my academic analysis. A large portion of my dissertation will feature poems that I’ve written in the vein of scholarly inquiry.
What is your favorite style of poetry or other artistic expression? Why?
I recently wrote a sestina that I’m really proud of. I’m not sure that I would say it’s my *favorite*, but as someone who doesn’t have a formal background in poetics, traditional forms have been historically intimidating to me. Recently, though, I’ve come to find that the science and constraint of forms like the sestina excite me. I feel challenged to select every word with intentionality. I like longer forms that allow me to experiment with rhythm and diction while still providing some structure
In what ways do you consider yourself an advocate?
I use my writing as a space to draw attention to social justice issues that impact me and folks with whom I’m in community. Racial justice, trans rights, and accessibility are concepts that are center to my political praxis.
Does your poetry also serve as a tool of advocacy?
Definitely. I would say when I’m really in my poetry bag, my poems illuminate, advocate, or reimagine. All three, and I know it’s a banger.
How do you keep poetry a part of your life?
I follow poets online whose work I admire, so I’m regularly encountering wonderful new poems. I also like to write down random words and phrases that I think of or come across in a given day. When the moment strikes, I’ll sit down, pull out the list, and see if I can piece together a poem.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear, “The Good Life?”
When I think of “The Good Life,” I think of ease, snacks, laughter, and love.
Kelsey’s award winning poem, “For Kenny” is available in issue #12.
Thank you, Kelsey. We’re grateful to you for your willingness to spend extra time with us on this Q&A and for your fabulous poem… definitely a “banger!” We wish you the best in all life’s endeavours.