Candice Kelsey

Pine Row Issue No. 1 Spring 2020 - Featured Poet

Like There’s No Tomorrow

Thirteen and I was able to

down a six-pack of Old Milwaukee Light

with my friends

on the lawn at Riverbend

broil pork chops and serve potatoes au gratin

for my family

in the brick arch kitchen

that summer of ’84

when there were more

hours in the back of my brother’s jeep

with its makeshift speakers

Running with the Devil

down Fields-Ertel Road

than time spent

thinking about where we were headed

hair like broom shrubs

skin loamy soil

our futures a kidney-shaped pool

inviting us in

Interview with Candice Kelsey

by Kathleen Fields, Pine Row Editorial Board

1. What inspired Like There's No Tomorrow?

The summer before I started high school, my older brother was preparing to leave for college out of state. In an odd twist of fate, we both had to take summer school classes to prepare us for the next year. So, for the first time in my young life, I got to ride with my brother to school -- trust me, it was a lot cooler than it sounds now! He had an open air Jeep with makeshift speakers and cassette tape player. We would play Van Halen songs at top volume as we sped down country roads toward the high school. I saw a parallel in how we were both speeding toward the next phase of our young lives, separate yet together, so alert yet so clueless. I remember wishing to myself that this time with my brother would never end, that there would be "no tomorrow."

2. How has reading impacted your own writing?

Well, I couldn't write if I didn't read. To me, reading is the inhale, and writing is the exhale. But reading doesn't exclusively mean printed text -- for me, I read situations, people's faces, the pattern of coyote prints in the side yard, the leaf fall from the coastal cholla at the end of the street. I suppose really observation is what's impacted my writing the most. The world offers up so much. Too much- oftentimes. But the writer is the one who acknowledges what is offered; the poet, I suppose, is the writer who is changed by it.

3. To what extent are your poems inspired by your own life?

Well, "Like There's No Tomorrow" is a dead give away! Very much so, at this point in my career. My life is the air I breathe, so it filters all my experiences in some way or another. My life gives shape to my words. I am challenging myself, of late, to move beyond the confessional poems. I recently wrote (and published) a run of pieces that have nothing whatsoever to do with my personal life -- some are political, others more social commentary. I do enjoy writing those poems just as much as the ones about my childhood, my parents, or my children.

4. What is your favorite poem written by another poet?

What a question! For technique, I have to say Gerard Manly Hopkins' "The Windhover," without question. That poem unravels me every time I read or teach it. For inspiration, I have to say Whitman's Song of Myself. His work is truly revolutionary while also being so accessible; he is communal yet personal. For pure enjoyment, Billy Collins' "The Lanyard" and "On Turning Ten" are in a class by themselves as far as I'm concerned. His playful approach deceives briefly before completely devastating me emotionally. But my all time favorite poets in terms of bodies of work are Anne Carson, Sharon Olds, and LInda Pastan.

5. What is your favorite poem of your own work?

I'm definitely partial to the newest piece I've written which has yet to be published -- it's titled "Into the Coyote, or Ballad for Families Renting in Los Angeles." My family has had to move multiple times, and each move has taken an emotional toll on my children. The most recent move resulted in our two beloved cats being killed by coyotes. The poem addresses the transient nature of living in L.A. by paralleling renters to displaced coyotes and ends with the speaker crawling inside the coyote in search of her missing cats, and there she finds something surprising. That's all I can say!

6. How has motherhood impacted your writing life?

I believe my writing life has impacted how I mother more than the reverse. Not that I like to compare, but I notice other mothers (my friends, people that I work with) having trouble seeing their children as their own individual people and having trouble separating. I ask myself, "why am I not struggling with this, or am I struggling with this and I just think I’m not?" I’ve talked to my eldest daughter about it. It seems like we have a very healthy boundary in that she is her own person doing her own thing, and I’m okay with that separation. I think writing poetry has helped me be a better mom, and by better I mean — I hate to add judgment to it — a little bit more willing and able to see my children as authentic beings who are not an extension of me in any way, shape, or form. Which is the exact opposite of how I was raised. Perhaps, like Anne Bradstreet's classic "An Author to Her Book," the process of writing and releasing poems has helped me see my children as their own authentic works who ultimately must walk out the door. And so, if they’re making choices I don’t agree with, I don’t know? I wouldn’t say I’m numb to it, but I’m more accepting of the fact that they are where they are, and I’m where I am, and let’s just see where we all go.

Candice Kelsey's poetry, STILL I AM PUSHING, released March 6th with Finishing Line Press. Her first nonfiction book explored adolescent identity in the age of social media in 2007. Her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, The Cortland Review, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals while her first micro chapbook THE PIER HOUSE is forthcoming with the Origami Poetry Project. A finalist for Poetry Quarterly's Rebecca Lard Award and Honorable Mention for Common Ground's 2019 Poetry Contest, Candice’s creative nonfiction was nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. She is an educator of 20 years' standing, devoted to working with young writers.