Candice Kelsey


Oyster River Pages: Who are the writers who have made you who you are? 
Candice Kelsey: Chief of influences is Billy Collins for his understated brilliance and ability to transform the seemingly mundane. Also, he makes me laugh, which goes a long way with me. Linda Pastan and Sharon Olds are pillars of inspiration for me, and I never tire of re-reading their work.

ORP: What are the lenses that shape your worldview? 
CK: I love Jesus, so I try every day to be more Christlike and see people and situations as He would see them -- with compassion, love, and hope. I have a heart for the underdog, the oppressed, the voiceless. The focus of my teaching career has always been, and continues to be, to empower teenage girls. My poetry, I hope, offers a touch point or moment of recognition and connection for not just women but all of us human beings who feel lonely or lost. 

ORP: What’s the most important thing you’ve read/seen lately? 
CK: Oh, Roxane Gay's gripping memoir Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body! I was blessed to hear her speak at a Los Angeles Public Library event this summer where she elaborated on overcoming trauma, living in a patriarchal body-shaming world, and committing to the writing life. I picked up her book there, and she was kind enough to sign it -- a dedication to my foster son who is also a survivor of trauma. The next week of my time was eclipsed by the reading of that book. Truly it should be required reading for every American today.

ORP: What’s your least favorite word? Why? 
CK: Covfefe

ORP: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve created? (line, image, story, etc.) 
CK: Ah, great question! I really like the title I chose for one of my first published poems, "Borges, Keats, and My Mother." 

ORP: What do you want to read/see more of in the world? 
CK:  Tenderness. 

ORP: How do you pay it forward? 
CK: I encourage my students to surrender to poetry. I require that they give it a sincere fighting chance in their academic arena. For the most part, I find success I'm happy to report. I'm most proud of the three or four students each year who become serious about writing their own poetry. I encourage them, provide feedback, find contests and submission opportunities, and just full on geek out with them.

ORP: What is the space that has shaped you the most? 
CK:  I would say motherhood. As a woman who has had to field toxic messages about my body and, subsequently, my worth, the experience of seeing that so often inadequate body create, birth, and feed three children transformed my relationship with my body. I now see my body as powerful and creative and worthy of space.

ORP: You’ve just written your autobiography. What’s the title?
CK: I would take a line from a favorite Rabindranath Tagore poem, "The Home." The title for my autobiography could be: Glad with a Gladness that Knows Nothing of Its Value: The Days of Candice Kelsey.



CANDICE KELSEY's poems have appeared in such journals as Poet LoreThe Cortland ReviewHobart Pulp, and Wilderness House -- and her work has been incorporated into multiple 3-D art installations. She has been accepted into the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Virginia Quarterly Review's Writer's Conference. A high-school English teacher of 19 years' standing, she lives in Los Angeles and serves as a fiction reader for The New England Review. Find her work here.

Abby Michelini