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10 Questions with Kelly R. Samuels

I slept the sleep of the dead
once. Once, could not be woken
in time to do what it wasI had to do.
Did not hear the ring of. Did not hear
the ra
p of. Was called. Was shaken. Rose
groggy, stumblingdown the hall, my mother saying, Look
at who has finally graced us with her 
presence. ...

—from "Only Somewhat Sleeping," from Volume 62, Issue 2 (Summer 2021)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I know I wrote a short poem for my mother on Mother’s Day that mentioned I wasn’t perfect. This would have been when I was seven or eight years old. My first published poem was entitled “Skein,” selected by Luke Brekke for JuJuBes, a small journal that once was a companion to PoetsArtists. The poem was ekphrastic, in response to Emily Christenson’s Pelagic Series: Schooling 2, a work I saw at the Dubuque Museum of Art. It spoke of a “seam” and “a lone leaf” and “bees in transit.”

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Consistently, Aracelis Girmay’s poetry reminds me of what sound can do; Katie Ford and Paisley Rekdal give lessons in image and word choice; the voice in Emily Skaja’s poetry is one of my favorites. Of late, Cori A. Winrock’s construction in many of the poems in her collection Little Envelope of Earth Conditions is interesting to me, as is Alessandra Lynch’s in her newest collection, Pretty Tripwire; I like what they are doing with the open space of the page.

What other professions have you worked in
I’ve taught at the university level for the last fourteen years—composition, literature and creative writing. Before that, years ago, I worked in a bookstore. To this day, I still find myself checking the alphabetization of authors on the shelves of bookstores I visit.

What did you want to be when you were young?
A writer. There are photos of me as a girl, sitting at a typewriter.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I had read of whales in my research for my newest collection, All the Time in the World, and learned about how they never fully sleep. This detail reminded me of when I first became a mother and how I always seemed to be on the surface of sleep, listening for my son. There’s a kind of duty and vigilance and love present there. The poem wasn’t about climate change and so wasn’t included in the collection, but rather published by you!   

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I often imagine looking out on a large body of water, which I find both soothing and invigorating.  

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
A schedule works best for me. I typically write or revise on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and prepare batches of poems for submitting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There’s a window in the afternoon when I do my best writing, though sometimes a line or an idea will come to me—no matter the day or time—and I’ll try to capture it.  

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Painting. Art has always been an interest of mine. I briefly considered double majoring in English and art or art history as an undergraduate. I’ve done a few small abstract paintings that will never hang on a gallery wall, which is perfectly fine.  

What are you working on currently?
I am tweaking a manuscript about Alzheimer’s and dementia, tentatively titled Oblivescence.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished Desiree C. Bailey’s poetry collection What Noise against the Cane and George Saunder’s novel Lincoln in the Bardo. Next up: Molly McCully Brown’s collection The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded and Avni Doshi’s novel Burnt Sugar.

KELLY R. SAMUELS is a Best of the Net and two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. She is the author of two chapbooks: Words Some of Us Rarely Use (Unsolicited) and Zeena/Zenobia Speaks (Finishing Line). Her poems have recently appeared in Cold Mountain ReviewDMQ ReviewRHINOThe Pinch, and Quiddity. She lives in the Upper Midwest.

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