Kelsey Bigelow is a spoken word and page poet based in Des Moines. In her work, she molds incredibly specific emotions into something human, digestible, and cathartic. She is the author of Sprig of Lilac (2018), Depression Holders and Secret Keepers (2021), and Far From Broken (coming in 2024). Her work is published in or forthcoming with Central Avenue Publishing, Pile Press, Lyrical Iowa, Backchannels Journal, Spirit Lake Review, and elsewhere. Kelsey is a 2024 Pushcart Prize nominee, a 2023 Button Poetry Video Contest Finalist, and a 2023 Central Avenue Poetry Prize shortlist finalist.
She’s the founder and leader of the Des Moines Poetry Workshop, the chair for the Iowa Poetry Association Poetry Slam, the co-tournament director for the BlackBerry Peach National Poetry Slam, and more. Get to know Kelsey at kelkaybpoetry.com.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
When I was young, writing was a coping tool. It was the only way I knew how to express myself safely and quietly. Writing was often the only way I understood what I was thinking or feeling, and it became how I processed life and all the heaviness that came with it.
While I have a host of influences and inspirations for my writing and my writing career, there is one in particular that comes to mind every time I get asked this question. In college, my poetry professor, Dr. Kara Candito, was the person who showed me the power of writing and encouraged me to continue writing through the hard times. During the first semester I had with Kara, my mom passed away, and I began writing through the grief. Kara was the one who validated my processing and told me to keep with it. She showed me the beautiful impact that being vulnerable in writing can have on those around us. She was there for me and my writing throughout the rest of my undergrad, and I will forever be grateful to her for that. I wouldn’t have the career that I do if it weren’t for her.
What inspired you to start writing this book?
This book is full of poems that I’ve been writing my whole life. That’s no exaggeration. I included poems I wrote when I was in third grade, middle school, high school, and beyond (revised of course) in order to give my past self a voice. So when I think about the inspiration behind this book, it really comes down to the fact that I’m finally in a place where I can be my most vulnerable with the world about my experiences. But I’m ready to do it in a way that shows how we can overcome the heavy stuff and build a happy, healthy life for ourselves.
The full concept of this book came together for me in 2023. I realized I had finally been writing about the hopeful side of my life. I realized I was able to truly understand everything I experienced and help others see how they too can survive their own hardships. This message was something I was already sharing in my performances and workshops, and it felt like it was time for me to present it in a book as well.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
For years, the working title for this collection was “Unpacking.” Because the content focuses on traumas and relationships I was unpacking in therapy over the course of several years. However, I did some “research” for the poems from my younger self by digging through old files and all the papers my dad held onto from my school days. In there, I found a letter he wrote to me in 2008 as part of an eighth grade time capsule project. In his letter, he wrote what I use as the opening quote of the book:
“You have already been faced with some challenges that many people will never face. You come from what society calls a ‘broken family,’ yet you are far from broken.”
I couldn’t get that quote out of my heart as I was compiling the book, because I realized how strong of an introduction it is for the book and my life. This book explores the nuance that comes with growing up in a “broken family” and healing from everything that came with that. Oftentimes, we feel broken beyond repair as we’re going through the hard stuff. But as we heal and realize how brave we were, we learn just how “Far From Broken” we truly are now.
Plus, it’s a personal testament to how “Far From Broken” my relationship with my dad is. We grew up together and both did the best we could with what we had in those times. I have so much admiration for the work he put in to build a good life for himself and for his family. Titling this book after him is my way of reminding him how grateful I am that I get to call him a friend in my adult life.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
I hope readers cannot relate to what’s inside. But if they do, I hope they see that they’re not alone and that a better life is possible. I hope they learn they are braver than they may realize. I hope they learn that bravery means learning to hold the heavy alongside the hopeful; it’s not having the answers or knowing when the load will lighten but choosing to keep going anyway.
I also hope readers learn that multiple things can be true at once. That this book tells of a lot of grief, pain, and traumas. But it doesn’t negate the fact that the people in those stories loved me and did the best they could. It also doesn’t erase the positive growth many of us have done to heal together over the years.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.