Writing to give back: Q&A with poet Kailah Peters

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Kailah Peters (KP) is a poet and storyteller who has migrated north to study public relations and creative writing. She describes her poetry as a confession her soul makes to her mind. Her imaginative and poignant style questions identity, human connection, and social order. For the full breadth of her work and passions, visit www.KPPETERS.weebly.com.

KP’s poem “Standing in the Glow of the Aftermath” appears in LPR‘s Winter 2020 issue. She read this and other poems at our issue launch in January (video below).

KP was kind enough to take a break from her work to share some insights into her work. Thank you, KP!

Q: I don’t know if you could see this, but your poem “Standing in the Glow of the Aftermath” brought some people at the issue launch to tears. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of that poem?

KP: I was in an adrenaline-induced blackout for my entire reading, so I don’t remember much. I am glad people felt my words.

I grew up in a rather violent household and have spent most of my adulthood understanding my trauma and unlearning it. The day I wrote this poem, I went to an Ocean Vuong reading with my partner, Hannah. They were in a crabby mood and got kind of short with me, then immediately apologized for their tone. My first instinct was to dismiss their comment and apology. I didn’t think it was a big deal because I grew up watching much worse: my father saying rude things to my mother, my brother having violent outbursts, and my mother grieving the death of her sister. I thought, “Why would you say sorry when what you did won’t even leave a scar?”

Then I realized that was wrong. Not being awful doesn’t make you great! Ocean said that quote and something in me just clicked. It made me really appreciate all the work I’ve done and the kindness I’ve found in the world. 

Writing is my way of giving back and trying to create a culture I’d want to live in.

Q: What topics or devices do you find yourself drawn to in your poetry?

KP: I usually write about understanding my own identity and how that relates to the world around me. I use writing as a way to understand my experiences. Lately, I’ve also used a lot of allusions. I think that’s because I’ve been reading a lot more.

Q: Speaking of reading more, Ocean Vuong’s work plays a big role in this poem. Who are some of the writers that inspire you?

KP: I’m obsessed with Helen Oyeymi. I’m trying to read everything she’s published. She doesn’t do poetry, but her novels are very poetic. She rewrites fairytales in twisted ways to make social commentary. I really admire the way she uses the craft to better the world.

Q: I’m so interested in Poems While You Wait, the on-demand poetry group you write with. How did you get started writing on-demand poetry? What has that experience been like for you?

KP: In college, I met my mentor and idol Kathleen Rooney and she invited me to join the group. It’s been nothing short of amazing. The poets I’ve met in the group are brilliant and inspiring. Hanging out with them always ignites my passion and drives my writing career forward. Writing on-demand poetry challenges my creativity and keeps me on my toes. I always hate half of what I write, but at least I’m writing.

Read more: Get your copy of the Winter 2020 issue today.

Q: When you’re not writing on the spot, what is your writing process like?

KP: I usually start with the concept I want to convey or the moral I want the reader to learn, then go backward from there. I wish I could say it was a smooth process, but most of the time I stare at an empty page and beg the poem to write itself. Once I have the first draft, I take it to my collective, Warehouse Writers, for comments and feedback. I’m a big believer in humility; nothing I do is perfect and first drafts usually suck. I’m fortunate enough to know talented writers who are always eager to help me improve.

Q: As a creative writing student, you’ve clearly gone all in on a life of letters. For you, what is the value of studying writing when many people may be skeptical about that choice?

KP: I’m also a communications major, so I shouldn’t take credit for going all in. In studying the media I’ve seen the way it not only reflects society but helps shape it. Writing is my way of giving back and trying to create a culture I’d want to live in. Everyone has talents, this is just how I use mine to do some good.

Q: What’s next for your writing career?

KP: Right now, I’m working on launching a literary magazine, They Call Us. My friend Morgan Kail-Ackerman pitched the idea to me, and I jumped at the opportunity to join a literary non-profit as the poetry editor. The project is focused on gendered issues, something I’m very passionate about, and will be officially published on International Women’s Day. 

On a more personal side, I’m working on a novel and a collection of short stories. I like having multiple projects to juggle; that way I always have something to be excited about.

Q: What’s the best piece of writing advice that you’ve heard or given?

KP: “Write a lot. Publish often. Constantly improve.” (I can’t remember who said this.) I read it in a blog post and immediately wrote it on the inside cover of my journal. The first sentence reminds me that it doesn’t always have to be great, it just has to happen. The hardest part of writing is the actual writing, so just dive in and worry about editing later. The second reminds me to send writing out, and ask for feedback so I can accomplish the third part.

Want to read more of the phenomenal poets featured in the Winter 2020 issue? Purchase your copy.

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