Catching Up With Kelly Morse

Recent work: One good thing to come out of 2020 (yes, really, something good!) was a commission to collaborate with a printmaker and a socially engaged artist on an art installation about climate change, titled Hothouse. We asked communities both local and national to create new words and definitions for emotions or occurrences stemming from climate instability, based on the philosophy that naming an issue is the first step in moving toward a solution. Words and their definitions were then hand-printed onto paper shaped into grape leaves, with the “vines” growing as more words were added to the piece over time. The installation was on exhibition at the Hermitage Museums and Gardens of Norfolk, Va; we’re hoping to bring it to other communities once the pandemic is over. If anyone would like to contribute their own word, there’s a short guided video and a place to submit on Hothouse’s website

What I’m Reading: A poetry collection I keep coming back to is Danusha Laméris’ Bonfire Opera, which came out recently from U of Pittsburgh Press. Her voice to a certain degree reminds me of Jack Gilbert’s: direct, looking at the world and asking questions that seem mild but aren’t, and a frank sensuality. However, now the shoe is on the other foot: as I read these poems I realized how rare it is for women over 30 to write about sex, about desire, about reckoning with their bodies and still being satisfied with them. Men like Gilbert wrote about the female body their whole lives, and yet this feels like a lacuna in women’s writing. Laméris’s work often feels universal; her poem “Small Kindnesses” went viral after the 2016 election. However, one thing I treasure is how many of her poems root into the northern California landscape, with its nudists, its golden grasses, coyotes and fog. There is a tension here, for while it is clear this is the landscape of home, her mother’s Barbadian background and her grief over losing a child also place her outside the everyday at times. To love a landscape or body, to claim it as one’s own and sink into it deeply, that’s the gift I keep coming back for with this book. As someone who grew up in the West but now lives in the Mid-Atlantic, these poems make me both ache for home and give me a new imperative: the world is beautiful even in grief and scars. Go out and look. 

What’s Next For Me: I’m currently submitting my full length manuscript about motherhood and ambivalence, race and biology, to presses. The piece “Nursing While Reading the NYT” published at Tinderbox is from that project. My other goal is to finish an essay about escaped ligers (yes, ligers) I started in 2019 and which got set aside when my kids came home in March.  


Kelly Morse is the author of the award-winning poetry chapbooks Heavy Light (Two of Cups Press, 2016) and Thinking While Without Identity (forthcoming from Poetry International). Her creative work appears in Gulf Coast, Mid-American Review, The Cincinnati Review, Brevity, Copper Nickel, and elsewhere. Kelly holds an MFA from Boston University, is a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellow and a Robert Pinsky Global Fellow, and has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Mineral School, Cuttyhunk, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.