Guest Poetry Blog # 8 – American poet Bianca Lynne Spriggs aka DRRTY BĒ Features American Poet Kelli Stevens Kane – Part Two of Two

American poet and oral historian Kelli Stevens Kane

what I had

what I had to have
what I had to have taken
what I had to have taken from me
what I had to have taken from me to feel
what I had to have taken from me to feel human
what I had to have taken from me to feel human was love

Kelli Stevens Kane from The Delaware Poetry Review, March 21st, 2016

Introducing Kelli Stevens Kane

By Bianca Lynne Spriggs

Based out of Pittsburgh, Kelli Stevens Kane is an award-winning poet, playwright, and oral historian. Her debut collection, Hallelujah Science  (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020) is critically acclaimed and rightly so.

Kelli and I first met through a choreopoem I wrote that reflected my experiences workshopping with incarcerated women. In 2012, she was one of the readers at the August Wilson Center for their monthly roundtable reading that featured my choreopoem, “The Swallowtail Project.” We are also both Cave Canem fellows, so eventually, I got to know her work better as well.

Kelli is a fine poet whose aesthetic reminds me of Lucille Clifton in its minimalism as well as meditative quality. Yet, there is a wistfulness and ephemeral nature to her poetry that is all her own. Even in poems where the subject matter is more political, reflective of a personal or systemic gash, there’s a tenderness in her approach to examine every serrated edge, to not flinch in the restorative process. I think the word I’m looking for here is—considerate. Her poems read as considerate, no matter the subject, to the point of benevolence.

In general, I feel that a successful poem contains a bit of wonder or entropy—even at the end, you carry it away with you and keep turning it over and over again in your mind. Thus, a successful poem, for me, is a conversation starter even if the dialogue is internal, meaning there’s still room for riff, the blue note, for jazz, the ensō. Kelli’s work definitely measures up in this regard and feels almost aromatic to read—like a hint of lilac coming in through the window in spring as opposed to someone sitting next to you wearing heavy perfume.

Here is the second of Kelli’s poems, this one from Hallelujah Science,  I would like to share with you:


I cut a record in dreamland
to give the world a taste of its own medicine
I cut patterns for dresses for angels in black fabric
I cut the moon out of cookie dough and bake it at 350 degrees
I cut split ends from my hair and drop them down into a Frisbee
I cut my finger on the thin blade of a wide ruled loose-leaf
I cut a cucumber with a pocket knife into whole half-circles
I cut a moment and watch it sprout
a million minute petals
they pick me up
and carry me
back to the beginning,
(once upon a time)
where there are no

Kelli Stevens Kane from Hallelujah Science, Spuyten Duyvil, 2020

There’s a clear pulse present in her poems—each one feels alive—conscious, maybe even clairvoyant. Each poem comes off as its own liminal space the reader can occupy or dwell alongside, in much the same way you might stop to consider some objet d’art in a curiosity cabinet.

Kelli took a break from writing for ten years to focus on raising her daughter, and speaks of motherhood as a marathon where she was obliged to learn how to be more adaptable. To that end, time seems to blur by in Hallelujah Science, folding in on itself to pursue timelessness. As much as there is a reverent nature to these poems (they are even numbered like in a hymnal or scripture), they are also buoyant, resonating with a kind of fecundity, a necessary gestation process to distill each distinct experience into palpability—there’s a gilding happening here, a kind of transmutation—alchemy right before our eyes.

Overall, I very much appreciate Kelli as a tour guide. It’s an intimate collection, layered like the multiverse. The reader is encouraged to trust her rendering of time and timing to foster a sense of timelessness, make peace with floating on one’s back down some great cosmic river and take it all in—after all, we’re all just looking for home. Why not keep company with poetry along the way?

Biance Lynne Spriggs, March 2023

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