Meet a Poet - Kelsia Kellman
You have been a staple on the NIFCA scene for a few years now. For those who are new to you and your work, how would you describe yourself as a literary artist in three words?
Three words that I would use to describe myself as a literary artist are: Curious, specifically regarding forms, as I like experimenting with different types of literary forms when it comes to not only writing poetry but also stories, as I like exploring how different forms might affect the way not only how I convey the themes and topics that I write about but also how my readers engage with them; Bold, my work speaks the words that I sometimes find myself unable to say, especially considering that I am very shy and introverted, my works therefore tend to be bold in the sense that I am able to speak and be heard as I tend to do fade into the background.
Finally, Reflective / Introspective, my work tends to reflect my tendency to sit and mull on things from my childhood, to how I see and interact with the world, my space and how I exist within in it. As a result, my work is in an apt description, my quiet moments of contemplation on ideas and issues around me and the opinions that I wish to say.
You are quite young, yet you have already had your work published. That is a major achievement. How do you think you were able to accomplish this so quickly?
Through lots of hard work and encouragement and help from the people that believed in me. They encouraged my growth as a writer which sparked and nurtured my confidence as well as ensure I knew about opportunities that I could take advantage of. Truthfully, this achievement wouldn’t be possible without the support and belief in me and my work and the encouragement to take advantage of any and all possibilities that where available from my family and friends.
When did you know that you wanted to write?
There were two moments that I would say catapulted me into and defined my desire to write: the first was a conversation and the second was a short story I wrote for my English class in 1st Form. Whilst the conversation, between me and a family friend, was the reason why I quite literally put pen to paper, it was the short story that I wrote as a homework assignment that really solidified the idea that I wanted to be a writer. It was a pivotal occasion for me as it not only instilled a joy of writing but it was the moment when I had not only lost myself in the creation of a story, but it was something that I had created that my class and my teacher enjoyed. It was then that I really and truly decided that I wanted to write.
Are young people writing, or are you an anomaly?
I am not an anomaly; young people are writing. I think what it is, is that the general consensus of have it as a career in writing in Barbados is not sustainable. Thus, young people are discouraged from pursing writing as they would like to. So, it is not a case that they aren’t doing it, I think it is more a case that they are, but it is not as visible as one might hope due to the attitudes towards writing as a sustainable profession in Barbados.
You have a Master's Degree in Pan African Studies, and you are currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. How has your field of study impacted your writing journey?
Pan African Studies has impacted my writing journey in how I think about the issues of identity, colonialism and globalisation in my work. Especially, as my work tends to revolve around folklore and its function in societies; as folklore and folkloric beliefs both inform and are informed by the culture, traditions and politics of the society that it is created in and / or incorporated into. In layman’s terms, Pan African Studies has informed particularly in my writing how I express and explore blackness, the confines within which colonialism has shaped or informed it and how in the face of globalisation and the continued homogenization of blackness we, as Caribbean people, can preserve our unique circumstance as a melting pot of social, and cultural practices and ideas from various hemispheres through the lens and construction of folklore.
Do you think that Caribbean Writers bear the responsibility of addressing issues of identity, colonialism and/or globalism in their work?
Issues of identity, colonialism and /or globalism are the core aspect of the reality of the Caribbean. To exist within the Caribbean is to at some point in time deal with one or all of the aforementioned issues. Thus, it is a belief that Caribbean Writers will address these issues in their work even if the focus is not given to them within the works that they produce. This is something that I as a writer have come to realise even within my own works. Thus, I believe that there is a responsibility for Caribbean Writers in addressing these issues even if they are not the main focal or driving part of the narrative they are creating, as a Caribbean narrative cannot exist without it being a part of the work that they create, because as Caribbean people we are in many ways defined by and reckon with these issues in our everyday lives.
As a result, to seek to exclude it from our work is not only infeasible but it would be irresponsible as readers read to find and understand themselves in the works we produce, and in many ways, this may serve to assist them in understanding themselves and the space that they exist within. This responsibility also, serves as the way in which we, as society’s struggling to contend with these issues, reckon with the realities that we are presented with.
What do you hope to achieve with your writing?
“To preserve the folklore of Barbados in some tangible way, to ensure that it is not lost in the face of globalisation and therefore, a firmer entrenchment of a Barbadian identity”, whatever that maybe, is the most succinct answer that I can provide. The reason why I say this, is rooted very much in my research and my areas of interest: history and folklore. To further expand on that, I am interested in ensuring that the folkloric, the cultural elements of Barbados are retained in some capacity and to ignite interest in the younger generation much like myself, growing up not knowing anything about the folkloric creatures and characters, and these practices.
Though understanding that major parts of these elements were, and are rooted in their oration, as pointed out to me, the lack of writing on it whether it be creative or not that the public interacts with is something I wish to change. And as I once said in a conversation, “I want to get to the point where we can have something like a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings for Barbados or the Caribbean”.
How would you describe the literary scene in Barbados?
Still in a state of development. In the sense that investment in the literary scene is growing to a point where it is slowly becoming a viable means of sustainable income for individuals that wish to be a part of it. It is as a result inadequate in many aspects due in part to the focus being placed specifically on music and tourism and not on the development of the literary scene. As such, it has been left to a small group of individuals to try to develop what they can with the budget that they have and as a result the literary scene in Barbados is in a state of underdevelopment that is slowly but surely evolving into something that eventually can be a sustainable economic enterprise for not only the island but also for anyone who wishes to be a part of it.
Your poem, “Kaleidoscope”, scored highest in the poetry section of the 2022 NIFCA Adult Prose and Poetry Challenge. What inspired you to write that piece?
“Meditation on Yellow” by Olive Senior, without a doubt. Though it would not have existed as a poem if it had not been for my second year Literature class at UWI Cavehill Campus. It was a poetry class that looked at Black Women writers that very much shaped the form, tone, themes, and topics within my poem. Incidentally, our professor challenged us to do a creative piece to be presented at the end of the semester that was either inspired by one of the writers or their poems that we did in class or to write back to one of the poems that we had studied, and I honestly, struggled to decide which one to do and how to do it. In the end, I did both, writing back to the poets and poems that had impacted and stayed with me throughout the semester.
Thus, I took inspiration from several of them in terms of form, Olive Senior and Jean Binta Breeze, dialect, Jean Binta Breeze and Grace Nichols. With regards to themes, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Olive Senior, and Nina Simone. Along with space, time and context - Trump was still in office, US History, the rise of the KKK and Reconstruction, was my history course at UWI that semester and the parallels between several of the poems we were studying resonated with me a lot more - and thus, shaped “Kaleidoscope” into the poem that it became.
My mother told me to. I also wanted to know if my work was any good, especially after doing a creative writing course at UWI and finally building up enough confidence in my work to not think that it was completely horrible.