Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 – Kayleb Rae Candrilli

Do you differentiate between poetry/art and “political” poetry/art? If so, how do you make that distinction?

There’s no distinction, and frankly, I’m immediately suspect of someone who thinks there is a distinction. Positionality is inherently political. Positionality matters. And every artist has a positionality—ignoring that is irresponsible and dangerous.


What do you have to say to those who would suggest your writing is too “intense” or “upsetting?”

Well for those folx I would suggest that they don’t read my writing. And I don’t say that with tongue in cheek. If the work is too triggering, if the work will hurt you more than it will help you, don’t welcome it into your life. Nobody should feel an obligation to let too much in. Self-care is (first and foremost) self-preservation.

If the folx that are saying it’s too “intense” or too “upsetting” are saying that because they don’t like the work, I would urge them to closely consider a.) why they don’t like it, and b.) if their positionality is one that might have the power to censor me by speaking publicly about my work in that way.

But I’d also like to say, on the flip side of things, that when I was in my undergrad I dealt with a couple folx who expressed, for lack of a better word, jealousy at the amount of trauma turning up in my non-fiction. I suppose they were equivocating trauma with “good art.” I didn’t have the language for it then, but it was so fetishizing, and I felt deeply uncomfortable sharing my work for a while. Sometimes I still do, if the work is very explicitly about trauma.

But getting to my point, there is so much fetishization of trauma, so much exploitation of trauma, so much commodification of trauma in the literary world and art world in general. This of course affects marginalized groups the most.

Marginalized artists and writers are almost exclusively given artistic resources when displaying their trauma most openly. I think it’s really dangerous to create a world in which a marginalized artist’s career is inexorably tied to the most triggering/difficult times in their lives. How could we ever hope to be mentally healthy if our economic and careeristic well-being is tied to those traumas?

I feel like I’ve lost my way from the original question, but I think there is much work to be done. I think we should constantly be asking ourselves (as literary gatekeepers and literary citizens) if the way we consume writing and reward writing is healthy for those who have done the writing.

Aziza Barnes’ “my dad asks, ‘how come black folk can’t just write about flowers?’” deals in this beautifully. It’s a must read/must teach/must/must <3.

Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?

I would have to go with Thiahera Nurse’s “Some Girls Survive on their Sorcery Alone.” That poem literally begins:

“I got a stank ass attitude
because you tried to kill me.
Still, I am the baddest bitch in here”

And it does not slow down from there. Truly masterful poem. Can’t say enough good things about Thiahera’s work.

How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matter?

More than drinking water, or exercising, or lighting incense (and don’t get me wrong those are wonderful things) I think learning how to stop, to back away, to take a break, is invaluable. It doesn’t matter is it’s for five minutes or five months. It’s okay. It will still be there when you come back, and if you never do, that’s okay too. Just be gentle with yourself. Radically gentle.


KAYLEB RAE CANDRILLI is author of What Runs Over, with YesYes Books and winner of the 2016 Pamet River Prize. They are published or forthcoming in BOAAT Press, Puerto del Sol, Booth, Vinyl, Muzzle, Cream City Review, and others. Candrilli is a Best of the Net winner and a Pushcart Prize nominated poet. They serve as an assistant poetry editor for BOAAT Press and they hold an MFA and an MLIS from the University of Alabama. Candrilli now lives in Philadelphia with their partner.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for these anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.