[Images retrieved from donikakelly.com]
By Caitlyn Morral
When Dr. Donika Kelly of St. Bonaventure University’s English department is not teaching, she is traveling and reading her collection of poetry at various locations. The assistant professor recently published her first collection of poems, “Bestiary: Poems,” and has been invited by multiple venues to share her work with others.
“Bestiary: Poems,” was published and released in October of 2016. Since then, it has been named as one of The New York Times Book Review’s “Best Poetry Collections of 2016” and one of Buzzfeed’s “Best Poetry Book of 2016.” The collection has also been noticed by The Root, The Undefeated and Quivering Pen.
While it might be difficult for a collection of poetry to strike upon success, Kelly is happy with the reception that her own poems have received.
“For a collection of poetry, it has been very successful,” said Kelly. “The reception for the book has been good and very positive. That has meant that I have gotten to do some events with people that I have read about and had never before met in real life. It feels like a relief, but it also feels really encouraging that the experience that I have communicated has resonated with people.”
The themes in the book vary, ranging from despondent poems to themes of Greek mythology. Kelly says that the latter parts of the collection were inspired by the mythological book, “D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths.”
“Strong threads pull from the natural world with a lot of animals, birds and Western geography,” Kelly said. “It is a combination of Greek mythology as a way of understanding the world and what I have personally moved through.”
For Kelly, writing poetry is much more than simply jotting words down and making them flow well together. As a poet, she takes her experiences and raw emotions and molds them into a piece of art that others can hopefully relate to.
“My favorite part about writing poetry is making a piece of art,” said Kelly. “It feels good to make something. Knowing that I can sit down over the course of a few hours and make a draft until it is polished is fun. It has helped with my process of dealing with a lot of trauma.
According to Kelly, “There has been a mountain of sadness and, through that, I can take a ‘rock’ and make something pretty. It is not easy or soft, but it is something that people can connect with. People reach out to say that the work has helped to connect me with people that I otherwise might not have known.”
Kelly is currently reading and drawing inspiration from Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s ‘Rocket Fantastic,” Kavuh Akbar’s “Calling a Wolf a Wolf,” and Nicole Sealy’s “Ordinary Beasts.”
After finding success with Bestiary, Kelly is working on a second collection of poetry that she is excited about. The title, “Bear God,” has a double meaning; “bear” can be perceived as both the animal and the act of holding an object. While the manuscript is now sixty percent drafted, Kelly is hoping to have it published and released in the near future.