Alumni Poet Spotlight: Malcolm Kelly ’16 ’20MFA
April is National Poetry Month! National Poetry Month was launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this annual celebration.
Throughout the month of April, we will be spotlighting a few of our UCF alumni poets! Meet Malcolm Kelly ’16 ’20MFA:
Tell us a little about yourself!
A generalized answer of me would be that I’m just a recent UCF alumnus who has a penchant for wordplay, vulgarity and making people uncomfortable. Or an esoteric trying to anchor himself into a pragmatic mindset. Or an indecisive loudmouth unsure of how to speak their ultimate truth. But specifically: I am black, gay and from North Florida. I am outspoken and love slick talk, I use it to blend my rage into poetry and spoken word. I am also someone who loves to celebrate the beauty of others—whether it be in their art, presentation, or successful endeavors to take up space in all-white-male spaces. Put simply: I love flipping words, verbs and sentence structures and I’m a huge fangirl to just about anything I love.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
That’s a tough one. In part, I don’t think it was so much realizing I wanted to be a writer as it was falling into it. I started with spoken word, and I was using it to spit my frustrations of existing while black with the world. Then I was exposed to Creative Nonfiction and that became the source of tapping into all that pesky queer rage so many of us in the world can identify with. I fell in love with the catharsis that comes not only from completing a story or poem, but also the catharsis of being able to shape my struggles, pain, and untoward thoughts into something beautiful or useful to others. It may sound cheesy but, especially in the last few years, I have a need to tell stories. I have this need to share my experience and views, if it can help others understand or have a seat at the table of art and expression. A hope that other brown and queer people don’t feel the isolation I felt. A need to try and make them feel seen.
What do you love the most about writing poetry?
I love how much you can do with poetry. How images can prick, and feelings can be raw and drip with quick anger before jumping into a feeling of love. It is unfiltered in poetry. Being a black boy who grew up in predominately white spaces, I learned to do what so many of us learn: code switching. In poetry, I can blend the two, show the tension and rhyme my way through it. It is a deliberate way to break and play with the language I have spent so much time learning to cater to. There is just so much I can do with this beautiful style we call poetry.
What’s your writing process? What inspires your writing?
My writing process is ugly and chaotic. I attempt some form of organization and fail every time. When it comes poetry, it is a feeling I want to capture or specific image I want to unpack and get gritty with. For spoken word, it always starts from lines I’ve jotted down in a notebook or scraps of paper I’ve torn and thrown into a jewelry box. I love flow and wordplay to an unhealthy extent in spoken word and think of it like needing the right spark or flame to get it going. No matter the style of writing, it always involves a myriad of torn papers, arrows pointing to different sections, highlighters, and chicken scratch handwriting. It’s a beautiful madness, in my opinion.
What was a class or club at UCF that helped you grow as a writer?
That’s easy. Without a doubt, I would not be writing if not for 3 specific professors at UCF: Laurie Uttich, Pete Ives and Terry “The Saint of Hybridity Herself” Thaxton. I seriously cannot laud them enough for taking the time to see me. Pete Ives introduced me to this world of Creative Nonfiction where people like David Sedaris and James Baldwin exist. Laurie Uttich taught me that my fire and sass had a place in the world of “Literary writing.” And Terry? Terry Thaxton was a saving grace who helped me blend everything —my poetry, spoken word, rage, pain, prose, gayness, blackness, lust and love— into my work. I have never met a professor with such a disparate upbringing from my own, who was able to see and understand me and what I wanted to do with my writing, so clearly. I can never thank her enough.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
Where does one even start? Jamaal May is someone I cannot recommend enough. Danez Smith? I’ve never seen someone backhand white sensibilities like they do. And of course, I would not be me without mentioning J. Cole, Pusha T and Janelle Monae. I’m of the mindset that rap, at its core, is poetry set to rhythm and flow. I could go on, but I don’t want to take up another 4 paragraphs.
What else?! What are you currently working on right now?
After finishing the MFA program, I took a short hiatus from writing. Of course, 2020 was and is still a thing, but I have recently been delving back into writing. I just started to flesh out the final poems for a chapbook, and I’ve been in talks with a friend to record a series of spoken words. Hopefully, one or both of those things can be finished by the end of this year!
Attend an event with Malcolm:
Malcolm Kelly will be reading at the Faculty/Alumni Reading at UCF Celebrates the Arts, Friday, April 9 at 5 p.m. on Zoom. Learn more and register on the UCF Celebrates the Arts website.
UCF Alumni Book Club
Once a semester, the book club selects a book written by an alumni author to read and discuss. Learn more about the book club and how to join!