Visiting Poets

Donika Kelly

Donika Kelly

The New York Times Book Review described Donika Kelly’s debut collection, Bestiary (Graywolf Press, 2016), as “glassy, sculpted surfaces beneath which thoroughly black water churns…a testament to poetry’s ability to capture and refine emotion.” Bestiary won the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for Poetry, the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, Kelly is also the author of Aviarium (fivehundred places, 2017) and The Renunciations (forthcoming from Graywolf Press in May 2021). Her poems have appeared in Tin House, Foglifter, and The New Yorker, among other publications. Kelly is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Iowa.

Donika Kelly reads on Tue., Mar. 9 at 7:30 p.m. EST. To register:


Select Poems

Question: How do we process being overcome
when we know the water is rising, rising
because the sea ice is melting, melting
because the animal we are shortens
everything we touch into brief, useful
pieces? Question: Can we call our marriage
done, soon overcome, soon underwater,
a city inhabited by whatever
the sea brings to it? Question: How do you drown
a city? Throw into the ocean
every suffocation: the folded clothes,
the lemon tree, a wife. Anything
that will sink as a stone. Dear one, is it too soon
to call? I cannot swim, and I will not drown.

—from The Renunciations (Graywolf Press, 2021)

The home I’ve been making inside myself started
with a razing, a brush clearing, the thorn and nettle,
the blackberry bush falling under the bush hog.

Then I rested, a cycle fallow. Said winter. Said the ground
is too cold to break, pony. Said I almost set fire
to it all, lit a match, watched it ghost in the wind.

Came the thaw, came the melting snowpack, the flooded river,
new ground water, the well risen. I stood in the mud field
and called it a pasture. Stood with a needle in my mouth

and called it a song. Everything rushed past my small ears:
whir in the leaves, whir in the wing and the wood. About time
to get a hammer,
I thought. About time to get a nail and saw.

—from The Renunciations (Graywolf Press, 2021)

Poetry Center Reading

Spring 2021