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In Conversation With Poet Kelsey O. Daniels

The "artist organizer baddie scholar" (and 75th Anniversary project cover star) reflects on her earliest brushes with poetry

How did you get your start as a poet?

My first memory of connecting with poetry was reading “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou over and over at my grandparent’s house in elementary school and being captivated by this woman speaking so powerfully over herself. I started writing in high school for an English project, and it became a really important outlet for me to process, grieve, and celebrate the world around me.

Then, when I was 18, my cousin and I watched a documentary about spoken word and started becoming regulars at local open mics, and it stuck. I’ve gone on to feature at venues, slam at international competitions, and even start my own open mic, and it’s been a beautiful experience to share this art form that has literally saved my life.

What has been your proudest moment as an artist?

My proudest moments have come from exchanges with youth I used to work with who trusted me to show up and hold space for their creative and wellness journey. I used to work for a program that centered around mental health and creative expression and it was powerful to see the impact of story sharing and vulnerability in real time.

It was such a beautiful and mutually healing opportunity to connect that way, and being able to witness them create and share their work was magical. I still stay in touch with some of them and my coworkers to this day, and reminiscing about the vulnerability and transformation that took place during my time at that program makes me so proud and grateful.

What makes San Diego feel special to you?

I was born and raised here, so there are many things, but I would definitely have to say the ability to get to a waterfront in 20 minutes from pretty much anywhere. It’s the one thing I’m extremely homesick about when I’m visiting someplace landlocked.

I have so many memories attached to the water here: from bonfires at Ski Beach and birthdays at Crown Point to barbecues at Spanish Landing (before paid parking) with my grandparents or late night trips to Imperial Beach shore during the pandemic. There’s something spiritual and grounding about being able to be with water, and I’m grateful to have so many places to choose from to connect.

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