Alumni Kilby Smith-McGregor is publishing her first poetry collection, Kids in Triage, this spring. We asked her to share a favourite debut read:
“Right now I’m reading Ocean Vuong’s jaw-droppingly assured debut, Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon, 2016). Ben Lerner, his former undergrad prof at Brooklyn College—and author of another favourite first poetry collection, The Lichtenberg Figures—has said that ‘once and a while you get a student who’s not testing to be a writer, but who is already one.’ You really feel that in this work. Grounded in the intersection of Vuong's lived experiences, it’s vitally contemporary without succumbing to empty pop-gesture and easy irony. There’s a complexity and depth of language and image that doesn’t shy away from classical themes—yet the collection's seriousness is never freighted. It moves with a lightning-bright, quivering, quality of attention.
[...] I hold the gun
& wonder if an entry wound in the night
would make a hole wide as morning. That if
I looked through it, I would see the end of this
sentence. Or maybe just a man kneeling
at the boy's bed, his grey overalls reeking of gasoline
& cigarettes. Maybe the day will close without
the page turning as he wraps his arms around
the boy's milk-blue shoulders. The boy pretending
to be asleep as his father's clutch tightens.
The way the barrel, aimed at the sky, must tighten
around a bullet
to make it speak
[from Ocean Vuong's "Always & Forever"]
Brecken Hancock’s Broom Broom (Coach House, 2014) and Patricia Lockwood’s Balloon Pop Outlaw Black (Octopus, 2012) were also important (debut) books to me in the very last months of editing the Kids in Triage manuscript. I think they pushed me—in different ways—to really lean in and leave some blood on the mat."