Olivia Hu recently spoke with Kailey Tedesco, author of the full-length collection She Used to Be on a Milk Carton, from April Gloaming Publishing. In addition to this collection and her chapbook These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese, from Dancing Girl Press, she is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and an associate editor for Luna Luna Magazine. She also performs as Hortensia Celeste with the Poetry Brothel.
Their talk spanned across the many realms of publishing and the exploration of creation.
OLIVIA HU: Hi Kailey! So nice for you to join me today. For those of our readers who are not yet familiar with you, what is your "thirty second Kailey Tedesco pitch"?
KAILEY TEDESCO: Thank you so much for having me! Kailey Tedesco is a poet who thinks of poetry and words as witchcraft. She’s been told she’s a little strange, and she definitely believes in ghosts. Her biggest goal right now is to get a big, fluffy dog and name him Kevin McCallister (though she may change her mind on the name). She usually doesn’t talk about herself in third person this much.
I heard that your full-length collection, She Used to Be on a Milk Carton, is out now from April Gloaming Publishing—Congrats! What is a brief synopsis of the themes and interweaving ideas in this collection?
Thank you so much!
She Used to Be on a Milk Carton is primarily about girlhood and finding space in a world and culture that seemingly locks girls out. Growing up, I lived in an area where it was not totally uncommon to know or know of children going missing frequently. I saw their faces on the grocery store bulletins all of the time, and it’s something I’ve never stopped thinking about, even after I moved away from that place. It’s everywhere. I wanted to write a collection that reconstructs the narrative around “missing” girls in particular, both literally and figuratively. The book really begins after the milk cartons are discarded, and most have moved on from the narrative. This is a revision of that narrative. I wanted to create a strange, dreamlike world for the missing girl to live in and contemplate how things went wrong, and how she can continue to exist anyway. It’s one part my own truth and four parts an imagined, spiritual, and obscure contradiction of what I’ve been told existence is supposed to be.
Where do these themes stem from? What do you find influences your work the most?
When I was young, I liked to pretend I had powers or that there was something very special or magical about me. I think most young people do. As I grew up, I still wanted to believe that I possessed some kind of magic, but now that translates more into negotiating my identity than playing pretend. I think all of my works’ themes, new and old, stem from trying to structure an identity that is magical, whether its my own identity or the identity of my individual poems.
I’m influenced most by the things I can’t explain, like dreams, and I think I mostly derive my voice and sense of self from the parts of me and the world that I am unable to explain. This leaves a lot of space for questions, and those questions are what keep me writing new poems.
How do you think your forthcoming full-length collection differs from your previously published chapbook, These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese from Dancing Girl Press?
Many poems from She Used to Be on a Milk Carton initially appeared in These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese, but my goals for both of these books are very different and, hopefully, they tell a very different story. These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese was inspired by my grandmother (Grizzy) who passed when I was eight. She and I were very close, but I ended up finding out about most of her life after her death. When she was in her mother’s womb, she absorbed what would have been her twin. Only later, after suffering from depression and having complications delivering my dad, doctors realized she would have been a twin. She specifically absorbed her twin’s reproductive system and had essentially two wombs. I started thinking of the implications of this in a more spiritual sense—was my dad born of two mothers? Was my dad born from a surrogate for someone who never actually existed? Is part of my lineage a ghost-grandmother? I ask these questions more as a poet than a human. I know, as a human, that my Grizzy is my dad’s mother and my grandmother. But as a poet, there’s a lot of possibilities here.
And so, These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese, is really a book about the body and what the body can do, and what can be done to it.
What drives you to write? What clings to you and holds you within the dimensions of poetry? Where, and what, do you find inspiration from?
I’m most compelled to write from images. I love film, and I’m lucky to have a fiancé who loves film even more than I do. If it were up to me, I’d probably watch the same 15 movies over and over for the rest of my life because I love them so much. But my partner is working his way through the Criterion Collection, so we end up watching something new at least twice a week. A lot of times, one particular image can inspire me enough to write 2-3 poems. I get nearly obsessed with aesthetics. For example, when Jesse in The Neon Demon falls over onto the red carpet of her motel room, I was like Ahhhh! This is so beautiful. I get kinda love-sick from it, and I only know how to work it out through words.
The same applies to dreams. I’ve always been a pretty vivid dreamer and, as a writer, I’m thankful for that. Sometimes, I think if I stopped dreaming, I would never have anything to write about again. I’ve been told by some that my poems can be too obscure or hard to understand. Truthfully, though, I’m not totally sure I completely “understand” all of my own poems. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing to admit or not, LOL.
I write more from a place of trying to articulate how phantasmagorical and strange my feelings are towards these things around me. I hope if nothing else, a feeling is left with those who are kind enough to read my poems. That’s what I look for in both poetry and film. I like feeling stuck on a feeling.
What do you think ties both of your collections together?
They’re pretty similar in their structure and general ideas. They are both heavily concerned with the body from a physical and metaphysical standpoint.
How do you find your work changing and evolving?
Since I write from myself a lot, I spent some time feeling a little stuck after completing She Used to Be on a Milk Carton. It was difficult to leave the mindset of that project, and my newer poems were getting really stale and boring.
I recently completed a collection about Lizzie Borden where the speaker of the poems is possessed by Lizzie during a seance. I kind of forced myself to evolve by imagining that I (I have difficulty leaving the POV of my speakers sometimes!) was literally possessed. This was really refreshing. What’s interesting too, is that through my kind of separation from myself and into Lizzie, I found the form of my poems changing too. I researched Lizzie a lot and started to think, if she wrote poetry, how would it look? The most experimental works I’ve written have come from this exercise, including a lot of poems from text predictive, which to me, is like a modern seance.
I hope to continue to take more risks with form going forward. This is something I was afraid of for so long, and who would guess that Lizzie Borden was the answer to leaving my comfort zone!
What do you think makes a "good" poem, if that is something that you believe can be quantified at all? What work draws you in?
During my MFA, we read a poem as a cohort and then analyzed it during practicum. I remember coming to my professor and saying “Wow! That was a bad poem!” And I was so happy because it was the first time I read a poem that I really didn’t like. I was starting to worry that my inability to discern between good and bad meant that I wasn’t very “good” at poetry myself.
My professor disagreed wholeheartedly and loved that poem. He explained what he was getting out of it, and I started to like it more, but as him instead of me. So this is all to say, I think a poem is a good poem if there is something resonant within it that you can like even if you’re not reading it as yourself. Poetry as a practice in empathy is what I love about poetry to begin with.
More particularly and personally though, I’m most interested in images (big surprise)! Dorothea Lasky’s “In the T-Station” or T.A. Noonan’s “The Champagne of Teas” both drive me absolutely wild. I’m also in love with Salt is for Curing by Sonya Vatomsky and Human Dark with Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy for similar reasons. I love watching the images multiply or transmogrify across the page. I think the image is familiar and then suddenly I’m lost in it—this is what I look for and what I strive for.
What other projects are you currently, or looking forward, to working on? Where can readers find you and your work?
Currently, I’m putting finishing touches on my Lizzie collection and starting to think ahead to what’s next. Right now, I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to write a larger work, but instead I just want to continue experimenting. I’ve been both dreaming about and visiting antique stores a lot, and I’m really interested in objects. I’ve been writing a series of poems about objects I find inherently haunted and likening those objects to something seemingly unrelated. One such poem is in the first issue of Venefica Magazine and it’s called “Topiary Megrim / Valentine Écorché”.
More of my recent poetry can be found in Phoebe Journal, Sugar House Review, American Chordata, and FLAPPERHOUSE. I also have work forthcoming in Grimoire and Glass (two of my favorites!).
I’ve been expanding my CNF portfolio, and many of those pieces can be found at Luna Luna Magazine. I also have a piece on Lizzie Borden and Shirley Jackson that began my whole project in Electric Literature.
Thank you so much! It was lovely talking, Kailey.
Thank YOU, Olivia! It has been wonderful talking with you!
KAILEY TEDESCO is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and the forthcoming full-length collection, She Used to Be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publications). She is the co-founding editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a member of the Poetry Brothel. She received her MFA in creative writing from Arcadia University, and she now teaches literature at several local colleges.
Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find her work in Prelude, Bellevue Literary Review, Sugar House Review, Poetry Quarterly, Hello Giggles, UltraCulture, and more. For more information, please visit kaileytedesco.com.