Kahlo Smith’s Clay Boy is an anthropology and religious studies major in her third year at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her poem “Clay Boy,” published in the 2021 edition of Scribendi, received the Editor’s Choice Award in literature. Read our exclusive interview with Kahlo below! 

     What first inspired you to write “Clay Boy”? 

I wrote “Clay Boy” to be performed live at a Poets’ Club showcase. As so often happens with showcases, I decided at the last minute that I’d never written a good poem in my life, so I composed a title on the spot and signed up before actually writing the piece. I knew I wanted to write about cultural references to golems, so I picked the title from the storybook and started from there.  

     How long have you been writing? 

My parents still have the essay blue books in which my mom and preschool teacher would write down the stories I dictated to them as a three-year-old. That’s the only proof I have that I’ve been writing fiction and poetry since I was a toddler, since most of my memories from preschool involve snack time and skinning my knee during the school play. 

     What does this piece mean to you? 

It took a long time for me to figure out how to write a poem about emptiness that didn’t feel empty, and what I settled on said a lot about how all of my hobbies (including writing poetry) sometimes feel like crutches. I usually perform pieces that have humor as a major element, even if they’re serious, so reading this for an audience gave me the worst pre-performance nerves I’ve ever had. My hands were literally shaking when I rehearsed before the show.  

     Is this work representative of any larger trends in your artistry? 

As a cultural Jew and a Religious Studies major, I factor religious iconography into a lot of my poetry! This poem has less levity and more vulnerability than most of my pieces do, but with its vaguely fantasy-horror vibes, I think it fits right into the kind of work I’m creating right now. 

    Do you have any favorite poets to read? 

There are so many poets I’ve read and loved. I recommend e.e. cummings and Lucille Clifton to friends; I mourn for Sappho’s lost oeuvre. I consider Edgar Allan Poe a guilty pleasure and Sylvia Plath a vicious pleasure. Most of the poetry I prefer to read today comes from friends in my writing communities, like fellow Poets’ Club members. There just aren’t enough classic poets writing about gay cowboys and lactose intolerance. 

   What do you enjoy the most about creative writing

There’s something about good stories that captures my attention to the point that I just lose myself in them. It’s an out-of-body experience. I love creating things with letters and syllables that make people feel real emotions, even if they’re completely disconnected from the subject of my words. Writing is really the most joyful thing I do for myself, and I hope it will always be the center of my life. 

     Tell us about yourself and your career goals! What do you like doing in your spare time? 

Writing has always been my thing. After taking a gap year to focus on querying novel manuscripts, I’m going to apply to MFA programs, with the goal of eventually becoming a novelist. I still haven’t really figured out my ideal day job, though I think teaching and editing are on the table. I love to learn, so while I’m not sure whether my Anthropology or Religious Studies majors will be super applicable to my future career, I’d honestly consider my original research one of my hobbies right now. It shares time with gardening, baking, playing guitar and harmonica, Dungeons & Dragons, and listening to a possibly unhealthy number of podcasts. 

    What advice do you have for our readers and future submitters to Scribendi

I think the most important thing in creative writing is to write for yourself. You should have fun (or at least work out some issues) with every piece! At the end of the day, though, writing for yourself means writing without any rules. If you write for validation from others, or to get published, or for a grade, or to emulate a style, you’re still writing—as long as that’s what feels good to write. You don’t owe the world any special words.