‘Rootlines,’ a poetry collection hits shelves this week

By Campbell Parish, Assistant Living Arts Editor

Senior creative writing major Kelsey Day Marlett explores her relationship with society and nature in her new poetry collection Rootlines, which was released on April 21. 

“Humans have always been a part of nature, and nature has always been a part of human life,” Marlett said. “Rootlines is sort of my own exploration and attempt to work through the questions that come with that sort of realization.” 

Marlett is a queer neurodivergent writer from Appalachia, which is a cultural region in the Eastern United States. She is specifically from North Carolina, and these aspects of her identity are expressed in her writing. Growing up in a rural part of Southern Appalachia, Marlett said she was itching to get out and go to the city. 

In March 2020, when students were sent home because of COVID-19, Marlett went from being extremely busy in Boston to having excess free time.  As her time at home increased, Marlett spent her days outside, in the woods behind her house, growing a connection with the nature around her. She describes her quarantine experience as an existential reckoning.

There were many events that happened in Marlett’s life that inspired Rootlines.

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“I moved to Colorado to take care of my sick grandmother, a friend of mine committed suicide, and my longtime partner broke up with me,” Marlett said. 

Going through the motions of grief, Marlett was able to be in a place where she could reflect on herself and the environment around her. 

“Politics and art are irreversibly intertwined,” Marlett said. “I started to write about it. I wrote these poems as a way of sorting through the questions I had and the feeling I had and the anger and like hurt and terror and hope that comes with loving a place desperately that is in danger.”

Wilde Press is publishing the first edition of Rootlines, and is printing only 150 copies of the book. A second edition is in the works independently, as it can be more expensive to print more copies. All funds from the second edition are going to the Indigenous Environmental Network, a grassroot environmental justice activist group. 

Cary Curlee, an adjunct professor at Appalachian State University located in Marletts home state, uses Marlett’s book Last Four Years in his class as required reading. He teaches a first-year seminar course as well as Appalachian studies, a subject that discusses the history of the area. He is trying to diversify the reading and the perspectives that he includes in his classes, especially because he is a white man. 

Marlett’s book resonated with Curlee’s students. Curlee said her stories hit home for a lot of his students and that reaction sold him on her writing even more. 

“The best reaction [to Marletts writing] I’ve ever seen [was], I remember one person emailed me and said, ‘Thank you for making me feel seen.’ This is the first time I’ve felt seen in a class this early,” Curlee said. “As an instructor, that’s what you want.”

Curlee is extremely proud of the work that Marlett has completed over the past years that he has known her. He said Marlett brings a lot more to the table than just skill, that she’s someone that you want to be around and talk to. 

“We need her,” Curlee said. “Her heart’s in the right place, and she’s got the skill and the ability [to succeed].”

Megan Busbice and Brianna Cunliffe met Marlett in 2017 at the Governor’s School, where they were enrolled in classes about writing ranging from fiction to poetry. 

“Kelsey has always been a great writer. Great at fiction writing, great at poetry, great at everything,” Busbice said. “I’ve always enjoyed her poetry.”

Busbice expressed her excitement about Rootlines being published by Wilde Press. She recounted how she shared Marlett’s book, The Last Four Years, with a friend in high school and how that friend is a fan of her work and excited to read Rootlines

Cuniffe shared how thrilled she was to see Marlett write Rootlines and be involved in the process of putting the book together. She said the poems included in the book encompass many different emotions. 

“I think that Rootlines is a collection that refuses to be just one thing, it encompasses so much fierce joy and so much sorrow,” Cuniffe said. “It takes us to these broad questions that we all grapple with while being really intimate. I think that’s a remarkable thing.” 

All of Marlett’s supporters emphasize how much hard work she put into this collection of poems and how privileged they are to see her grow and develop as a writer and beyond. You can purchase Rootlines with the link in Marlett’s Instagram bio, @KelseyDays.