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"Credentials" by Collin Kelley 

Collin Kelley is a journalist, playwright, and poet from Atlanta.   He is the author of Better To Travel and the host of The Business Of Words radio show.




© 2004  Collin Kelley







I sit at a table with four famous poets,

but only one acknowledges my existence.

I am here by chance, a generous offer from

the one who heard me read the night before.

But it is the man who studies me like something

scraped from the bottom of his shoe who asks

the question: What are your credentials?


I have not been published in The New Yorker,

Kenyon, Atlantic, Poetry or Paris Review.

I have a few credits to my name in

small magazines, journals and online.

This stammered response is not enough.

Will never be enough. I am in my Jesus year,

and I am crucified at a greasy spoon by someone

with a wall full of degrees, five books and an ego

that sucks life from the room. I am 33 years old

and I do not have the proper credentials.

I am not worthy to be at the table and the shifting

of his body away from me ends any hope.

He will not speak to me again that evening and

I will not write a word for a week,

burning myself down for not thinking of the words

to say, to come back at him. They come later,

perfect and ineffectual. They always do.


I am the legacy of two emotionless parents

who put on a game face at my late birth and

wear it to this day.

Their poker faces sent me reeling into the world,

searching for emotions and signals and needs

yet to be satiated.

I survived two boys who stripped me of my

sense of self so they could have one of their own.

I lived through years of raised hands, threats

to leave and threats to return.

Ran into those arms like an un-tethered animal

too stupid to be stunned  by the stick.


I sat at the same desk for 12 years writing

innocuous words for others while my own words

circled my neck like a noose.

Choking on their need for release only to find

they were not good enough.

I took every rejection in stride, paying my dues,

waiting for that spark that would make the words

transcend into poetry.


Even after some modicum of success, someone

was always there to temper it.

What journals have you appeared in?

Who will publish your book?

I will do it myself like Whitman and countless

others before and after him. But it is not enough.
It does not have that scent of academia and cliques,

a rarefied air.

Whitman was a hundred years ago, a fluke,

an accepted anomaly.

I am told I missed my chance when I dropped

out of college because I could not afford tuition,

nor focus enough to complete remedial algebra.


On many days, I have struggled just to stay.

Resisting urges to swallow stashed pills, 

sitting in the garage with the door closed,

Fleetwood Mac playing on the radio,

lulling me to sleep in the backseat,

fumes merging with a song from my childhood.


I have lived another day to put pen to paper,

to scratch out words to explain the descending

darkness of mental illness, abuse, poverty and

a childhood in purgatory.

My god, man.

You have the nerve to ask for my credentials

when I am sitting here before you. Alive.



All work is copyrighted property of Collin Kelley.




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