By Andrea Rodrigues-Ortiz
High school is seldom strictly a period of education, of classrooms and pencils, or of scantrons and red pens. Those four years leading up to adulthood, to leaving the nest, are sometimes the most important when it comes to everything else– to unwellness, love, discovery, and healing. Kelsey Day Marlett’s debut poetry book, the last four years, chronicles the growing pains that come with being a teenager. Through poetry, Kelsey Day, Marlett’s pen name, is able to transform years of being into art that an audience can not only read, but feel.
Day has been a writer ever since she can remember. At the age of eight, a pivotal moment changed her relationship with writing forever. “I remember spying on my mother one day and I saw her writing on a word document and I was astounded. I had no idea you could write anywhere other than the search bar of the Internet. I’d been writing there for years, not knowing it could be more permanent than that. After that moment I got a little crazy about writing,” said Day.
Day stayed true to her passion and, at the young age of eleven, self published her first novel. Prince Pintus is a children’s adventure novel that brings Day’s young imagination to life. Two years later, Day would publish again. Healing Eruption, a novel about a young foster girl’s struggle with her roots, was published by Day when she was thirteen.
“Sometimes I get a little nervous about people reading those books because I was so young and they will always have my name on them,” said Day, “they’re very much appropriate for the age and level I was writing at.” The permanence of published works is what is so scary for Day, but regardless of her perceived talent, publishing novels at such a young age is an accomplishment many wish to have made.
“I have a couple of short stories published in different magazines as well and about six other manuscripts for novels that I haven’t touched,” said Day. Day told High Country Press she has been focused mainly on poetry for a while now. With the publishing of this new book, Kelsey is able to take her journey over the last four years with poetry and solidify it.
“This is my first collection of poetry which is super exciting,” said Day. “For the longest time I would only write in prose. I did fantasy, action, adventure, and realistic fiction before poetry just swept me off my feet.”
Day keeps extensive journals chronicling her life. She keeps these journals over time, and that’s where the poems in her new book mostly came from. “I wrote these poems over the last four years with no intention of publishing them,” said Day, “I think that’s what makes them so real.”
the last four years is a collection of poetry that deals with extremely personal themes and topics. Issues like mental health, unhealthy relationships, and self-discovery are covered throughout the span of the book. Day, when talking about how she went about publishing the new book, said, “poetry is so deeply personal and I definitely felt like I needed to have most of the most power and control in what was going to happen to it.”
The self publishing process differs a great deal from the process of going through an established publishing house. Self-publishing is commonly done online, where the author has a lot of control over the process. Because self-publishing allows the author to make big decisions for the final product, Day was able to decide how big the book was, the colors used, the material of the cover, and other important physical characteristics.
“Self publishing is really what you make of it,” said Day. Day expressed that although she was able to easily decide on some aspects of the book, there were other characteristics that she wasn’t able to fully control. Day used an online publishing platform that had some guidelines for the book’s spine and some other characteristics in order to help the author along the process of publishing.
“Because of the guideline, I learned to cheat the system. For the spine, for example, instead of using the format they gave me, I was able to find a way to upload a PDF file for the entirety of the front cover, spine, and back cover. This gave me a way to have the layout I wanted. I just had to find my way around the program’s preset guidelines,” recalled Day.
Day expressed the difficulty of making sure that the final product of the book was what she wanted it to be. To Day, the way her poems are presented matters just as much as how they sound. The self publishing program that Day used called for her to upload PDFs of the pages she wanted printed. This meant that Day had to format the pages first on a big Word Document, then convert them into PDF files.
According to Day, this proved extremely difficult. “One of the hardest things about this whole process was completing the actual pages for the book. I wanted every poem to look a certain way and I wanted the drawings in certain spots on the page. If you add one wrong space between a poem and an image or between the poem and the title, it throws the rest of the book off. It was really difficult going through the whole book and making sure the alignment was just the way I wanted it,” said Day.
“My amazing, wonderful, and super talented illustrator Lily Young-Fritchie did the illustrations for the entire book. She translated my works into something so beautifully visual and I wanted to make sure that the images were featured on the pages in the right way. It was definitely exhausting,” sighed Day.
“In the end, it was a relief to convert the whole thing into a PDF. The nightmare that was formatting was over,” continued Day, “When the book came in, I was so proud of everything I had accomplished. It was difficult and long, but it was something big that I accomplished for myself. One day, I definitely want to work with a big publisher for my novels. With poetry, however, this process was extremely rewarding and I definitely want to explore it more.”
Day pioneered the self publishing route for herself and has been doing so since a young age. However, she definitely had help along the way. With the guidance of other writers like Kaya Aliana and Hugh Howey, Day was able to find her own voice within her writing. Alongside other people in the field, Day also had the help and support of her family.
“My family encourages me one hundred percent,” said Day. “In fact, my grandparents are a big reason that I even found my passion for literature. When I was younger, my grandfather would bring me a new book to read every time I saw him. It really sparked my love for reading and literature at a young age. My grandmother was a teacher during my younger years and helped me edit my first novel,” continued Day. Without the unwavering support from her close family and friends, and from other writers, publishing the last four years may not have happened.
With the support of her writer friends, Day was able to edit and fine tune the poetry featured in the book. Day had friends who would read her poems and give her feedback, a helpful process that aided in the perfecting of the book.
“It’s definitely useful to have had writing friends throughout this process. They know a lot about what I am going through in writing this book and in publishing it. It’s a unique experience writing alongside other writers. Not only do they support my writing, but they also have the guts to tell me when something I write is not so good,” Day laughed.
On the other hand, Day has also had some discouraging moments throughout her journey with writing. “One weird and discouraging moment I had,” said Day, “was one day in a career class I was taking. We were going around the room and telling the class what we wanted to do to make money in the future. As you can probably predict, I said i wanted to be a writer. The teacher just paused and looked at me before coming back with a sarcastic ‘Don’t quit your day job.’”
“That moment was really discouraging and could’ve had a really negative impact on my aspirations. I was young and it’s definitely difficult to hear an adult say something like that about my passion, especially from someone who is supposed to support you,” recalled Day.
Although some people are not always supportive about pursuing a career in the arts, Day says that her biggest challenger is really herself. “It definitely is difficult wanting to go into a career in writing, it is risky. For the most part, I’ve had a lot of support. I end up doubting myself a lot more than anyone else doubts me. Throughout this process I have learned to trust myself a lot more with my writing,” said Day.
“There is a huge part of myself that is terrified to put this book out. the last four years is so personal. Everyone is going to have access to my poetry, which has always been a method of survival, and that is horrifying. I feel like this is as intimate as it gets for me,” said Day.
the last four years consists of four different sections. These sections include “Growing Backwards,” “Him,” “Me,” and “Growing Forwards.” These sections confront the aspects of unwellness, love, discovery, and healing (respectively). Day’s poems confront some of the difficult issues that young adults face throughout their last four years in highschool. Although the poems can be relatable for some, and even most, they truly reflect Day’s own personal experience.
Of course, Day will continue writing post the last four years. Right now, she’s experimenting with some of the prose she’s been writing. In addition, she’s also added a new feature to her website, “Poetry on Demand,” that promises to keep her busy.
“‘Poetry on Demand’ is a project I’ve been sitting on for a while,” said Day, “It’s a project about sharing and about being partners in the creation of poetry.” Through the “Poetry on Demand” link on Day’s website, kelseydays.com, people are allowed to submit an entry about their story or about an event that has impacted them (anonymously or not).
Once Day receives the submission, she will write a poem about the experience. She can return it to you in the form of a digital copy, a physical copy, or a physical copy with a polaroid picture. Through this exchange, Day hopes to connect with others. “To me, poetry is interactive, it’s about sharing and connection,” said Day, “I’ve already received a couple of submissions and it’s only been up for a short amount of time. I am extremely excited about what this experience will hold.”
Throughout her years in high school, Day has surely accomplished a lot. Now, with the last four years completed and published, Day can shift her focus to the adventures awaiting her in college. After her graduation from Watauga High School, Day plans to continue her education at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. There, she wants to pursue a degree in Creative Writing. The school specializes in Arts and Communications, a place where Day where surely fit right in.
“In terms of the next few years of my life, though, I’m just ready to settle into college, into a new city, and to explore this transitional part of my life,” said Day. “I would like to say that I want to be published by a big name publisher in the next four years but, I really just want to focus on making friends, feeling safe, and enjoying the college experience,” continued Day.
Kelsey Day’s debut poetry book gracefully presents a raw look at teenage years, about what it means to be a teenager who is just trying to figure out how life works. the last four years will make readers smile, cry, and feel every emotion in between. Make sure to keep an eye out for Day’s future works and accomplishments as she takes on college, if the last four years is any indicator of what’s to come, there will be plenty to anticipate.
To learn more about Kelsey Day and her new book the last four years, visit her website at kelseydays.com.
Kelsey will also be having a book signing with Foggy Pine bookstore on July 6, from 7-9 durning Downtown Boone’s First Friday Art Crawl.