Nicole Sealey’s debut collection, Ordinary Beast, is a stunning compendium of poems in which she reveals herself to be a poet who can move from the deeply personal to the mythic and historic without losing the impact of either. Her poetry belies passionate dedication, executed with grace and a quiet, simmering power. Sealey was born in Saint Thomas, of the United States Virgin Islands, and raised in Apopka, Florida. She decided to commit to a career as a poet at age thirty-two, when she began an M.F.A. at NYU. While one should not understate the achievement of Sealey’s first full-length collection with a major publisher, her presence as a formidable poetic voice has been percolating for some time. Her chapbook, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, won the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize, and her accolades beyond that are many. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, and others.
I met Sealey at her office in Brooklyn, where she works as the Executive Director of the Cave Canem Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has for over two decades been committed to supporting African American poets through fellowships, workshops, and a national community hundreds strong. When I arrived, the clean, modern office space was mostly cleared in preparation to host an event the next night, Walking the Walk: Poetry, Equity & Anti-Racism in the Literary Arts, as a part of their ongoing antiracism workshop series. Warm and graceful, she offered me water and we found a quiet conference room to delve into the nuances of Ordinary Beast. Over the course of an hour, we discussed sonnets, love, and how buying an orchid can sometimes be just the thing to complete a poem. She showed me photos of her dining-room table covered in clippings of poetry that she had used to construct one piece in her collection, “Cento for the Night I Said, ‘I Love You.’ ” As the pictures suggest, Nicole Sealey is a poet ardently devoted to the craft of poetry, as committed to the organization of a workshop series as she is to the literal construction a masterful cento. Read More