with O’Phylia Smiley
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
O’Phylia: I’ve written since I was a child. I started writing poetry at 7 when I first learned about Phyllis Wheatley. Our teacher explained her poetry to us and I thought, I could do that.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
O’Phylia: Eve L. Ewing, Chen Chen, Victoria Chang, Mellisa Lozada-Oliva, and N.K. Jemisin.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influenced your work?
O’Phylia: I grew up in the South. I was born in Virginia and lived there for 8 years, but most of my poetry takes inspiration from the bayou in lower Alabama where I grew up. Wetlands make me feel powerful, feel enriching like nothing else to me. There’s something so wonderful about a space in nature that cannot be controlled. The kudzu and Spanish moss draw me in as well. People are so angry about how kudzu covers everything, about how it’s an invasive species, as if kudzu walked over and just decided to make things miserable for humans. The vine was brought here and people are mad that it thrived.
Though my poetry is heavily inspired by my hometown, Celtic stories have an influence in the stories I write. I’ve always been interested in Ireland, and going there in 2008 cemented my love for the fae.
Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
O’Phylia: Flame Work,” a poem recounting what my family does when there’s been a death of a child, is something that I’m so glad I get to share with the world. I’m often the quiet one on my mother’s side of the family, but I love them dearly. I often say my poems are apologies, but this one is more of a letter of gratitude.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
O’Phylia: Not necessarily. I’ve always been a writer, and I knew that even if I didn’t get anything published, I would write regardless. I suppose when I discovered lit mags I realized I didn’t have to publish an entire manuscript of poetry at once. Framing it as a few pieces at a time made the decision less daunting.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
O’Phylia: Reading, of course. I enjoy scrapbooking and doing collages to relax; it’s nice to have something that doesn’t involve screens. I also enjoy pole fitness since you can have tangible results like getting into a trick you’ve practiced for months. It’s nice to have something I can see for myself.
Q7: Any recent or upcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
O’Phylia: Wizards in Space and Black Girls Create included my poem Flame Work in the anthology These Bewitching Bonds. I couldn’t be more honored to be alongside such great writers. You can order the e-anthology here.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
O’Phylia: From “Miriam,” published in issue 2, of Occulum Mag: “…I have no qualms/ About drowning you.”
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
O’Phylia: Arielle Tipa, writer and editor of Occulum Mag, and Swapna Krishna, who offered her mentor services to me.