On her way to graduating Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University, Victoria Kelly didn’t envision a future as a military spouse. She was intently focused on political science with an eye on a career in international law.
All of that started to change when she attended the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference during the spring semester of her senior year. There she met one Midshipman First Class Will Kelly who was on his way to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar at the same time she was headed to Ireland to pursue a masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College in Dublin. That connection led to a relationship.
They managed to keep their love alive over the months that Will attended flight school and Victoria studied at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she honed her literary chops, mostly focusing on the fiction genre. Once Will pinned on his Wings of Gold the two got married and moved to Virginia Beach where he was assigned to his first F/A-18 squadron.
Will went to sea with VFA-31 “The Tomcatters” and flew missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom while Victoria took care of the homefront. For all of her education, nothing to that point had really prepared her for the emotions — the fears and frustrations — that surround a wartime deployment.
It was fertile ground for an artist. The muse descended and the words started coming to her but as poetry not fiction. She was satisfied enough with the results to submit her poems to some contests and literary journals, and she wound up winning awards and getting her work published. Her first poetry chapbook, Prayers of an American Wife, won the Coal Hill Prize and was published by Autumn House Press in 2012.
Her second book of poems, titled When the Men Go off to War, was just released by the Naval Institute Press and is already receiving a lot of attention from both the military community as well as literary critics. Connecticut State Poet Laureate Dick Allen said, “Hers is one of the finest first collections of poems I’ve read in the last decade,” and writer Dorianne Laux characterized the work as “quiet, spare, and moving.”
An excerpt from the poem “Patuxent River” provides a good example of Kelly’s signature phrasing and metaphor:
. . . My husband stopped the car, stepped out to the road, and lifted
his face toward the roar of the jets overhead, looking
the way people look in the rain in movies
when they are happy. To him the were
as beautiful as children, those gray,
hairless beasts that had brought us here,
but he talked of them like mistresses, and he loved them,
and I loved him . . .
When the Men Go off to War is full of these sort of evocative passages, at once beautiful and tragic and always real. Navy SEAL veteran and bestselling author Eric Greitens may have put it best when he said, “We leave [Victoria’s] poems wiser and stronger.”
Watch this animated short featuring the title poem from When the Men go off to War:
Besides being an accomplished poet, Kelly is about to be a published novelist. Her debut, Houdini’s Wife, will hit shelves in March of 2016.
For more information about Victoria Kelly and to order the book visit her website here.