Poetry in Motion: The versatile voice of Kilby Smith-McGregor

June 1, 2016

In her debut poetry collection Kids in Triage, Kilby Smith-McGregor deftly “balances the necessary emotional distance with empathy, tenderness and dark wit” (Gil Adamson) as she “potently catalogues our desperation to cure illness, violence, the ache of being” (Brecken Hancock).

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Winner of the 2010 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for her short fiction, Kilby Smith-McGregor proves her versatility as a writer and reveals the breadth of her talent with her debut poetry collection, Kids in Triage, published by Buckrider Books (Wolsak & Wynn) this spring.

Probing emergencies both public and private, Smith-McGregor has compiled “a diagnostic manual for the mess of the human condition” ( Brecken Hancock). A woman spontaneously combusts (or so says her husband), St. Valentine is stoned and beheaded for performing marriages, a medical student practices needle technique on an orange. The catalogue of injuries runs from amputation to a simple bruise to the metaphysical, each equally urgent.

Linguistically, the collection crackles and hums like an overcrowded emergency room, with occasional “gusts of cadence” ( Gil Adamson) layering in urgency like a stat call over the loudspeaker. Take, for instance, the passage from which the collection draws its title: 

                        Morningside protests

                                              narrative temporalization         

                                                                    sit in St. Luke’s and see


                        the kids in triage since pre-

                                             Washington’s plaster abolition

                                                                 sometime-split-off, the symptom


                        we grew up out of

                                             cuticle-bit survivalist roots

                                                                 veining Manhattan schist


                        see: “The child as projectile”

                                             a science of aging bruises

                                                                  proves speculative at best


(from “Readings on the Philosophy of Colour: Morningside Heights”)

The images flash as if glimpsed from a quick-moving stretcher, the sibilance of sometime-split-off…symptom quickly juxtaposed by cuticle-bit, schist – the clipped staccato punches of CPR. And at the end, a telling wordplay:

                        See: DSM

                                                BDSM –

                                                                         autoplastic processing

For here is the crux of the collection, the distillation of its themes: the impulse to quantify and codify illness, the complex intersections between pleasure and pain, and the conflict that arises when the depth of human experience surpasses our ability to understand.

Whip-smart and unapologetic, Smith-McGregor’s words “embed like shrapnel” (Brecken Hancock), sure to leave a mark.


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Kilby Smith-McGregor holds an MFA from the University of Guelph and currently works as a freelance graphic designer in Toronto. Poems from Kids in Triage will appear in Brick #97 (due out in June) and Best Canadian Poetry 2016 (forthcoming from Tightrope books). In May 2016, Kilby guest-curated Writing the Body for The Puritan magazine’s Town Crier blog. You can find her online at kilbysm.com.


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Thanks so much to Emily at Wolsak & Wynn for sharing Kids in Triage with us! For more Poetry in Motion, click here.


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