The Missouri Arts Council recently had a statewide call of nominations for the next State Poet Laureate. An honorary position with the purpose of promoting and writing poetry across the state, the position comes with a two-year term and has been held thus far by only five others since the 2008 Executive Order issued by then-Gov. Jay Nixon, who created the title. The same order asked for "a published poet, a resident of Missouri, be active in the poetry community, and be willing and able to promote poetry in the state of Missouri."
With dozens of eligible applicants applying for the job, many in the Jefferson City area have placed their bets on local performer Kyle Conley.
Appearing in local venues seemingly overnight, Conley has spent the last several years becoming a familiar face for poetry. With events that range from memorials and weddings to concerts and local poetry slams, he has made a name for himself due to his friendly demeanor, masterful delivery and often spellbinding performances. But despite only now becoming known, he has always remained in the poetry and writing world.
"I've been writing since I was 8 and telling stories since I was a born," Conley said. "It has always been my passion to perform or encourage others to do the same."
Conley took this sentiment to heart, coaching two National Qualifiers and a State Poetry finalist in 2009 for Jefferson City High School, just one year after qualifying himself and placing in the top 30 poetry speakers in the nation at age 18.
It was during his freshman year of studying Secondary English Education at the University of Missouri that he'd have his own chance to encounter future Mississippi State (2012-16) and U.S. (2012-14) Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey.
"It was life changing. She had won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry only a few years before whereas I had written an endless stream of teenage nonsense. I had seen poets perform during high school competitions, but Natasha had a power and intelligence I've spent the last decade trying to emulate," Conley said. "I told her about poems I was working on with the nonchalance of a child showing finger paintings to Picasso, and yet, I never heard a single unkind word."
He then set to work training for his future profession as a public speaker by undergoing more than 1,000 hours of customer service and human resource training, in accordance with his internship with 170-year-old Nashville-based publishing company Southwestern Advantage. During this four-year period, he engaged with more than 100,000 individuals throughout the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont. It was here he developed his knack for public relations by creating videos, writing speeches, and training hundreds of students on and off the MU campus in the art of sales and public speaking.
After graduating from the University Missouri-Columbia in 2013, Conley spent the following years working for various publishing companies like Scholastic and honing his skills. In 2019 at an open mic night at the local venue, The Mission, everything changed.
In the two years since, Conley has given more than 50 performances with various local artists in the Jefferson City area, and he started his own poetry group during the pandemic: Open Mic Poetry Night.
Now, one year after announcing his first book of poems, Conley is about to be released. Titled, "Stars and All their Lovely Companions," the book of poems was made entirely by Conley and uses the etchings of renowned Spanish artist Francisco Goya for added depth to the poems. His book spans a two-year timeline, chronicling many major and minor events during and after the COVID-19 pandemic including the death of a friend, loss of friendships, loneliness, and the beauty of nature and life.
Conley can be contacted through his social media pages on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube where he advertises for custom poetry, wedding sermons and eulogies. Expect to see his book "Stars and All their Lovely Companions," cropping up later this month at a local store near you.