Author of the Month: Poet Kai Coggin

By Susan Peterson

Words are free and available to everyone. We all use them. But Kai Coggin makes her living arranging words until they convey a message beyond the ordinary. 

Kai is a poet. She strives to make the world a better place through her poetry, and she helps others use their voices to do the same.

Kai was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and lived there for the first seven years of her life. Following her parents’ divorce, her Filipino mother moved Kai and her sister to Houston, Texas, as a single mom wanting her children to have better educational opportunities and chances.

During her teenage years, Kai turned to writing poetry as a means of healing her emotions and understanding her identity, “Poetry was my friend, my confidant. It helped me to be my true and authentic self,” she said.

Her love of poetry led to a Bachelor of Arts in poetry and creative writing from Texas A&M University. But after graduation, she didn’t know how to actually be a poet and found that a job teaching English in Houston was a better way to pay the bills. She received her emergency teaching certification and quickly was offered a position at Taylor High School in Alief Independent School District, the same district she attended.

She taught passionately for five years and excelled as a teacher, using unconventional teaching methods, such as poetry drum circles and outdoor instruction, with her ninth- and 10th-grade students. She was named Teacher of the Year, then the district’s Secondary Teacher of the Year, and was a top five finalist for Regional Teacher of the Year out of 85,000 teachers.

Poetry still lived in the back of her mind, waiting in her heart. After achieving the pinnacles of teaching at 28, the urban landscape and city life proved unfitting for her spirit, and a new adventure awaited. In 2012, Kai and her wife traded the hardscape of Houston for unending miles of green hills, fresh water, and a slower pace of life that they discovered in Hot Springs National Park.

Kai’s work as a poet fully developed in her new mountainside residence. The new environment and beauty of the Natural State had a profound impact on her creativity. Poems poured out. She published her first poem in 2013. Seeing it in print motivated her to compile some of her best works and submit them to a manuscript contest through an independent publishing house in New Mexico. Hundreds of entries were submitted, and Kai won. And that’s how “Periscope Heart” (Swimming with Elephants, 2014) became Kai’s first full-length published poetry collection.

Her second collection of poetry was published only two years later – “Wingspan” (Golden Dragonfly Press, 2016), followed by “Incandescent” (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019), and her most recent, “Mining for Stardust” (Flowersong Press, 2021).

In “Mining for Stardust,” Kai focuses on the collective experiences of the year 2020, alluding to racial strife, political turmoil, and the pandemic. But personal poems about nature and love also abound, giving us a sense of connection and optimism. The book is dedicated “to Joann, her wife and North Star, and to the more than 4.4 million lost in the pandemic.”

On Wednesday nights, Kai can be found at Kollective Coffee + Tea in Hot Springs, where she is the current host of Wednesday Night Poetry (WNP), the longest running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country. The show has a record of more than 1,730 consecutive weeks in a row, celebrating more than 33 years in February.

Kai assumed the role of WNP host in 2019, when she was asked by founder Bud Kenny to “take it into the future.” She is proud of the fact that she continued holding the program virtually during the pandemic. The online show grew in popularity and attracted many of the country’s most prominent poets, including Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate. More than 4,000 poets from six continents around the world participated in Wednesday Night Poetry, which became a global community for love, warmth, and survival for like-minded wordsmiths.

This rising star has been nominated four times for The Pushcart Prize, as well as Bettering American Poetry 2015 and Best of the Net 2016, 2018, and 2021. She received the 2021 Arts in Education Award, which is among the Governor’s Arts Awards named by the Arkansas Arts Council.

In addition to her collections, she has a spoken word album, “Silhouette” (2017), and her poems have been published in numerous magazines, anthologies, and other publications.

Kai also found a way to continue to teach, her other passion. She is employed as a teaching artist of poetry/creative writing for the Arkansas Arts Council and Arkansas Learning Through the Arts, a post she has held for eight years. Through her creative artistry, she imparts the healing power of poetry, giving students a place to express their feelings and access their complex and ever-changing emotions. She has had a broad reach across the state, having worked with nearly 8,000 students.

Kai’s books are available on Amazon and independent booksellers across the country. To contact her for appearances or to receive a personalized and signed copy of “Mining for Stardust,” visit

Latest posts by Susan Peterson (see all)