Friday, February 16, 2018

Poem by Matthew Olzmann: Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

I committed to blogging once a week. This week, I'm shaken by another school shooting and the deaths of children and a country that won't respond.

Just know, I'm focusing on my editing work and my family & friends. I'll return to my own work and hopefully a better attitude next week.

But for now,
I offer you this poem by Matthew Olzmann for this week's blog:

Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czesław Miłosz

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 
Can we agree Kevlar
backpacks shouldn’t be needed
for children walking to school?
Those same children
also shouldn’t require a suit
of armor when standing
on their front lawns, or snipers
to watch their backs
as they eat at McDonalds.
They shouldn’t have to stop
to consider the speed
of a bullet or how it might
reshape their bodies. But
one winter, back in Detroit,
I had one student
who opened a door and died. 
It was the front
door to his house, but
it could have been any door,
and the bullet could have written
any name. The shooter
was thirteen years old
and was aiming
at someone else. But
a bullet doesn’t care
about “aim,” it doesn’t
distinguish between
the innocent and the innocent,
and how was the bullet
supposed to know this
child would open the door
at the exact wrong moment
because his friend
was outside and screaming
for help. Did I say
I had “one” student who
opened a door and died?
That’s wrong.
There were many.
The classroom of grief
had far more seats
than the classroom for math
though every student
in the classroom for math
could count the names
of the dead. 
A kid opens a door. The bullet
couldn’t possibly know,
nor could the gun, because
“guns don’t kill people,” they don’t
have minds to decide
such things, they don’t choose
or have a conscience,
and when a man doesn’t
have a conscience, we call him
a psychopath. This is how
we know what type of assault rifle
a man can be,
and how we discover
the hell that thrums inside
each of them. Today,
there’s another
shooting with dead
kids everywhere. It was a school,
a movie theater, a parking lot.
The world
is full of doors.
And you, whom I cannot save,
you may open a door
and enter a meadow, or a eulogy.
And if the latter, you will be
mourned, then buried
in rhetoric. 
There will be
monuments of legislation,
little flowers made
from red tape. 
What should we do? we’ll ask
again. The earth will close
like a door above you.
What should we do?
And that click you hear?
That’s just our voices,

the deadbolt of discourse
sliding into place.

Originally published on the Academy of American Poets "Poem-a-Day"

~ Kells

Thursday, February 08, 2018

On Rejection: And Some Advice from Drag Queens Too...

I'm leading a class on submitting and publication with Susan Rich on Saturday and it has me thinking about rejection and how it can mess with us as poets, writers, and artists.

Being rejected is part of the deal as a poet. It's doesn't always make it better to know that, but it's true. You will be rejected more than you are accepted. You will celebrate an acceptance then sadly weep into morning coffee over a rejection that rolls in the next day. 

Sometimes you will receive rejection after rejection after rejection and like Jinkx Monsoon, you say, "Water off a duck's back, water off a duck's back."

(By the way, Jinkx won that season...) 

And since we're talking drag queens (and RuPaul's All Stars is on tonight).

Here's some other advice I've learned from drag queens:

Boos are just applause from ghosts. 
   ~ Sharon Needles

Don't be bitter, just get better.
  ~ Alyssa Edwards

Ultimately, this is a marathon not a sprint. Enjoy the journey. Yes, you may trip over a patch of rejection or get all sparkly-eyed over that rare acceptance bird you found, but what it comes down to is writing the poem. 

Control what you can control-- reading, writing, submitting.

Let the rest work itself out. And if you get a rejection, remember Sylvia Plath's "I love my rejections, they show me I try." 

My advice?

Life is short. Do your best. Make good art.

~ Kells ________________

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Confession Tuesday: The Making of a Manuscript Edition

Dear Reader, 

It's been over a year since my last confession. I am slightly out of practice and am slipping through the door late on a Tuesday evening, then pressing the button on Wednesday. I am making the sign of the cross with sparklers and cheese sticks. I am opening the confession door and carrying my manuscript inside...

I confess I have been working for years on my current manuscript. I have watched my manuscript morph in front of me, moving from a waltz to the current of waves.

I confess I did not send it out because I had pinned "perfectionism" to my shirt and wore it like a badge.

I did not send it out because I felt it wasn't done, because I didn't give myself enough time to work on it, that I allowed my job to be a greedy child stealing all my Kit-Kats of time. Actually, I gave my Kit-Kats away, then complained I had no Kit-Kats. 

I confess I had a title, changed the title, then spent over a year seeking a title.

I confess procrastination came in years that look like productivity.

I confess I have become less anxious about "publishing a book" and more interested in finding a press that is right for me and my manuscript. 

I confess at my writing residency I said, "I am writing the best poems of my life" and meant it, unironically. 

I actually do not know what "the best poems of my life" look like, but sometimes it's more of a feeling than a fact. 

This is what I tell my poet-self when she's in that euphophic phase with a manuscript. That said, I do believe I've done some good work, and while as a perfectionist, this can be hard to say, I'm become better at it.


~ Kells ________________

Friday, January 26, 2018

Distraction, Our Time, & My Best Morning Routine

^^^^^ Hey, anyone know where we can get one of these? ^^^^^^^
            (Quick answer: disconnect the wi-fi 
😉 )

I've been thinking about how to use my time more wisely as a poet, writer, and artist in the world. 

Distraction has always been the enemy of writers (note: I will do a post on the positives/pros of distraction, because you can use it for material very easily!) 

As writer and human, our most important possession is time. It's the one thing that *guaranteed,* we have less of every day. 

I know time feels like a bottomless margarita, and we're all dizzy with the belief of this endless cup and the refill, this ongoing buffet where there's always coconut shrimp and the frozen yogurt machine never runs out. But yeah, nobody is adding more minutes to our pockets. Friends, this isn't a dress rehearsal. 

And what makes it hard, is our world is made up of things that want to steal our time for their benefit. And maybe "steal" isn't the right word, maybe we *give* or *accidentally handover* our time to things that don't want the best for us, but for them.

Our time as writers is so important. If we don't have it, we don't write.

I've always taken issue when someone says, "I don't have time to write," because what I hear is, "I have not made time for my writing." Listen, if you're reading this, if you have watched a TV show in the last week, gone onto any social media site, stayed up for fifteen minutes longer than you should, you have time to write. 

Your life happening right now, and you can make choices to use your time for writing. Even if it's only 15 minutes. I have written poems in 15 minutes. Blog posts. 

The internet can be a downfall to writers. I'm going to write about Facebook below, but there are various other timesinks that may be in your life. 

(Note: If you don't want to read about the pros & cons of Facebook because you probably already know them, skip down to the ********* ___________________ and we'll get back into poetry and living a creative life). 

My Concerns with Facebook & Sites that We Created To Keep You There--

For example, Facebook wants me to show up every day because it wants more users and users that interact on its site--the more users, the more money they can get in advertising, and the more users the more others will show up to be part of the group, a circle of revenue... The news and the media is like this too, they want you to click on a link, each click is money in their pockets. 

But Facebook can steal a lot of time that I could be using for reading or writing (or even working.) 

So here are the pros and cons of Facebook:

  • My friends and community are there (yay, I can connect without leaving the house!)
  • See what others are doing  (Fun to see where people have been published and photos of kids & pets)
  • Share want I'm doing (sharing publication is fun, but also I know when I post, I have a project I need to keep up as I like to "Like" people's comments and respond to them). 
  • Sometimes see funny/cute things (like otters, and I love otters and golden retriever puppies)
  • Learn what is on others' minds or something I've missed or is important to someone  (I like to be aware of what I am missing in my bubble)
  • Feel less alone
  • Get immediate feedback on a question, ask advice, or interact with friends online


  • Time suck, I can go in and then it's 45 minutes later
  • I don't control what you see (some people post terribly graphic images to prove a point, and some of us who are more sensitive, may carry that image with them the rest of the day)
  • Facebook was created to make you stay there--the notifications are red for a reason, to get your attention, to show importance, to make give you a dopamine hit with each like, with each validation. 
  • If you compare your life to others, that can make you unhappy or feel "less than." 
  • "The worst thing that happened to me today" post (this is something new I've noticed where people post the worst thing that has happened to them during the day then we microfocus on it) Yes, a cashier or other stranger annoyed you, yes, that sucks, now move on. 
  • If I wasn't reading Facebook, what else could I be doing with my time that is more useful?

Facebook is one example, but there are many others-- too much news or having to read every news article when you wake up, screwing around on Pinterest, hooked on Twitter, binge-watching a not-so-great show, video games (I was coming home from work one year and playing Splatoon daily --and weirdly, there's a part of me that misses that). 


I have always said--everything in moderation, even moderation. 

So when I look at my life when I am feeling my best and doing my best, and while I may be engaging in some "not so productive things" and I am not drowning in them.

My best morning is goes like this:

Wake up, get coffee

Look outside for a few minutes, check in with the sky and birds

Sit on couch with book of poems and read a few poems with coffee

Pull out my manuscript in progress (printed on paper) and read through it, editing and making notes (note: if I wasn't working on a manuscript, this would read: write poems)

Open Bullet Journal (aka my life/to do list) and see what needs to be done

For me, when I'm in not feeling rushed or behind or overwhelmed or spending a lot of time online, I find I read more, write more, create more, find more space for walks, and am kinder. 

When I'm at my very best, I may say, "Wow, I actually have space to do whatever I want to do right now--what is that?" 

Sometimes I need a list to clear out my head or to read down and say, "Yep, for the next hour, I'm going to dig into my "In Process" file and find poems to revise. 

Or sometimes I just decide to read. Or nap. (Note: these are obviously on days I'm not working, though I have napped on a lunch break at work...)  But even coming home from work, I've decided to keep the laptop closed. Not to reach to see "what am I missing?" in the world, which is how sometimes the internet feels to me.

So instead of looking into this magical mirror world of who's having a birthday and what's trending and what's going on here, here, and here, I read our local paper, I play a game of Scrabble, cribbage, or Boggle. I look out the window and say, "Hey world in front of me, what's new with you? Any new birds migrating in or out? Anything blooming or growing?" This may sound terrible boring or dull, but it helps my mind be more present and also allows me to recenter then focus on what I love which is--poetry, family, friends, the environment, the universe, and books. 

And know, I am not a saint or perfect at this by any means (I checked Twitter 2x while writing this post and currently, my cellphone is dinging like mad from a group text.).

But maybe this is why I like to write about it to remind myself the importance of choosing how I use my time, reminding myself how much better I feel when I am writing and living creatively...

Thanks for reading.

May you keep the time you need for your art as well. 

~ Kells ________________

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Day in the Life of Writing Residency:

Poetry Fans! (I mean, "fawns")
I am writing this to you from a cabin in the woods. 
I am staying here with another favorite poet/writer/friend of mine, Marty Silano.

The basic breakdown of the day is this:

From the time we wake up, we do not talk. In fact, we do our best to stay out of the way. If I hear Marty making lentil soup in the kitchen, I stay in my room until she's done. These no-talk silent days are important to the writing process, it makes one have to get in touch with herself. You can't bring any unneeded or random info/topics/conversation into the other person's day.

If I am struggling, I have to struggle alone until happy hour, which begins at 5:30 pm (though last night, we didn't leave our rooms until 6:15 pm). That might sound like tough love, but it's good for me. It's good for me to feel uncomfortable and to have to work through something on my own.

Happy Hour begins when one person leaves their room after 5:30 pm. We start happy hour by taking out our favorite appetizers, some bubble water, chocolate, and a bottle of red wine. We sit at the dinner table and talk poetry and our day until one of us says, "Wanna write?"

Last night we wrote 2 or 3 poems, then wanted an inspiring interview with one of our favorite poets on Marty's laptop.  We went to bed around 11:15 pm. She stayed up and read a bit longer, I went straight to sleep. I woke up at 6:15 am.

Other rules:

I do not answer the phone here. My family knows not to call but text if they need anything. Texting keeps the outside world out. It's important for me as a writer to stop the world from breaking an entering. I can be pulled out too easily, I know this.

I have been checking email (which isn't great of me), but thankfully, not many people have written because (guess what), if you aren't emailing people, they aren't responding. 

Stay off social media. (I have broken this yesterday with Twitter when I went to check on a news story and saw the hashtag #PoetsAsFood and hammed it up for a bit) ;-) 

No news, information, or podcast except poetry (and/or art, visual artists). 

I have stayed off Facebook. I know the rule to Facebook is it's really easy to abstain from it if you don't post anything. I always tell myself posting on Facebook is basically giving myself a personal project, so don't do it unless I really really want to and want follow up on that post. 


Self Portrait with Forgotten Suitcase & Laser Printer

My first day at a writing residency is always sketching and concerning.

The reason it is because on my first day of a writing residency, I nap for hours. Short naps, long naps. My first day here I took around 6-7 naps each lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. (Note: I wrote about this in 2013 for VIDA: Her Kind, but the magazine is no longer, so I republished it here on my Medium account if you're interested: Necessary Luxuries: On Writing, Napping, and Letting Go.

Also, I actually had to have my husband drive up my SUITCASE because yes, *that* was the thing I forgot. As you look at my stuffed car, notice there is NO suitcase in any of the photos. Oops. 

But once I get past the first day, here's more what my daily schedule looks like:

Bedtime: 11ish. Before bed, determine the main thing I want/need to do in the morning as the morning is the golden time, the time that shouldn't be wasted. Also, it can be overwhelming for me to wake up without a plan and what to begin or work on, so I try to think about that before bed and also so then while I fall asleep, I can begin poems in my head, think of titles, play with the order of my manuscript, etc. in my head.

5:30-6:30 am: Wake up, flip on switch for coffee (already ready to go!), grab cup of coffee and begin reading, writing, or revising (depending on whatever plan I created the night before).

Today I wrote two new drafts for my manuscript, read four poems from Gabrielle Colvocoressi ROCKET FANTASTIC (recommended reading, btw, love this book.)

Yesterday I reordered my manuscript (first by paper, then on my laptop) and did some revising of individual poems. This took the entire day.

9 am-ish: Breakfast:  Muesli with blueberry yogurt & extra raisins. In my room while reading poetry on my bed. Today, I had breakfast at 7:30 am and my mid-morning snack at noon. I just listen and eat when I'm hungry.

Continue working on poems (either writing or revising)

This is kind of a weird euphoric time. Like today, I wrote poems while listening to Passion Pit's "Carried Away" and I was so happy with a poem I wrote, I felt almost a little dizzy with excitement. When things are falling into place, I can completely get caught up in this feeling, it doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it's magical. 

11-11:30 am: Long, extremely hot shower, think about poems I'm working on or the manuscript as a whole. 

Noon: Snack or lunch. Read poems while eating. Get back to work (possible 15 nap around this time). Today, I'm writing a blog post. 

1:30-2:30 pm: Walk. Listen to a poetry podcast, either Rachel Zucker interviewing Matthew Zapruder on Commonplace (I'm halfway into this episode & enjoying it, will finish it on today's walk) or a New Letters on the Air (Loved the Jericho Brown interview). 

2:30 - 5:30ish: Read a poem or two. Write, revise, come to a good ending place in the day. 

5:30 pm: Happy Hour with Marty. Appetizers, wine, conversation. Then we'll write new poems until 10 or 11.

11 pm: Turn on electric blanket, turn off all devices. Wash up for bed. Sit on bed and decide what my morning plan is. Sleep and dream about poetry. 


So this is why I come here, the stretch of time to write and strictly focus on my work is truly something I am thankful for. I work best with long stretches of time, where I can keep digging deeper.
The trick is allowing yourself to go deep. To not stay on the surface, to turn off the internet, email, social media. Each day I move a bit closer to that goal, sometimes I think I resist because I know how challenging returning to the real world can be (I have had MANY residencies ending with my crying on the way home and not being able to deal with real life once back). I know there is a part of me that fears that, so she tries to keep one foot in the real world so she doesn't go to deep. But I'm trying to lose my footing here, to fall into the rabbit hole and explore what's happening in Bunnyville.

There is so much our minds want to tell us and want to create, if we can just give ourselves the time and quiet to do so, we may be surprised at all we can do. 

xo from the first step into the rabbit hole....

~ Kells 

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