Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice: A Sampling of Poetry Writing Exercises

So, Martha Silano & I finally finished this project, The Daily Poet, and I have to say it turned out better than I imagined.  The book is 388 pages with a writing exercise for every day of the year including Leap Year.

Why this book came about:
Marty and I meet for writing dates and we are always asking each other to "bring a prompt" to get us started.  This started out innocently with our own writing prompts then moved into something larger.

Who did what in the book?
We each took 6 months.  I don't remember how we chose them, but I remember wanting January because it's my birthday month.  Otherwise, I think we just went back and forth until all the months were chosen.

What was the hardest part of this book?
Coming up with interesting prompts and editing the final drafts.  We kept finding things to change from words or phrases we had overused to spacing.  Overall, the whole book probably took 3 years from start to finish (coming up with the idea for it, writing the prompts, editing it, then publishing it.)

Do you have a favorite prompt?
It changes daily actually.  Here are three prompts from the book that are my favorite today--

January 23:  Titling Dali

On this day in 1989, Salvador Dali died at age eighty-four in Spain.  Write a poem with the title of one of Dali’s paintings or use four of these titles from his works in a poem:  Self-Portrait in the Studio, The Artist's Father at Llane Beach, Coffee House Scene in Madrid, Fried Egg on the Plate without the Plate, Honey Is Sweeter Than Blood, Man with Unhealthy Complexion Listening to the Sound of the Sea, The Invisible Harp, West Side of the Isle of the Dead, A Couple with Their Heads Full of Clouds, Two Pieces of Bread, Expressing the Sentiment of Love, Cathedral of Thumbs, Soft Monster.

March 5:  Midnight And You’re Awake

In the poem “Nocturne,” Susan Rich writes: I take my place in the insomniac’s village. Write a poem about a time you were awake in the middle of the night—what you discovered about the world when everyone was sleeping, or what you learned about yourself.  If you can’t remember a specific incident, make one up.  You might imagine being awake at midnight and hearing a raccoon on your porch, or pretending you are looking off your balcony in the city and you see two people kissing.  What happens in the world when most people are asleep?  Write a poem that surprises the reader with what s/he is missing.

March 23: Sugarbeep, I Love You
Write a poem where you take two very different words and put them together to make a new word.  For example, “tickle” and “lagoon” become “ticklelagoon” or “cabbage” and “joy” make “cabbagejoy.”  Now use these new, unique words to create a poem.  If you’re having trouble thinking of words, grab the nearest book or dictionary and just flip open to any page and see what words you find.

Is the book available?

You can get it in print or eBook version on Amazon.

Also, I believe if you buy the print book, you can get the eBook version for only $2.99 so you can have both!  (Or give the print book as a gift!)  

We've just got it out, so we're hoping Amazon has it set up correctly.  

~ Kells

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Confession Tuesday: Salvador Dali in the Morning


Dear Reader,

It's only been 4 days since my last confession because my last confession was late.  But I'm here, hopefully, back on a more normal schedule.

Autumn is happening and it makes me feel nostalgic, sometimes lonely, sometimes sentimental.   My emotions are all over the place like the leaves."  A friend said, "There is so much changing outside, maybe you are just overwhelmed."


Either way, I need to take my vitamin D.

To the confessional--

I confess last night before going to bed I decided to open the PDF for my final proof Hourglass Museum to read it.  I confess I liked parts of it, but then I got this huge awful feeling that it was terrible.

Somedays, I would love to be the artist with the giant ego, who believes all s/he touches is gold--everything I do is wonderful.  Some days I want to wake up as Salvador Dali.


I confess I'd be really freaked out if I woke up as Salvador Dali, but imagine being Salvador Dali in the morning.

Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí.

I read once that John Berryman work up feeling like a genius, then went to bed feeling like a failure.
I understand that.

I understand the feeling of doubt.  Of looking at your own work and wanting to run the other direction, or edit it.  Some days I feel as I don't even know how to write a poem.

I confess last month I read my manuscript and liked it.  This month, not so much.

This is how my writing life goes, one moment I'm in love with the clouds, the next moment, I'm dismantling the sky.  I wish it was always perfect, but it never is.


I confess there are a few times I year I get so sick of the writing life I say that I'm going to stop and just a) mountain bike for a living  b) paddleboard for a living  c) decorate my house (for a living?)  d) stay in bed.

Yes, I can do these things, but I have never written for a living, I write for a life.

Sometimes, it's painful.  Currently, I am in love with my next manuscript--I have written one poem for it.  But I imagine it being glorious, the heavens opening up and my manuscript fluttering on the shoulders of angels.  Oh the beauty, everywhere the beauty...

I know this new manuscript will make me cry, doubt, fear, and feel anxious.  (They all do.)  And still, I show up to the page.


Sometimes I wonder if this is easier for men, for other women, for smarter people, for less smart people, for people who don't care as much or for people who care more.  This is why I want to be Salvador Dali some days.  But mostly, I'm not.

Mostly, I'm just trying my best.


~ Kells

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Confession Friday: My Glamorous Life as a Poet/Writer/Editor (Enjoy the view...)

Dear Reader,

I am writing to you from the Best Western Hotel while looking out to a parking lot, a patch of grass and one red picnic table, waiting for the writers' conference I'm teaching at to begin.

I have already been locked out of the hotel (no really, who gets locked out of a hotel?) two times and have gone down to get breakfast (before I knew any writers were up) but forgot my spoon.

So I went down again, this time right after a shower with wet hair trying not to make eye contact with any other poets, famous writers, agents, who are staying here.

I'm watching the clock as in 30 minutes, I will be shuttled to a chat about writer's tools-- I hope someone brings up blow torches.

Here's some things that teaching at a writers conference reminds me of--

1)  We are still doing are best, bumbling around, and we are completely lost without our packets.

This is how writers operate at conferences--where is my schedule, where do I need to be next.
Our packets include a nametag, where we need to be and at what time, and tickets for drinks and lunch.

In my fantasy life as a writer, I am in Mexico on a tiled patio overlooking the Pacific and someone is bringing me margaritas while I watch the sunset while conversing with poets who passionate about their art.

In real life, I get a drink ticket for boxed wine.

2)  I confess the life of a writer, and life of a working writer are two very different things.

The life of a writer is composed of all the great stories--the time I met Li-Young Lee in a Native American smokehouse, the time Naomi Shihab Nye write me a letter, a first publication, a handwritten rejection from the New Yorker, the time I read poetry in my pajamas with 3 other poets in a Seattle hotel, having lunch with someone you just met and being able to fill the entire afternoon because you are both writers.

The life of a working writer is deadlines, schedules, and complimentary breakfasts if you're lucky.

It's finishing projects, not getting distracted by the internet, suffering through doubt, feeling completely connected and in love with all your writer buddies, then feeling terribly alone as if no one understands you.

But in the end, even when you don't know where you are going, you still write on.

3)  I confess when I really *love* a writer, I cannot talk to him or her because I become Neanderthal Girl: "Me like your books."

This happens to me at conferences a lot, I become an even more awkward version of myself.

I confess I have said stupid things to Bob Hicok.  I have not had a book signed because I was too afraid to walk up to Famous Poet X, while everyone hovered and chattered around her, I took off to the restroom to put on lipstick.  This is the adult version of hiding in the closet until the stranger goes home.

4)  I realize I just love hanging out with writers and I don't arrive with an agenda except:
    a)  Do my best
    b)  Make others who have signed up to be here feel comfortable
    c)  Try to be helpful

If someone let's says "we should network" I run screaming from the event.  The only networks I like are spiderwebs--that's some good net work--otherwise, I'm not interested connected...unless you want to talk about craft or art or struggles...

Give me a room of people who can further my career, and I will be talking to the one person who can't because honestly, usually that's the most interesting person in the room.

I'm not interested in climbing.  I'm interested in perching on the ledge with you and discussing parachute colors.

5)  Enjoy the view.

Looking out my window at the parking lot, I realize I can see concrete or I can see sky.
I can see the weird little cart used to pick up garbage, or I can see the sun coming through the trees.

This is our lives, every day of it.

We can look out the window and say, "We've paved paradise" or we can notice the greenery.

I can see the beauty in the connection of meeting new people or I can hear the heater running all night in the room next to me.

I'm seeing the sunlight, feeling the cool pillowcase on my cheek as I think about being here.  I always believe at every conference, there will be at least one person I'm thankful I met.  There are usually more.

And just like the the writer who told me, "I was a little afraid to come here, I didn't know what to expect, but I'm glad I did,"  I can also say-- "Yes, I know that feeling well and I agree."


~ Kells

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Teaching 2 Classes with Susan Rich (Manuscript Workshop & Generating New Work) in Port Townsend, Washington on Jan. 18th. Here are the details:

Poets On The Coast: A Mini Retreat:

Two Writing Classes in Port Townsend taught by
Susan Rich & Kelli Russell Agodon

Saturday, January 18th, 2014
at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St.  Port Townsend, WA

Generating New Poems / Sending Polished Poems into the World,

9 am – 12 pm
For poets who want to write new poems as well as submit their work to literary journals,
this is the class for you!  We will try a wide array of writing exercises and spend the last half hour
discussing the submission process. Hand-outs on submission letters and suggested journals. 
Susan & Kelli will also put together a submission packet of your poems to send out for you.   $98

From Manuscript into Book: The Process Demystified,

1 pm – 4 pm
This workshop is designed to help poets put together a full or chapbook length collection.  We’ll look at several different options regarding how to structure and order your poems.  Finally, you’ll have a chance to begin visualizing your work as part of a larger project. Everyone will leave with an action plan and a handout of resources leading you closer to the goal of a competed book.  $98

Or spend the day and take both classes for $189 total

Number of participants limited to 18.

Register online at:

Questions or to save your space email:

~ Kells

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Confession Tuesday: Finishing Your Book Projects (Or once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep)

Dear Reader,

I've been absent.  For the last two weeks my life has been a series of deadlines.  And proofing.  And editing.  And all the other hats that come with being a writer.

Because of this project:

I confess, Marty (aka Martha Silano) and I have been working on this for over three years.

It started innocently, we'd meet for writing dates asking the other to "create a few writing exercises to bring with you..."

After a while, we had quite a few.  Then we said, "We should make a book of these..."  Careful what you wish for.

We each took 6 months and started creating writing prompts for ever day of the year.  It took much longer than we imagined.  We had similar exercises, we both referenced the same poem by Wendall Berry. We had to go back through each of these 366 exercises (yes, there's one for Leap Year!) and find the dupes, the mistakes, the not-working-so-well exercises.

But we did it and The Daily Poet, should be available in November.


I confess there is a lot of work on a project before you come to the ending point.

Remember that.  Remember that when you are sitting at your desk writing, wondering, "Why do I waste my time?!"

Remember that before you click onto Facebook for instant gratification.

Remember that when there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel, just darkness and you are feeling your way by the walls around you.

There will be an ending point.


I confess I cried this summer, had a mini breakdown involving me calling my good friend to say, "I can't do this anymore, I cannot look at this book for another minute, I want to throw it out the window. I'm sick of this, of being inside, of wasting my summer.  This is taking forever."

This is taking forever can be defined as writer's purgatory, that special place where your book, essay, article, collection of poems, etc. is almost done, but isn't.

And all the details in creating a book (the ones that all your friends and family have NO idea about-- "I'd like to write a book one day when I retire..." --yeah, try it.  Wipe three years from your life with your silk napkin, and call me in the morning) are happening, are feeling as if they are never going to be done and finished.

Writing a book is detailed work!  And revision.  Lots and lots of revision.  And you end up spending a summer in purgatory while your friends are at the beach.

They are at the beach and you are taking one grain of sand and dropping it in a champagne flute.

But guess what?

It's worth it.

It's worth all the headaches and complaining.  It's worth getting up before everyone else to write and finish your work.  It's worth having to choose only your favorite people to be with because you just don't have the time to visit everyone.  It's worth mini-breakdowns, small collapses at your laptop, rage fits because you forgot to save your file, or you lost your file, or you spilled a pot of coffee on your computer.

There will be an ending point.

And once your book is out it's out.  No one can take that away from you.

It's like education.  Once you have it, no one can take it away.  Even if your book goes out of print, you have done your job-- you created a book and got it out in the world, you are an author.  That title can never be stolen, taken away, lost, or misplaced.  Once you have it, it's yours to keep.

Just like on Wheel of Fortune (in the early days) -- once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep.

So what are you writing about these days?  What are your projects?

When you are in the middle of them ready to give up, remember, books end.  It's a wonderful quality about them.  They can't go on forever.  And if they do, you have a series, lucky you.

But you can finish.  You will finish.

Remember, there are many of us who go through all the aches and pains of writing, but the finishing part is the bandaid, the medicine.   It's having the baby and forgetting the pain of childbirth.  Or how for nine months, none of your clothes fit.

But it usually takes longer than 9 months.  Everything takes longer than you think, my husband is known to say to me about once a week.

Know purgatory ends.  Know books get published.  Know Facebook (or surfing the net) will steal your time. Know if you just take it day-by-day, you can do this.

I confess three years was longer than I thought this would take.  But it's finished now, just the final details and then it will be out.

And honestly, I'm glad to have been part of it.


~ Kells

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Interview with Poet Alexis Ivy, Author of Romance with Small-Time Crooks (BlazeVOX Books)


1)  Alexis, congratulations on your new book of poems, Romance with Small-Time Crooks (BlazeVOX Books).  These poems dive deep into a life of struggles where drugs, sex, and alcohol are not uncommon and the "heart is in the wrong place to begin with." As readers, we become lost in this world which is both gritty and beautiful, hardscrabble and heart-stirring.

As a poet it's important to take risks in your work, you take many risks both with your content as well as in what you reveal. Early on in the book you are self-referential and the poems are written in "I" voice, which as Marvin Bell "is not the poet, but someone who knows a lot about her."   Do you consider these poems persona poems, autobiographical poems, a mix of both, or something else?  

I don’t see poetry as autobiographical.  Poetry isn’t memoir.  My poetry is on the verge of confessional.  The poems in Romance with Small-Time Crooks are a version of the truth, not the truth. 

2)  What were the challenges of writing these poems?  How long did the collection take to write?

I had to stop living the way I was living to finish the book.  You know, I had to get away from the life to write the life.  I had to get sober to complete this book. 

It took ten years total to finish the book.  Eight spent writing it and two years of sending it out. 

3)  The cover of this book is absolutely gorgeous!  How did it come about?  Were you able to offer input on your cover art or was that handled by the press?

My publisher gave me the option.  Of course I wanted to be part of the process.  I met with a friend and fellow poet.  I brought a deck of cards and he brought a camera.  We took 500+ pictures and I ended up becoming a hand model.

4)  What was hardest part in publishing this book or in the publication process?  

Letting it go.  Stop working it.  It took me awhile to stop writing in the voice and tone of this book.  I kept writing poems for the book, in the theme of the book. I had to send the final version but I could’ve kept revising for a lifetime. 

5)  What is your favorite poem from the book and can you share it here?

It changes.  I’m connected to different ones at different times.  I’m proud of my formal poems such as "Truth Is," "Hi, Mt Name’s Alexis, River Styx."  Also, the ones I love to read— "Greyhound East", "I Have My Reasons", "At The Plough & Stars." 

Here’s a Shakespearian sonnet:


and I’m an addict and the more rain pours,
the more I remember I wasn’t made for simple,
never learned anything simple. I wanted unadored,
left out, missed-out, to be unsayable,
a speech impediment. I love trouble,
know only trouble, licking the soles of any friend’s
shoes, bark up the wrong lumber, the valid bull-
shit, the going-nowheres, the too many men,
the always-till-forevers, the habitually-bad-
beats. A dance with death to have a revelation,
to get back to fair shake, to water and mend. Had
to quit quitting on me to find salvation.
Bless being careful. Bless being mine
again, beautiful for the first last time.

6)  How is promoting your book going (any good stories or advice for others with books) and what are you working on now?

Going great.  Lots of readings.  That is the best way to get out there.  Also, I get to see the raw reaction of the listener-reader of my work.   O, word of advice:  Always carry an extra copy of your work,you never know. 

For the past two years I’ve been working on a new collection of poems.  Half way through, supposedly.  Very different process than Romance with Small-Time Crooks.  The order and chronology of the poems isn’t as obvious in the new work.  As of late, I’ve published five new pieces and all my new poems are out to literary journals so I’ve been a dog for the US mail. 


You can purchase Alexis' book directly from BlazeVox here .  
And it's also available on Amazon and for your Kindle here.

~ Kells

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Confession Tuesday: The What Are You Afraid To Do Edition

In the caves after the spiral staircase...

Dear Reader,

It's been 2 weeks, 2 days of sleeping in a treehouse, 3 days of downpours and rubber boots, one night of sleeping in the Portland Zoo and 3 opportunities to pet a) a ball python  b) an endangered tortoise  c) a bearded dragon. I did it all.

But one thing really made me nervous... going into the caves of Oregon.

Yes, it's been a wild two weeks.

To the confessional--

I confess I try to be a brave warrior daily, but honesty, there's a lot I'm afraid of.

Sometimes I'm afraid to tell people certain things because I've been hurt before.  Mostly by women I thought wanted the best for me, but when I shared the thing I needed to talk about, I could tell they got a good dose of schadenfreude.

Sometimes being a human is getting knocked down by other humans.

Sometimes being a human is getting knocked down by your own fears.

Like going into those caves.  If you every wanted to discuss claustrophobia, the caves would not be the place to do.

As I walked further and further into the caves, ducking under small spaces, my head told me I needed to get out.  It told me I could get stuck in here, there could be an earthquake. I was in the belly of the whale (and yes, there is an area in the caves called Belly of the Whale as well as Dante's Inferno and one named after Satan...these are not names to warm one's heart).

But I pressed on telling myself my fear was only in my head.

We hiked up 28 stories of steps, some carved in rock, some manmade.  The cave was cold and slippery and dark; it was also beautiful.  I told myself to focus on the beauty.  There is beauty everywhere, you are lucky to get this opportunity... I said to myself as I went deeper and deeper in and my head told me that this was too much for me, this was too small of a space, too deep in the earth.

Our guide, George, who was a sweet Southern man, checked on me knowing how nervous I was.  He kept me out of my head and in the moment.

When we got to this steep spiral staircase, George told a story about a man in the cave, a long drop and a rope.  I zoned out.  I could feel the tears in my eyes, and finally I got tired of holding them in.  While he talked, I cried.  And when he was done with his story, I was done with my tears, and oddly, I felt better.

For the rest of the hike, I felt good.  Better than good. Alive and okay that I was stuck in a cave for another 45 minutes.  I even climbed to Paradise Lost--a steep narrow staircase that led me up to this cave platform about 50-60 feet up.  If the cave had a resting place near heaven, I was in it.

I finished the cavewalk and went for a mile hike up the mountain I had just been inside of feeling thankful to be back on top of the earth. I had felt the fear and moved on.


I realize to be a good writer, you have to risk that vulnerability, even when you're not writing about personal subjects, you have to risk something every time you write.

Being vulnerable has been making the rounds lately.  Like these smart quotes from Brene Brown:

"If we want to be courageous and we want to be in the arena, we're going to get our butts kicked," she says. "There is no option. If you want to be brave and show up in your life, you're going to fail. You're going to stumble. You're going to fall. It's part of showing up."
People who never risk anything but criticize the people who do -- don't matter. "If you are not in the arena also getting your butt kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback," Brown says.

I've just started reading her book: Daring Greatly (How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead)

When we write, we need to present with the paper and the words.  We need to write the things we are afraid to write.

Most of our fears are in our head.  When we're afraid of being hurt (physically, emotionally, spiritually), we don't show up.  We retreat.  We hold back.

I realize while I am not always a brave warrior I do try, and have learned that I will heal.

I would rather push through the fear, deal with the pain, then not try.  It's not fun being afraid of your own life.

"I think being vulnerable feels dangerous, and I think it feels scary, and I think it is terrifying," she says. "But I don't think it's as dangerous, scary, or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and wondering, what if I would have shown up?"

That is my biggest fear, more than being hurt.  That I won't do something for fear of how I will be seen or judged, fear I won't speak up because it's easier to stay quiet.  The fear I will not try...

Since I confess I'm still working on all this, I'll end with her quotes:

 There’s nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen.
You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story & hustle for your worthiness.
We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.. Definition of courage: Tell your story with all your heart.


~~  So what are you afraid to do?  (Anonymous posts welcomed...)

~ Kells

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