Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Confession Tuesday: The Dark Days Edition

It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear. The one who says, "Nothing good came of this" is not yet listening.
     ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés


Dear Reader,

Yes, it's been that kind of week. 

I confess I posted on Facebook that I've been writing a lot of strikingly sad poems.  I have been.  But I also think they're solid poems.  

My friend told me not to go back "and clean them up" when I'm feeling better.  She believes that the darker places are important, as do I.

She said, "Maybe you are going through this because these are the poems you need to write, because these poems need to be out in the world."

I love my friends who don't try to change me, but who understand my brokenness without judging it and in fact, see it as a plus.  They allow me to be a little Plath now and then.


I confess some people want me to pep up. They tell me to find my happy place.  I know my family worries a bit when I'm Elvis Costello's Sulky Girl.  Though there is a part of me that just wants to indulge in the pain of this place.  Especially when I am writing so much, this is the reward for this not-so-positive behavior.  

America is peculiar in the way it wants people to be happy all the time.  Americans smile a lot. I smile a lot even when I am sad.  It's disconcerting. 

We need the patterned drapes from Target and the ottoman that also holds storage so we an seem put together (throw the unread magazines in the ottoman, we have guests coming over!), but we close the drapes on our sadness, can't let the world see us when we're not at our best.

Here's the thing-- lately, I'm more interested in the waywardness in people, in the flaws and foibles, in the mistakes and misunderstandings.

I like people the way I like my hair, a little damaged.
I'm tired of a photoshopped life.  I'm tired of perfection.


So this is where I am right now. No need to for a Hallmark card or good thoughts.  

I’m sure Future Kelli will want to delete this post when she’s feeling better (she’s self-conscious like that), but I think there’s something important about not ignoring darker times, but instead see what can be learned from them, written about them, and to acknowledge that as humans we are not always in high spirits and that’s okay.

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. 

          ~Edna St. Vincent Millay


~ Kells

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Confession Tuesday: The Short Maze of Bees

Dear Reader,

It's been a week since I've last confessed.  A week and 7 - 8 drafts of new poems.

A friend sent me a YouTube link to a song I now love and I've become Pavlov's dog-- I hear the music and start writing.  I need more music like this.

I did this a few years ago while listening The Fray. I would listen to this song Over My Head (Cable Car) and How To Save A Life .  Though those poems were sad and these poems are saucy.

I confess in my head these are amazing poems, the best things I've written in awhile.

In truth they are probably not, but sometimes we just have to keep the glimpse of possibility.


I confess sometimes I confuse myself.  My head is maze of bees right now.


I confess I can't get the movie Midnight in Paris out of my head this week.  I have to watch it again.  In my regular life, I play the part of Gil, always with my Golden Age Thinking.

Another movie I need to rewatch is Il Postino.  And Frida.  I love Frida.


I've had this yearning to jump a plane to Paris.  I won't do it.  Though there was a time in my life I would.  I sometimes miss that person.


I confess I don't have a lot to confess today, so I'll keep this short.  Bees buzzing.  Honey dripping from my lips.

I'm heading out to my writing studio to write today.  And revise.


~ Kells

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Northwest Poets: 2 Classes in Port Townsend, January 18th, 2014

Susan Rich and I are teaching two classes as a mini retreat for poets 
at the Northwest Maritime Center, Port Townsend, WA.

Here are the details if you're interested.  We have 5 or 6 spaces left.


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
Number of participants limited to 18.

If you're interested, drop me an email (kelli (a) agodon.com)  and I'll hold your space.
And/or go here for the registration form.

~ Kells

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Confession Tuesday: The HodgePodge Edition

Dear Reader,

It's already Tuesday again and my mind is hodgepodge, a mess of wrappers and chewed gum.

Inspired?  I have been, though when I attempt to write here, to confess the things I need to confess, I am a bread bag empty of its bread.

So this edition will be mix of all the extra stuff overflowing from my brain.  Hope you find something useful, interesting, or entertaining...

To the confessional--

I confess last night I had a dream I was onstage with Elvis Costello holding his hands and singing "Everyday I Write The Book." Afterwards he gave me his address and personal email with a handwritten note inviting me to the Grammys in Tennessee in April.

I have no idea what any of this means.  Feel free to interpret as needed.


I confess hearing people's dreams is among the terrors of the breakfast table.  I stole that quote from someone.  But it's true.


I confess I get distracted when riding in the car and it's hard for me to finish a sentence as I'm so visually distracted.


I confess this happened yesterday while mountain biking.

We came across these mushrooms (what I call "storybook mushrooms").

I was so visually taken by the beauty of the forest I wanted to stand there and cry.

And then meditate.
Then sit down and have a picnic.

I wanted to take it all in a way I know isn't possible.

So I took this photo.  Which is like seeing God and instead of embracing him, I ask for his autograph.


I confess I enjoy texting, but I'm always texting people the wrong things.

Sometimes people get my grocery lists.  Sometimes a strange photo (not that kind of photo...heads out of gutter please.) Sometimes long notes to the wrong friends.  Or xoxo, sweet names.

I worry what people will get from me.  Then I remember life is temporary and feel better.


I confess there is a whole generation that doesn't know this song, and it makes me sad.

(King Harvest: Dancing in the Moonlight)

I confess I love looking at old photos of couples in love.  Or in like.  Or in lust.  Or in maybe.  Or in friendship.   

And I like it best when they handwrite something on their photograph (I'm not crazy about misspelled words, but I look past it for this type of thing...):

I confess when I read the above, I wished it had just said, "You better save me."


~ Kells

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Support Your Local Poet: Or the Importance of Supportive Friends In Your Writing Life

In the Artist Way they have a name for people you tell your best ideas and they are either unsupportive, doubtful, or just Debbie Downers on the subject-- The Wet Blankets.

The Wet Blankets is not a rock group, but are the people in your life who bring you down, who point out what's wrong with what you are creating, what you have created, how they would never do such a thing.  

They ask if you're qualified, they raise their eyebrows in that concerned look, they shake their heads.

They are the takers of energy, faith, and confidence.

And you've got to watch out for them!


When I feel that someone in my life is becoming a wet blanket, the first thing I do is stop sharing my projects with them.  If they get worse, or I lose too much trust in them, I start adding distance to our lives. 

I have been known to burn bridges, just to stop the crazy people from following me home.  

When I have a friendship with someone, the only thing I ask is that the friend wants the best for me, 
(as that is what I offer to my friendships-- I'm only friends with people I want the best for.)

When I feel someone doesn't or no longer want the best for me, I move away.

I admit, I should have the talk before moving away, but I hate "the talk."  With really good friends, I'll have the "the talk," but with more peripheral friends, I tend to just disappear or disconnect.

The people you keep around you should be your cheerleaders and ladders, they should hold you up.  

They should be people with whom you can share your deepest fears, insecurities, weaknesses, crazy thoughts, mistakes, weirdnesses, and all your creative ideas without fearing that they will judge you or bring you down.

My group of friends right now are these people. I can confide in them.  

I tell them the things that make me feel as if I'm alone and they tell me I'm not alone.


Getting to a point like this took awhile.  

There were friends I invited over only to realize I could never invite them back into my home because of how they made me feel, or maybe not how they made me feel, but how I felt.

It can be hard to find your tribe.

You have to risk something.  You have to ask them to hold your heart and hope they don't drop it.

But it's worth the risk.  They are worth the find.


Today to finish off my support your local poet post, I'm going to share some things that are happening in other poet's lives that should be cheered and celebrated.

Celebrate this--

Martha Silano's new book: RECKLESS LOVELY is available on pre-order!

Help Jeannine Hall Gailey's book UNEXPLAINED FEVERS by voting for it on GoodReads!  And she was on Reddit! doing "Ask Me Anything"

Julie Brooks Barbour has a beautiful meditation poem on anxiety at Sundog here.

Wendy Wisner's amazing book about motherhood and life MORPH AND BLOOM is out!

Matthew Thorburn's new book EVERY POSSIBLE BLUE about love & city life is out (gorgeous cover too!) 

Daniel Nester edited a new book, THE INCREDIBLE SESTINA ANTHOLOGY, and Daniel Nester is just awesome in general.

Renee Saklikar (an amazing Canadian poet) has a new book called Children of air india: un/authorized exhibits and interjections and here's an article about it.

* * * *

What's your good news for the week?

~ Kells 

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Balance Dilemma: Putting Your Writing First

Photo by Ana Luísa Pinto

For the last six month, I have not been the poet I wanted to be.

I've been the editor, the co-founder, the graphic designer, the book cover artist, the socializer, the proofreader, the teacher, the brainstormer, the organizer, the co-director, the financial planner, the faculty, the breadwinner, the book contract reader, and the researcher.

These are all important titles, all valuable, all needed.

The problem is each of these other jobs was stealing time away my most important job-- being a writer.

For the last three days, I have been locking myself in my writing shed and focusing only on my writing.

I have been getting up before the rest of the house and revising poems from 5 am - 7 am.

I feel dizzy.  I feel that overwhelming sense of satisfaction I get when I am lost in my writing and in words.  I have this weird euphoria, this wanting-to-stand-on-a-cliff-and-yell-I'M-AWESOME-LIFE-IS-AWESOME.

Writing does this to me.  It's my fastest serotonin boost.  

People talk of runner's high, I swear there's a writer's high.  Even if I don't publish the work, show it to anyone, do anything with it except write it, I feel elated.

I think it was Gloria Steinem who said, 
Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.

This is how I always feel.


I know there are other parts of the job besides writing.

I know we have families, jobs, friends, chores, errands, stuff, that we have to attend to. And we want to attend to our families and friends because they matter. 

But we can't do everything and there are ways to do things better, make choices.

Here's a few things I've changed in my life to put writing first--

1)  Edit this mindset: Find time to write  REVISED: Make time to write.

When I hear someone say, I can't find the time to write.  I want to say, "Well, it's hiding under all those hours you spend on Facebook."

Or maybe it's under the TV, or your two-hour commitment to your hairstyle.

You will never find time.  Time is running out the door while you talk on the phone.  Time is giving you the finger while you surf the internet, read HuffPost. Time is brilliant at hide-and-seek.  You'll never find it.

But there's this amazing thing called "Making time."

Take out your calendars right now and X hour 2 hours in the next week for writing. Congratulations.  You just made time.

That's is.  It's putting our priority of writing first.

For the last 5 months, I haven't done this.  I've been swimming in my own head of tasks and too much to do.  
But was their time to write?  Yes.  
Did I find it?  No.  
Could have I have made it?  Yes.  
Did I? No.

2)   Don't worry, spiders, I keep house casually.  ~Issa

I let a lot of things slide.  I am the worst domestic diva, I am the Cher in the movie Mermaids serving her kids appetizers.  

If you were to set me next to another mother at my daughter's school and grade us on  
1) how often we houseclean  
2)  how well we cook    
3) how many Halloween costumes we have made by hand     
4) how often we bake    
5) how well we organize our family photos    

I would lose.

However, since 2003 I've published 5 books and one more is on the way.

Also, another secret-- hire a housecleaner every so often.  Or a landscaper.  Or a handyman to fix all the things on your to-do list (even if you're a man and you're handy). Totally worth the expense.  People spend money on crazier things. Consider it you paying for your writing time.  A self-made residency in your home.  Your time is worth something.

We each choose our priorities.  If your priority is winning the do-it-self-parenthood award, go for it.  We each need to choose what's best for us individually.

But if your priority is publishing a book, get some help with your tasks or overlook them. 
Get a sitter every once in awhile. Ignore the dishes in the sink and write.

3)  Carry a book of poems and a notebook always.

You know those fifteen minutes you are sitting outside your child's school waiting to pick her up. . .

Or you're waiting for a prescription to be filled.  A doctor's appointment.  You're somewhere in the world waiting.  Next time you find yourself waiting, do this--

Take out a book of poems and read it.  Slowly.  Read each line and thinking about each image.

Now, take out your notebook and write a line in response to a line in the poem.

If the poem said, That time the canvas wasn’t made / of sorrow.  You write: Yesterday, the envelope was made of bliss.  Or:  We weren't made of apologies, but of the yellow tails of waxwings.  

Write and see what happens.


I know this is an ongoing challenge for many of us.  I know we will all fail and then do better.  That's okay.  It's okay to screw up, to make mistakes.  It's okay not to have time write and then to make some.

Just take a few minutes each day and put your writing first.  See your writing self and give it the time s/he needs.  A little bit of writing each day can take you on some great journeys...

~ Kells


Now Available: 

366 prompts:  Write a poem day for a year.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Confession Thursday: Most Creative People

Dear Reader,  

I read this interesting article  Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense and I realized how much I relate to it.

It's 9 ways of how creative people don't make sense, are a paradox, or effed up.  Or maybe this is everyone, creative or not, we are all full of opposites.

Here are a few I related to--

Most creative people combine both playfulness and productivity, which can sometimes mean 
both responsibility and irresponsibility. “Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, 
most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.” 
Usually this perseverance occurs at the expense of other responsibilities, or other people.

I confess I have put my writing over: chores, laundry, shopping for food, and some friendships.

I confess I have actually not been caught up on laundry in over fifteen years.  When I was younger, 
I would throw out my clothes and buy new ones instead of washing them. I learned this from a guy
friend I worked with at Eddie Bauer who was always dressed well.

Looking back, I was the most wasteful and irresponsible with money when I had 

the least amount of it.

I confess there is not much I'd rather be doing than writing or creating.  I have X number of hours a day,
 I hate wasting time on housework.  Though my house is pretty tidy, mostly because I'm always 
donating things to Goodwill.  Always straightening up while listening to podcasts or books
on tape.

#9 Most creative people’s openness and sensitivity exposes them to a large amount of suffering 
and pain, but joy and life in the midst of that suffering. “Perhaps the most important quality, 
the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process 
of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would 
write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice 
as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial
 laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.”

I confess each week for me is a rollercoaster of bliss and suffering.  It's falling in love and breaking up
all in the same hour.  It's crying for no reason and just wanting to write everyone a personal letter
of how much I appreciate them.  Sometimes I do.  Sometimes I write to someone in the past as if
we'd spoken on a few days ago.  Most of my letters begin, "I know this is weird..."

Sometimes in summer I'm better, I'm more "just happy."  I have asked my family, "Why don't we live 
in Key West?"  I confess, if I lived in a nice climate, I'd never get any writing done.  Or I'd write
about kittens and rainbows.  Much of my work has a gray element, that is the fog of my hometown
lingering over every page.  I can be Elvis Costello's sulky girl, the hazy-faced poet lacking
Vitamin D.

But I'm good with it.  I love the joy and the melancholy.  I love small breakdowns
to remind me I'm alive.


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Monday, November 04, 2013

A Poet At Your Table: Susan Rich

Susan Rich has been so wonderful sharing each of the poets who are part of A Poet At Your Table, which is a program in Washington State that connects book groups with poets.

Here are the poets of A Poet At Your Table, many she's already featured:

Elizabeth Austen

Sheila Bender

Kelly Davio

Kathleen Flenniken

Jeannine Hall Gailey

Kate Lebo

Annette Spaulding-Convy

Katharine Whitcomb

me (Kelli Russell Agodon)

Now it's time to feature her!

Susan has been a good friend of mine since we met on a fall Seattle day at Elliott Bay Books' cafe.  We had both been part of a Poets for Peace event after the September 11th attacks and connected afterwards.  She remembers I was in a short khaki trench coat.  I remember feeling thankful to spend some time with another poet, as at the time, I was the mom of a one-year-old.

I fell in love with her first book, The Cartographer's Tongue.  And since then, all of poems.

We now both have writing studios I like to think connect magically across the water that divides us.
Her studio is House of Sky.  Mine of House of Sea.

Susan loves cats, art, good poetry, and writing dates.

She's won a trophy (yes, a crystal trophy from PEN!) for her first book and a gold sticker from the Washington State Book Awards for her third book, The Alchemist's Kitchen.

Her next book has the fabulous title, Cloud Pharmacy, and will be out in February of 2014.

If you're in the Seattle area and would like Susan to visit your book group and talk about The Alchemist's Kitchen  she would love to join you.

Here's the more formal details about Susan along with a poem:

Susan Rich

Susan Rich is the author of The Alchemist’s Kitchen, which was a Finalist for the Foreword Prize and the Washington State Book Award. She has received awards from The Times Literary Supplement of London, Peace Corps Writers and the Fulbright Foundation. Individual poems appear in the Antioch Review,  Harvard Review, Poetry Ireland, and the Southern Review. She is co-editor of the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders published by McSweeney’s. Susan lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.

Praise for The Alchemist’s Kitchen from Carolyn Forche:

From The Alchemist’s Kitchen spills an abundance of the world’s fruits, herbs and pastries, gestures of hospitality and regard, for Susan Rich is a poet who writes in the midst of things, and out of a searing awareness of loss and obliviousness to loss, desire and its absence, what it means to be spiritually awake, to behold human life in all its possibility, pathos and transience and yet say yes.  

—Carolyn Forché

Here’s a poem from The Alchemist’s Kitchen: 


A summer wind clicks through the room
plastic curtains ecstatic as castanets.

Standing outside the rim of the body

you inhabit other lives –
Russian horses and red pigeon feathers –

weathered to beach glass, to scrim.

And this afternoon, as other Jews before,
you call out green syllables

 nearly sing them:

incantation of salt air, ripened plum.

Anna Akhmatova wanders the halls
offering peppermints with dented spoons –

Under a different house of sky …
Praise humans that blunder us
into the great unknowing –

translate sea to transalpine
an epic fable to jazz-filled tulip field.

Reviews of The Alchemist’s Kitchen

In the California Journal of Poetics http://www.californiapoetics.org/reviews/2090/review-of-the-alchemist%E2%80%99s-kitchen-by-susan-rich
In Rattle  http://www.rattle.com/poetry/2011/04/the-alchemists-kitchen-by-susan-rich/

More information about A Poet at your Table can be found on Facebook or on Susan's page:  http://poet.susanrich.net/for-book-groups/

~ Kells

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