Thursday, February 20, 2014

Confession Thursday: Advice for AWP#14

Dear Reader, 

For some of us, AWP is both an exciting upcoming opportunity as well as an overwhelming anxiety producing weekend we just want to end before it begins.
Welcome to the internal dialogue of many writers and poets.

With AWP one week away, I decided to offer up some advice, ideas, suggestions, thoughts, and just general notes on this conference that has gone from a smallish group of people to a massive 10,000 awkward writers running around wearing lanyards.

My thoughts on AWP--

1)  Arrive with the attitude of "What can I offer?" instead of "What can I get?"

I confess I just wrote this as my #1 irk in poetry and poetry communities, when writers are always so desperate for their take, for their piece, they don't think of what they can offer and bring to the conversation or community, but what they can get from it.

Arrive with attitude you will make this conference better by being there, not by what you take away. 

Don't be Sally from A Charlie Brown Christmas, "I only want what I have coming to me... all I want is my fair share."

See what you bring to world of poetry and writing--humor, fun, kindness, helpfulness--find what you offer and spend less time trying to figure out how others can help you.

2)  Love the one you're with.

You find yourself talking to someone you have a lot in common with, someone you really like.  Then Important Writer X walks by.  You catch their face, you verify their name on their lanyard.  It's them! You have got to get this out of this conversation, you must get to Writer X!  

Wrong.  You need to get out of your head and know that there will always be someone more "important" than the person you are talking to walking by. There will always be someone bigger, well-known, or more published coming around the corner.  

Be in the moment.  Eye contact with the person you're talking to... no secret glances at passing lanyards. 

Find the beauty, connection, magic, joy, interest, etc. in your own conversation.  

On the flipside of that, people have a lot of places to be, don't hold them hostage by telling them your sad luck story about your luggage or how your arm aches from lugging books around.  Ask people, "How long do you have?" Make good connections, friendships, and moments and then move on with satisfaction.

I confess, one of my favorite aspects of AWP is when people email/DM before and say, "Let's get together" or "Let's make a point to get coffee." To know I get one-on-one conversation at AWP is my favorite part. I'm bad in crowds, in big groups.  My favorite dinner parties have 4 people (no more) in them.  I love being with one person at a time.  That is how I thrive. Quality wins over quantity every time.

3)  Sometimes you'll gain more by opting out.

You don't have to go to every panel, reading, etc.  Sometimes just hanging out in the bookfair, talking to other readers, editors, and writers, is just enough.

Yes, it would be great to sit in a room with Famous Poet X, but it might be nice to sit in the lobby by yourself reading a book.  Or people watching.  Or going outside and sightseeing. Or doing nothing. Or having a drink at the bar with a stranger.  Or coffee with someone you just met.  

And when you don't go to said panel, reading, event, _________(fill in the blank), don't feel bad when someone tells you You missed the best _____________ (fill in the blank) ever!  (And they will say this to you.)  Because you didn't.  It really wasn't that good. And since you weren't there, you didn't miss it, instead you got what was behind door #2 and it wasn't the donkey pulling the cart, it was a trip to Seattle.  Enjoy it.

I confess, sometimes the best moments are the synchronistic ones--I just happened to be on the elevator with Nick Flynn and Kay Ryan (okay, I said nothing, but just being there was enough), I just happened to meet Wyn Cooper in the bookfair, I got to meet Nin Andrews in person. I ended up talking with the best taxi driver who told me would wait while I ran back into Politics and Prose for me because he liked my "funny run."  None of this was on the schedule.  Just let what happens, and arrive with no expectations with yourself or anyone else.

4)  You may feel lonely. It's okay.  Have a drink by yourself or bring a book and/or a few back-up phone numbers.

When I went to DC in 2010, one night all my friends disappeared.  Not like ghosts, but like writers in the night--Martha Silano was at dinner with her editor, Susan Rich was somewhere else, I had lost January O'Neill's cellphone number--so I wandered into the bar like a sad poet looking for friends. I recognized no one.

How could this be? I must know someone, right?  Wrong.  

Cliques, cliches, and impromptu groups were everywhere. Hipster poets and their messy-hair girlfriends, or possible girlfriends, or occasional hookup. Serious writers with their serious faces and bourbon. People sitting with their backs hunched, deep in conversation, in their seats and they weren't moving or inviting anyone in. There wasn't even a place to sit. I was ready to leave. This was the edge of my comfort zone.

But I went to bar. By myself.  

As I ordered a glass of red wine and sat at the bar all alone.  In my head I kept repeating the lines from Saturday Night Live, I am her mother. I am a barfly...  I thought, I am a sad human being.

A sad spotlight aimed at me, creating highlights in my hair and pointing me out-- Here is the only person at AWP who doesn't have friends.  

And then Wendy Call showed up. And Wendy brought friends. And then I was laughing and spilling my drink. Appetizers arrived. Someone handed me a Pulitzer Prize. Confetti fell from the ceiling. The ghost of John Berryman bought me a drink. And it was awesome.

I swear, I had just wanted to go back to my hotel, but it was a 20 minute taxi ride away and only 6 pm. So I stayed, despite knowing (or feeling) as if I was out of place, awkward, unloved, and completely anonymous.

Sometimes you have be uncomfortable before the magic and joy happens.  Remember that.

5)  You are wonderful, but so is everyone else.

There is no food chain in writing, in poetry, in the arts.  And if you think there is, you are looking at accomplishments and not at people individually.  People are just people (says the person who turned into Neanderthal girl because she was so starstruck when she had Bob Hicok sign her poetry book she could only say, "My book. You sign?") Okay, so maybe Bob Hicok makes me become uncool awkward girl, but really, he's still just a person.

Remember that.   We are all just humans who like to write. Who have this weird underlying desire.  We are your tribe. But don't arrange us by accomplishments and don't arrange yourself either.  You are neither better or worse for having or not having a book of poems, a novel, an academic job, a non-academic job, a booth, a table, a panel, a cute outfit, fancy glasses, combat boots, or a special nametag.

I think I'm misquoting Chuck Palaniuk from Fight Club here, but this important: 

You are not your swag, you're not how much work you've had published.  You are not the book you wrote. You're not the connections in your iPhone. You're not your f'ing lanyard title.  

Have fun.  Be kind.  Play well.

Drawing by Nin Andrews!
~ Kells
  Don't Miss a Post ~ Subscribe to Book of Kells by Email

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Creative Process: The Writing Process -- A Blog Tour of Writers

So the amazingly talented Barrie Jean Borich, asked me to be part of this blog tour on the writing process.  In fact, it's called THE WRITING PROCESS BLOG TOUR, but you can see I've switched things up a bit in my title. . .yes, that's how creative I am.

Anyway, we're all asked the same questions to answer then we choose two more writers who will continue this on...

Barrie's answers to these same four questions are here and they are marvelous. I love how she relates her writing process to a "pirate radio station" with changing times and days.  

But before I get to my questions, let me introduce Barrie Jean Borich, who asked me to be part of this blog tour (thank you, Barrie!)

Barrie is is the author of Body Geographic (University of Nebraska Press/American Lives Series). Her previous book, My Lesbian Husband (Graywolf), won the ALA Stonewall Book Award. Her work has been cited in Best American Essays and Best American Non-Required Reading and she’s currently working on a book-length essay about repurposed industrial landscapes, urban joy, and riding her bicycle on the mean streets of Chicago. 

Borich was the first creative nonfiction editor of Hamline University’s Water~Stone Review and is currently a member of the creative writing faculty of the English Department/MA in Writing & Publishing Program at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she’s developing Slag Glass City, a creative nonfiction and new media journal focused on sustainability, identity and the arts in urban environments. Borich earned her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop and lives now with her spouse Linnea a few blocks from Lake Michigan in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, which was recently voted the most “incomparable” gayborhood in the world.


To the questions:

1)     What am I working on?

Okay, I want to write "catching up" here, but that is SO uncreative.  So let's think about.
Here's my list:


We are just finishing these amazing Poet Tarot cards that will come with a book to help writers (and artists) with their own creative process.  It's actually much less of a divination deck, but more of something that writers can keep on their desk to get guidance on their work.  The deck is made of 28 poets and also suit cards (such as Ace of Quills, two of Letterpresses, etc.)  

It's been a long time coming and we hope to have a limited quantity to sell at AWP (seriously though, this is going to be close!) then offer them through Kickstarter in March. 


At some point, this will become Manuscript 4 and slowly it's working to that as I am beginning to see it forming in my mind, but right now, I've been waking up ridiculously early to write.   

I had a pretty tough autumn, lots of anxiety and emotional stress, however, all those not-so-great feelings produced a ton of pretty-amazing first drafts, which I really want to work on and revise.

I see this next book dealing with with themes of uncertainty, conflictedness, and the human desire for connection.  

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think overall, my work differs in that it may be more conceptual than other poetry books.

In my newest book, Hourglass Museum (also, now available on Kindle here), I basically tried to create a paper museum with each section being unique (yet joined together) exhibitions. 

One section "Sketchbook of Nudes" is without capitalization and punctuation (and rather revealing), as if all the poems are undressed. At the end of the book, I even include the Hourglass Museum Cafe' where the reader gets 4 extra poems as an appetizer, entree, drink, and dessert. 

This is how I see books in my head, as something larger.  The negative of this is I have quite a few published poems that never make it into my books because they don't "fit" my vision.  The positive is I feel (hope!) the reader ends up with a satisfying read due and many unexpected moments in the book as I spend a lot of energy on crafting both the book and the poems.

3)    Why do I write what I do?

My dumb answer is: because I cannot not write it.

My better answer is: because I believe in connecting with others and trusting that what's inside and comes out on paper is what we need to be writing about.  

My more surreal answer is:  we live a timeless existence on paper and it's open to every possibility so I may be writing about my father's death or I may be writing about seeing bones in the woods or I may be writing about cake, eating a lot of cake.  I don't think I necessarily choose, but my mind is more like a sky waiting to see what cloud animals or objects float by. It may be a flapper or the entire city of Paris, it might be a birth or a Roman candle. It's dreamlike, and bizarre, and is much more connected to a deeper part of myself. 

So I don't really know in a rational way why I write about what I do, but in a spiritual way, which sounds a little woo-woo.

Mostly best writing is done when I'm not thinking about anything else but existing in the poem.

4)  How does your writing process work

I seriously want to say "magic"  here because that is how it feels sometimes, especially lately.

I will tell you about my new way of writing poems and I think this may be helpful for other poets in finding their best way to write poems.

A few years ago, I noticed that when I was listening to group The Fray, especially the songs "How To Save a Life" and "Over My Head (Cable Car)," the poems came easier.  I am an auditory learner and very connected to sound; I've have played the violin (though terribly) through school, then started playing again when I was 40.

In the fall when I was not feeling like myself a friend sent me a link to a video of a sad song. Then another.  Then I started going on YouTube finding other songs that I connected with, that brought up in me the feeling of creation, or something-- melodies that would wake me up (though not in a bebop way, as there are few songs I love, like Harlem by New Politics which I can listen to on replay over and over, but I can't write to it).  And every time I found a song that brought me to that "place" where something changed inside of me, I added it to my YouTube playlist.  (I now currently have 76 songs on this list...) 

One song on the list that has inspired quite a few poems (not in topic or subject, but just by taking me to that "ready-to-write" place is a song by Crystal Fighters "At Home." I can just keep playing in the background, and it brings me to that place where something opens, something clicks and my writing just happens. Even relistening to the Fray today made me want to stop writing this post and write a poem.

I think part of it is habit. Like Pavlov's dog, I've taught myself when I wake up early (4:30 am - 5:30 am) and put on my earbuds, and choose a song from my YouTube playlist, it's time to write.

So my advice for other writers, is to write daily if you can, and find what creates the spark in you? Is it something you do-- light a candle, do yoga before, meditate?  Is it something you taste, drink?  A certain scent? Something you hear?

Another background sound I sometime put on is this:  it's called and you can choose the sound of rain or the sounds of a cafe to have your backdrop to when you write. Since I live in the NW, the rain comes without needing its own soundtrack, but the cafe is something I will put on in the background as it gives me the feeling of being out in the world and connected, even though I'm in my writing shed alone and no one is serving coffee or dessert.  (Um, that last sentence sounds more sad than inspirational, but it's actually a great way to write.) 

I think there's a lot to say about muscle memory, what you connect to your muscles (sound, movement, taste, touch, etc) when you write.  I know think I've just connected the muse to music and I'm in the habit of waking early, hearing music, and writing.  Though every day I just hope it's still there and when it is, I am amazed.  So realize, I don't even arrive to my dsek with a lot of hope, in fact, I don't.  But I also don't expect anything, and that's okay. If I type out a few lines that don't lead to anything, so be it. I just go through the routine--turn on laptop, go to YouTube, choose a song, write.  

And I think once we each find our way/time/style we write best, stick with it, daily.  

It's been an interesting process in watching how my poems have improved with the daily repetition of sitting down before the rest of the house is awake and writing a poem.  I feel so William Stafford here, except with a soundtrack and earbuds.


I'll be updating this post with the next two writers who will be adding their thoughts to this blog tour on their blogs very shortly!

Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently, Cloud Pharmacy and The Alchemist’s Kitchen, which was a Finalist for the Foreword Prize and the Washington State Book Award. Her other books include Cures Include Travel (2006) and The Cartographer’s Tongue / Poems of the World (2000) which won the PEN USA Award for Poetry and the Peace Corps Writers Book Award. She is the recipient of awards from Artist’s Trust, 4Culture, The Times Literary Supplement of London, Seattle Mayors Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the Fulbright Foundation.

Currently, she is Professor of English and Film Studies at Highline Community College. Susan also works as the poetry editor for The Human journal based in Istanbul, Turkey and is co-founder of Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women. Along with Brian Turner and Jared Hawkley, she is editor of the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Writing Across Borders published by McSweeney’s and the Poetry Foundation (2013). Susan lives in West Seattle, WA and writes in the House of Sky, a few blocks from the Puget Sound.

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, WA and the author ofBecoming the VillainessShe Returns to the Floating World, andUnexplained Fevers, available spring of 2013. Her work has been featured on NPR's The Writer's Almanac, Verse Daily and The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches part-time at National University

Thank you all for writing and being part of this creative tour. 

~ Kells

  Don't Miss a Post ~ Subscribe to Book of Kells by Email

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Retreats, Ira Glass, & Beauty

Just a few things ---

Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Retreat for Women September 5-7, 2014 in La Conner, WA:
Price goes up tomorrow morning..

Ira Glass (aka My Secret Boyfriend) on being an artist, having passion, and persistence.

What I fell in love with this week:
Beautiful series of photographs of a boy with Muscular Dystrophy leading a "normal" life.

Art made by artists in love

Georgia O'Keeffee

~ Kells

  ~ Don't Miss a Post ~ Subscribe to Book of Kells by Email

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Beauty of Cancellations...

So yesterday I mentioned feeling stressed out and the universe responded by having two meetings I was supposed to have this week, rescheduled in March.

I know some people get sad, offended, or bothered when their lunch dates or meetings get put off, rescheduled, and/or cancelled. I am the opposite, for me it's like a snow day-- What? I don't have to leave my house?  What I don't have to put on acceptable clothing and wander into the world?

For me I feel as if I've been given a handful of time-- Go enjoy! Play! Write! Work!  It's yours to keep!

I realize how much I love my solitude, to stay home.

John Mulaney is my new favorite comedian, here's what he says:

So I have a day to catch up, to be in a quiet house... until carpool happens, until this evening happens, and my world extends into teenage girls, a drive to Kinko's, Pho, other people's schedules. . .

But for now, thank you Universe, for these next 8 hours.  I am grateful other people are crazybusy too.  Let's postpone everything until after AWP...

~ Kells

  ~ Don't Miss a Post ~ Subscribe to Book of Kells by Email

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Confession Tuesday: The A Little Stressed Edition

Hello, My Name is Overwhelmed 

Dear Reader, 

It's been a couple weeks from my last confession. I can't even tell you when because the last three weeks have morphed into one giant day.

I blame myself for much this, I have this nature that says yes, when what I meant to do was run screaming from the building or say no.  I also have this nature that believes that I can do a lot-- and I can-- but today I woke up with the telltale sign I have taken on too much...

To the confessional--

I confess I know I've taken on too much and am officially "stressed" when I look in the mirror and see a red dot on my left cheekbone.  Seriously.  I get this weird breakout right there every time I take on too much.  And I noticed it last night and woke up this morning and saw it here.

I was a young 26 year old corporate go-getter the first I got it.  We were moving offices and I was not only in charge of the full move, but actually designing the office.  First, who gives this kind of responsibility to a 26 year old?!  Second, this was the exactly moment I knew I needed to get the heck out of corporate America.


I confess right now, today's "To Do" list has 10 *must do* items. (Writing a blog post is *not* one of them.)  This is insanity in ink-- the To Do list, not the blog post.

There is a list of 17 other things I need to have done by the 20th.

Most of the things have to do with AWP, Two Sylvias Press, the transition from editor of Crab Creek Review to non-editor, my book, and the workshops I've been teaching recently (though my last workshop is this Saturday in Seattle... and yes, there are a few more spaces if you're interested. )


I confess I have been waking up at 4:30 am - 5 am to get things and have been cheating on my To Do list by writing poems.  I try to make that the first thing I do so I don't resent the rest of my life.


I confess while at a poetry salon on Sunday, I received a text from my daughter that said, "Demi & I cleaned the whole house for you."  My response, "I have never been so proud of you."  (Forget the fact she got all As last year and went to Washington DC as a state champion for the National History Bowl, she cleaned the house!  Let the confetti fly!  --wait, no confetti, I don't have time to sweep.)

This is a sure sign that my priorities are a little messed up.


And here's the thing, I know this is temporary. 

And I have more to be grateful for than to be stressed about.

I know that every time I cross something off my list it helps me feel less stressed. But I also need to learn to live with things undone. It's hard for me and my Capricornness. It's hard for me in the middle place. I write and rewrite To Do list. I get a huge satisfaction of crossing things off.

But there's a point when I feel overwhelmed.  And I've reached that place.

So here's what I'm going to do:

1)  Get my top items off my list today
2)  Do the same tomorrow 
3)  Eat good food and have an amazing dessert
4)  Spend fifteen minutes starring out the window at the birds and the water
5)  Spend time with my family
6)  Try my best, but not take anything too seriously


I confess reaching this place of stress is a good reminder to me to make sure I am saying yes to the right things and to not take more on than I can handle.

I know this is a lesson I have been learning and relearning all my life.

But it reminds me not to volunteer to do things just because others aren't stepping forward, or to say yes because I want to do things and not out of obligation.  In fact, say no if I just feel obligated.  

So I made a list of what I'm focusing on this year and what I'll say yes to:

My book, Hourglass Museum and my own writing

Two Sylvias Press

Poets on the Coast


These are my top three areas of focus.  All the other stuff (family not included as they are the top of the top) has to fall to the sidelines.

And if you find yourself to be a YES person, here are a couple good articles to read:

When To Say Yes (Things to ask yourself before saying yes)

The Yes Trap (a great article on *why* we say yes to things-- fear of missing out, guilt, being uncomfortable in saying no, good girl hang-ups, etc.)

Setting Boundaries, Saying No Nicely (this is a little more corporate world, but good ideas here.


My life is good and I am thankful. It's my own internal laid-back, low-stress, no drama temperament that gets a little bent out of shape when there's a lot going on.  But good stuff, stuff I'm thankful I need to do and complete.


~ Kells

  ~ Don't Miss a Post ~ Subscribe to Book of Kells by Email

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Win a Free Copy of Hourglass Museum! Enter on GoodReads

My press, White Pine Press, is giving away 5 copies of my new book, Hourglass Museum!

If you want to enter to win one of your own, click here to go to the GoodReads webpage.

Also, if you win a book (or order a book from White Pine Press or and would like it signed or inscribed to you, I had bookplates made up and would be happy to mail you one for your book.

Just email me at kelli (at) and I'll send one your way!

~ Kells

  ~ Don't Miss a Post ~ Subscribe to Book of Kells by Email
Related Posts with Thumbnails