Friday, February 28, 2014

Just Thinking...

"Fridays are susceptible to being more horizontal than vertical." 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Confession Tuesday - Day Late Edition

Dear Reader:

It's been a week and a day since my last confession.

I came home from work tonight and had dinner with my wife and we started watching House of Cards. While doing so I set up my paints and took off my writer's cap in favor of the painter's cap. I started preparing a couple of canvasses with gesso and then began painting  on a canvass that  was already prepped and dry. But  it's after 9PM now and I confess the painter's cap would no longer do and I'm back in  writing mode.

While many writers I know ate in Seattle for AWP I confess I'm feeling a bit envious. I had thought about going but not in a proactive was that I would plan until it was just too late. I will not make that mistake next year.

But next year is a long way off. And next year is Minneapolis and not Seattle. I confess that the difference in my excitement levels on a scale of 1 to 10  is like a 10 for Seattle and maybe a 3 for Minneapolis. So my challenge this week is not to sit and be bummed out about this.

Pictured above is Susan Rich's new book Cloud Pharmacy. My plan is to read this during AWP and to continue my normal writing routine. I have two projects I'm working on presently  so it's not like I don;t have things to do.

I saw an article today with a quote by the short story writer Mavis Gallant who recently died at the age of 91
From a 1999 Paris Review interview Gallant she was quoted as saying, "...I write every day as a matter of course. Most days in the morning but some days anytime, afternoon or evening. It depends on what I'm writing  and the state of the thing. It is not a Burden. It is the way I live." Isn't that a wonderful way to view writing?

I know that this closely reflects what I am feeling these days about writing. I know I am making headway because I've even come to feel good about submissions and I used to really feel they were burdensome. Not any more.

So as AWP 14 kicks off today, I hope all my friends that have made it there or are still in route have a marvelous week networking, hooking up with friends, taking in various panel discussions, attending readings, visiting the book fair and finding lots of exciting books, oh and collecting SWAG. My all your trips home be safe and your suite cases overflow with literature. Meantime, I'll be reading and writing up a storm.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

MAG 208: Poet's Sleep

Poet's Sleep, 1989, Chang Houg Ahn

And day, nights it's all the same. 
The head falls still on a book or pillow-
the light or dark is turned inside out 
no longer having dominion-   

time is translucent and meaningless
here as images connect sentences
and bring story past or future into
a slice of originality-

the collision of mater,
the combustion of energy,
the flight of notion,
the confabulatory narrative;

which every poet knows to value
above the hype we wrap
in conclusion of reality.

From the red crinkled birthing center
one after one childlike thoughts slide 
out of the head and if the waking poet 
is quick to his pen, he may catch a few
and those that are not lost forever
become fodder for readers. 

Michael Allyn Wells

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Confession Tuesday - Mood Ring Edition

Dear Reader...

Forgive me as I rush in at the 11th hour to make my confession. It's been a week of highs and lows since my last confession. Like the weather over this week my mood has risen and dropped like the mercury in a thermometer.

Some of you may remember the mood rings that became the rage in the mid-1970's. The ring changed colors based upon the warmth projected from your body. The color of the ring would signify the mood of the wearer. For instance an Indigo or darker blue meant the person was deeply relaxed, happy, love-struck, etc. Black might mean fear, angst, serious, overworked or  depressed. Orange was stressed, nervous, confused, challenged... you get the picture.

In general the week has been more upbeat then down. I had a really good weekend. Lots of writing and writing related stuff accomplished and that made me happy. Actually the better part of last week was good.
I confess that a staffing shortage at work added to my stress and I felt myself moving between black and orange. (yes, the colors of my San Francisco Giants)

I confess that when I cam home Monday night I was so exhausted I dropped in bed until I could relax a bit and then got up to eat. The staff shortage will continue for a few  weeks and that certainly accentuates the anxiety. Tonight, I almost  brushed off Confession altogether, but I didn't.

Here I am and I have to say that the one thing that I have learned this past week is that  I really seem to get a rush of sorts when I am engaged in writing and writing related activities.  I don't know if it produces endorphins or  what, but there is definitely a bump upward in my mood.

Funny that  even doing  submissions makes me fee happy. Is that crazy? There was a time that I dreaded, no actually hated doing submissions.

I still get frustrated at times when writing. Hell I get frustrated when anything I'm doing doesn't go like I want it to, but on the whole I am realizing that writing is an uplifted for me. Like a SAD lamp in winter, there clearly seems to be therapeutic value in my writing. People talk about all the "depressed poets" or the well know poets and writers that have taken their own lives like there is a strong link between the two. I've felt that myself at times. But right now, the place I'm in this moment is 180 degrees opposite.

So, next time I'm feeling a little down, pardon me while I get high on  writing.

Blessings to you all this week!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Interview With Kelli Russell Agodon - author of Hourglass Museum

Interview of Kelli Russell Agodon by Michael Allyn Wells – February 14, 2014

I’d like to welcome poet Kelli Russell Agodon the author of Hourglass Museum. This is Kelli’s third poetry book and second published by White Pine Press.  Kelli has been gracious enough to answer some questions about her latest book.

 I have to say for me this book was a trifecta First, It was solid as a book, a cohesive unit; secondly, the individual poems resonated; lastly, for the countless gemstones that dot the landscape of this book.

MAW:   Kelli, I have to confess that I never saw the word Muse in Museum until I finished this book. Can you tell us a little about how the name Hourglass Museum developed?

KRA:  Yes, “muse” is definitely in the title and a theme throughout the book.
The “museum” part of the title came immediately to me. I knew when I began writing this book that what I was creating was an “invented museum” or “paper museum” and for a long time, Her Invented Museum, was the working title. If I look back in my notes I see this rough jotted-down thought, dated February 11, 2011:  Manuscript Idea—walking from the parking lot (parking lot dream) to the museum door—through the museum and back home (or some place else) the manuscript as a trail through a museum—an imagined museum . . . an invented museum where I can see whatever I want by artists living or dead. how we interpret our lives through art and the struggle of living a creative existence.

I lived with the title Her Invented Museum for a long time knowing it wasn’t exactly right. I tried other words in front of museum, Cloud Museum, Paper Museum; I switched words around and came up with Museum Confidante, Museum Key, but none of those felt right. There was an element missing: time. 

I chose the word “hourglass” to represent time as well as an image of the feminine. I also liked  when you say “Hourglass Museum” out loud, it sounds like “Our Glass Museum” –and that is life.  We are in this fragile place constantly and on any given day someone we love can die, or we can die, or there can be a number of tragic events, and yet, we live our lives as if we’ll be trotting this planet forever. We complain about the weather, get annoyed because Whole Foods is out of our favorite guacamole. It’s our humanness that interests me here and our belief or forgetfulness that all of this is temporary. I wanted to write how we have this gift (myself included), that we are in this incredible museum, this incredible life, which is happening now, and it could shatter at any time.  It’s something I struggle with myself. I am wishing time away and wishing it back more than I want to admit.

Plus, “hourglass” felt like the right word because while writing the book I had many connections with glass, clay, and ceramic items (many breaking) such as while at the writing residency where I wrote most of this book, I shattered at least three (if not more) wine glasses trying to catch various wasps in my bedroom (that image is included in the book).  And Susan Rich lost the crystal to her father’s watch at one of readings in an art museum.  I was also having magical experiences with chalices, so glass and this idea of “being broken” comes into play a lot.

When I finally chose the word and typed HOURGLASS MUSEUM on my manuscript, I knew I was set.  There just comes a time when there’s an inner gut feeling at work and it says, yes, this is it.

MAW:  There were words I picked up on that so often become themes in poems today… joy, suffering, loss, and lonely. But what you wrote was fresh and unique. Did you ever worry about being able to say something new about these things, and making them fit into a bigger picture?

KRA:  That’s a really good question because I don’t really have an answer for it!

When I wrote these poems, most which were written on intense writing residencies, I was squirreled away from the world for one to two weeks and was completely out of touch with real life, the news, my family, etc. In a certain way while working on this manuscript, there felt as if there was a spiritual element at play—many of these poems just came out, almost as if they were writing their first drafts by themselves. Poems were typed entirely whole and I would think, Where did that come from?  But I didn’t question the poem or theme itself.

Now, looking back at them from a more separate and less mystical perspective, I guess I could have worried more about that, making sure I said something in a fresh way or worried about some of the common themes. But I think when I’m writing at my best, I am not living in (or writing from) a place of ego.  “The ego place” would have a much more judgmental questioning to the drafts. The ego worries: Are you doing this well?” Are you doing this right? Should you be writing about this?  In my creating-new-work mode, I just write and allow whatever needs to happen to just happen, without worry or question.  I guess because I realize not every poem has to go out into the world. There will be many poems I will write just to get to the next poem, but they aren’t “keepers,” so to speak.

I never question content of a poem, just the craft. A poet can write about anything (and anything cliché)—the moon, her grandmother, death, etc.—it just has to be written and crafted well.  So I guess (now that I’ve processed this all out) I didn’t worry about saying something new or fitting into a bigger picture, I just wanted them to work inside the book and story I was trying to share. And knowing myself, anything I don’t love gets tossed in the revision process. I am a tough, unrelenting reviser.

MAW:  There are so many poems in this book I like – it’s hard to settle on a favorite. I think “Self Portrait with Reader” is perhaps a strong contender for favorite,  because the metaphor of Mary holding the sacred heart of Jesus transformed into each of us holding up our art and having the courage to do that knowing some may turn away. And when you wrote, “Reader, I want to tell you/the hearts we hold will continue/beating even after we leave here.” I have to say that it spoke to me personally because I sort of look at poetry as a loop hole to mortality. But I’m interested in your favorite… what poem from this book is your favorite Kelli, and why?  

KRA:  “Self Portrait with Reader” is one of my favorites because I really feel, as a poet and artist,  this is what I do every day—here is my heart (or art, myself, or whatever I think is scary or unlovable about me), and I present it to people, to readers with a sort of underlying hope: here is my heart, still love and accept me. Creating art and being authentic can make us feel terribly vulnerable, but that is also where the beauty comes from. And yes, art is our way of staying alive far after we have left the planet.

Another favorite poem I like right now is “Surrealist Angel.” I think because it’s a sort of life instruction pamphlet for Capricorns, overthinking types, or people who love To Do lists (um, basically myself). It’s a reminder not to plan everything and live in the moment.

MAW:  So much about this book seems like it was a very personal endeavor for you.  All the way from the acknowledgement of your many tribe members to the feeling I get emanating from your strong and honest voice that clearly resonates.  Was this book as much of a journey for you as it feels like to a reader? If so, what did finishing the book mean to you?

KRA:  Yes, this book is deeply personal for me and about a journey I am still on. I think it’s one of the reasons I was so anxious about this book coming out into the world—here is my heart and I’m holding it in my hands—that worry of “what will people think?”  I took a lot of risks in the book where I just hoped the reader would stay with me, that they would continue the journey along with me from poem to poem, having faith we’d both make it out together. 

“Sketchbook of Nudes” comes to mind here.  It’s basically my brokenness in poem format. No punctuation, no capitalization, highly fragmented. It’s all the things that keep me up at night—literally too. . . from my old haunted armoire to the fear someone has died.  But it’s part of my museum, beauty and pain interwoven over and over. As a poet though, I realize the people who read my work are incredibly smart and insightful, so I believed I could stretch myself as a writer and take these risks and they would come along with me and go through this darker area knowing there’d be light at the end.

While I didn’t want to it read like a memoir (though technically, a lot of the things I personally struggle with are throughout the book), I wanted the reader to be able to see himself or herself in the poems and in the lines as well. I think many readers of poetry are either writers or creative people themselves, and if you partake in the creative arts, you’re not unfamiliar with doubt, with questioning, with trying to live your life as an artist and all the challenges that come into play while doing that. I think being a writer or artist involves a lot of trust. And a heck of a lot of vulnerability.

As for finishing the book, well, the book came out a year before it was supposed to. I sent it into Dennis Maloney of White Pine Press knowing it wasn’t fully finished, but hoping if he liked it enough that I could get onto the conveyor belt of to-be-published books and have it published around 2015. To me, this was a perfect date. It was mostly done, but I’d have a year to play with it and revise it, it seemed like a perfect plan on my part. But then AWP in Seattle was considered and my pub date was moved to 2014.

My plan of a year of casual revision was compressed into about four months, four intense months of doing everything I could to make this book better and well-crafted. In regards to writing poetry, I have never worked under a deadline before, and in the end I think this benefited the book because I couldn’t be self-conscious about anything (there was no time for that!) I had to make decisions on what was best for the book and each poem, instead of how I would feel if someone read a poem that dealt with something I was a little self-conscious about.  I think if I had more than a year, some of the rawness and/or honesty in the book may have been edited or revised out for appearance sake. I wouldn’t want to look like someone who can’t handle her stuff, or is cranky about volunteering for field trips, or has issues with anxiety, melancholy, balancing writing and family, ___________________ (insert negative human characteristic here). But I think readers connect when we share our demons more than we say, Isn’t it awesome how my house is always clean, how fantastic my family life is, what a great mom I am, how well I can balance things, how perfect the blossoms on the drapes are as I close them. . . (Much of the most interesting parts of life happens behind closed curtains, we can’t really see what’s happening inside, but that’s what interests me.).

And when I turned the final manuscript in, I had this huge feeling of relief until the anxiety came about three months later then I thought Oh-my-God-this-is-going-to-be-a-real-book! The hard part about finishing a book is not having a something to work on. So there’s this mix of both sadness and satisfaction with completion and this new excitement of starting over on something new. That’s where I am today, thrilled about my book and its physical beauty (I love the cover image!), but also looking forward to starting something new after AWP and all my readings settle down.

MAW:  Kelli, speak to me about Frida Kahlo and what she means to you. Would it be safe to say that she was a muse that influenced this book?

KRA:   Yes, Frida was definitely a muse to me throughout the book. After Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, Frida began appearing in my life in many ways. Even looking back on my New Year’s Resolutions, one of them read: To be more Frida Kahlo. Frida had a strength and belief in herself I admire. When I find myself getting too self-conscious, too over-protective of my feelings and beliefs, too worried, I’d think about her living her life with the challenges she faced (both physical and emotional), and how she presented herself to the world without apologies.

Living one’s life as an artist is difficult if you are really giving it your all—you risk humiliation, rejection, pain, sorrow, personal doubt, not being accepted by others—these are all my least favorite emotions and yet, if I want to create and write the poems I want to write (or felt I had to write), I’d have to put myself on that doorstep. Frida took risks in her art (and life) that I want and wanted to take.

I’ve included a photo of this artwork of her I found at the Habitat for Humanity. I was just driving up to a ten-day writing residency in which many of these poems were written and this portrait of her was hanging on the wall. If you have ever had the feeling that something was placed exactly in the right place for you to find it, that’s how I felt when I saw her in that wooden frame. It now hangs in my office continuing to inspire future poems. 

MAW:  Kelli, I want to thank you for taking time to chat with us about Hourglass Museum.  I have to say it is an extraordinary read.  There are so many unique images crafted from your words that I will take away from this book and always remember. One such line is “I place solitude in a frame on my desk and call it, the one I love.”  When you and solitude are together I suspect great things happen. 

KRA:  Thank you so much, Michael.  And I am so happy to hear that much of the book resonated with you. It’s always my hope that I’m connecting with others.  Solitude and I enjoy each other’s company quite a bit.  I look forward to the future poems solitude and I write together along with what Frida inspires as she watches over my writing space. Thanks again! 

Kelli Russell a prize-winning poet, writer, and editor from the Seattle area. She is the author of three collections of poems, the most recent being Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press, 2014).  Other books include Letters From the Emily Dickinson Room (Winner of the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Prize in Poetry & Finalist for a Washington State Book Prize), Small Knots, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice, Fire On Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry, and the chapbook, Geography.  She is the co-founder of Two Sylvias Press and lives in a small seaside town where she is an avid mountain biker and paddleboarder. She loves desserts, museums, and typewriters. Visit her at her homepage:

Connect with her on Facebook:

Twitter: kelliagodon 

 Hourglass Museum can be purchased at your local bookseller, through  White Pine Press or on

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Confession Tuesday - Give a Smile Edition

Dear Readers:                                                        

Another Tuesday has come and almost gone. It's been one week, two new poetry books, a trip to the Chiropractor and a shitload of snow since my last confession:

I've been mixing my reading and writing in the evenings with Winter Olympics. My wife and I have enjoyed watching many of the events together. I'm torn between enjoying the time together watching and writing and reading which I confess I have cut back on this week. I know I have no reason the feel guilty for appropriating family time and less to reading & writing. But of course that  makes be question if I am usually spending too much time on reading writing?  I try to keep a balance. This is one of the reasons that I pulled back from doing so many events away from the house. Something  I recently decided I may have gone overboard in my pull back.

Juggling has never been a talent that I excel at. I can get the balls in the air okay, I'm just not good at keeping them from falling  periodically. I confess that I play a good game, but all around me things are falling at my feet. I am zeroing in on a project that  I expect will require two to three month really focused work. I've decided I need to get organized about how I handle this and make sure to I break the project up into parts and identify the really critical parts and and tackle them in progression. I don't want things to get  scrunched up at the back end of the timeline where I am scrambling to get things together  or worse throw my arms in the air and surrender. I must keep telling myself surrender is not an option.

In recent times I've been trying to be more upbeat about things. I mean just  everyday things... work, writing, family stuff, finances, future, things that often beat me down but rally don't have to. I tried to be more interactive with people, often strangers in the building at work or in stores, etc. A smile here a hello there. I confess that this is not something that comes easy for me, but perhaps that is what makes doing it that much more rewarding.

Tackling  fears and putting myself out there on the line can be tiring...  I'm calling it a night!


Sunday, February 09, 2014

MAG 206: A Day of Nothing Together

It's morning
you've got everything
I've got nothing

You've got work
chatter at the water cooler
lunch somewhere-    maybe
with someone.
a world awaits you

I've got sunshine
through the morning window
and my hat - only my hat on.

You've got world,
I've got window.

Look am me-
I am what you see
unencumbered by trappings-

I offer you a kiss-
blown without strings attached.

But  I remain here,
an offer to you-

come, let's have a day of nothing

Michael Allyn Wells

Mag 206

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Confession Tuesday - Snow White Snow Bright Edition

Dear Reader:

It's been on week of Crazy Winter since my last confession.

So here I am today - at home, all day.  I did not go to work today but alas I was not playing hooky, I received a call from my boss last night telling me not to come in unless I heard otherwise I was needed for an emergency.  Weather people on TV and  radio have been pleading with us since yesterday to stay home today of we can.

The picture on the right is what you immediately see when you open on of the French doors in our kitchen onto the deck.

I confess that I misspoke when I said I've been at home all day. I ventured out this morning with a care package for my daughter who is at KC Pet Project (a no kill shelter) and will very likely stay overnight so that it is assured that she can be there in the morning.

Even sitting in my writing studio much of the day I confess I feel as though I am suffering from snow blindness. A cursory look out my window from time to time keeps me feeling  abuzz with white glare.

I confess that I am fully expecting snow plows to do our street and push a mound of hard packed snow and ice in the mouth of my driveway making it difficult at best to get out tomorrow without significant work/effort. This and the temperatures are expected to drop way into dangerous levels for exposure. At the present time I'm anticipating that I will need to report to work tomorrow. That of course could change but presently I'm counting on the fact that I will need to go in so the ability get out of my driveway is a little more then just a pressing concern.

While at the shelter this morning a saw the cutest dog that was so timid. I wanted to bring him home but then I often see dogs there I want to bring home. More in the house right now is just not an option, but I confess I am a sucker of a dog that tugs at my heart strings.

The Winter Olympics start the week in case you haven't heard. I confess that I am a gigantic fan of the winter games. I love the anything on skies - especially ski jumping and the giant slalom. I love the hockey. Figure Skating, bobsled, curling, you get the picture. In recent years the TV coverage has sucked. I don't like seeing it on delayed basis. I want it all and I want it even if  it's 3:00 am my time.  So I confess the TV coverage will piss me off. I want to go back to the days of Sarajevo when the coverage rocked!

I confess that I am also pissed that a pest control company has been contracted to eradicate stray dogs around and about Sochi. Officials are tight lipped about how the dogs are being killed.

I confess that I am concerned about security for the games and the safety of individuals... athletes and public alike. They are all in my prayers.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

MAG 205 - O Beautiful Ache

Nails to ivory—
phalanges pushing
upward to balance
she stretches
her legs apart
teetering on freedoms wings.

Toes roll
across keys
some black
most white.

Tendons feel the strain
ligaments the refrain
muscles move to the sound
of pings—

not a song you’d recognize
but the impromptu
of happiness flowing—

stretched toes
move key to key
some black
most white.

Her feet have never
ached so beautifully

Michael Allyn Wells

Mag 205

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Red Paper Flower - wanting more...

Suzanne Frischkorn
Red Paper Flower by Suzanne Frischkorn offers the reader textured layers of life on page. From back breaking first crush on font porch steps to The Woman Skinner of Wisconsin there is a range dissonance here that keeps you moving through the pages uncertain of what's ahead in the road.

Frischkorn is not shy about subject matter nor timid about exploratory form.
The First Signs unfolds like flower bud opening in sweetness until you realize the it fully open.  Dick & Jane's Divorced Index is brilliant.

My personal favorites were Character Traits, The First Signs, and Bees.
Red Paper Flower

There is wit, sadness, and the still of speechlessness all hung out together in this chapbook. If I had a criticism of this book, it would be that there is too little of it and I was left wanting much more.

February Issue of Gravel is Out & Is Home For One Of My Poems

I love editors! Yes, even the ones that send me rejection letters. Editors like writers a generally in love with language and devote enormous amounts of time reading through hundreds, sometimes thousands of pages of copy and then balance it all (I'm sure sometimes with excruciating pain) to make selections that they believe will be the right fit.

A big thank you to the editors of Gravel Magazine for selecting my work I Do Not Lightly Let Go in their February Issue.

This piece explores the difficulty associated with attachment, material things and emotional meanings.

There were a couple of poems by others that I really liked in my first reads....

  • The Day We Enter the War by Dale Patterson
  • Hand-Me-Downs by Sarah Darvec
Check them out and the others too!