INTERVIEWS & SPOTLIGHTS: KELLI RUSSELL AGODON
Kelli Russell Agodon’s newest book, Dialogues with Rising Tides, was just published by Copper Canyon Press. She is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press where she works as an editor and book cover designer. Her other books include Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, Hourglass Museum, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice which she coauthored with Martha Silano, and Fire on Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry. She lives in a sleepy seaside town in Washington State on traditional lands of the Chimacum, Coast Salish, S’Klallam, and Suquamish people where she is an avid paddleboarder and hiker. She teaches at Pacific Lutheran University’s low-res MFA program, the Rainier Writing Workshop.
Read the FAWC interview with her and a poem of hers below, and register now for the 24PearlStreet course Secret Doorways Into Poetry: A Week of Writing New Poems, October 25 – 29, 2021.
Poetry is often described as inaccessible, which is one of the reasons your use of the word “entryway” is so notable. Can you elaborate a bit on the idea of entryways into poems?
So many times when we sit down to write, we have no idea how to enter into the poem or to write the poems we need to write. I view poetry as a house with many doors (and even windows!) to climb through.
We can get in our own way as poets; we can have trouble beginning the poem and entering in. Sometimes, we might have to break into the poem through a side door, sometimes we have to crawl down the chimney, but many times we just need to knock and the poem will let us in.
Once we’ve entered into the poem, we can settle in. But so many times, it’s finding that beginning point, the place to enter—this is what I mean when I say entryways—I hope to help poets find new and innovative ways to enter poems and to get their creativity and imagination rolling.
This is a week-long intensive course that places poetry as the primary focus. Given this, how important is writing every day to you? Do you tend to create more work when you write in smaller bursts – like a week-long course – or by writing and editing a little bit every day?
I actually do both—I will write a poem-a-day for a month or I will completely engage myself in my work while on a week-long residency. There’s no right or wrong way to be a poet. Both ways have their rewards.
The benefits of a week-long course is that you’re in the groove of writing and you’re supported by the structure of the class. I always think when you sign up for a class, you are making space for your art and putting poetry as your priority; the poems written during that time would not have been written if you chose not to show up—that is what I love and appreciate about classes that generate new poems.
What are some of the unexpected ways of drafting poems and new techniques to begin poems that you will work on with students?
Since poetry isn’t one-size fits all, I like to come up several ways to begin a poem and play with surprising ourselves by finding ways to distract our minds and our inner critic when we’re writing.
I try to take away the “importance” of writing the poem and create a space where we can just have fun using innovative ways to enter into writing. I can’t tell you all the secrets here because one of the magical elements about writings poems is the spark that happens at the moment we begin writing together.
But I can tell you I believe in play, taking risks in our work, and I continue to look for enjoyable and inventive way to inspire the poets I work with.
This is your first time teaching with 24PearlStreet. What are some hopes you have for the course, and what do you hope your students take away from the experience?
My hope for the course is that poets find new ways to be creative, find joy with what they learn in this course, create community, and to feel both supported and nurtured as a poet and human.
I hope my students have fun, take risks, support each other’s work and creative goals, and most importantly, that they leave with several new drafts of poems.
Magpies Recognize Themselves in the Mirror
The night sounds like a murder
of magpies and we’re replacing our cabinet knobs
because we can’t change the world, but we can
change our hardware. America breaks my heart
some days, and some days it breaks itself in two.
I watched a woman have a breakdown in the mall
today and when the security guard tried to help her
what I could see was all of us
peeking from her purse as she threw it
across the floor into Forever 21. And yes,
the walls felt like another way to hold us in
and when she finally stopped crying,
I heard her say to the fluorescent lighting, Some days
the sky is too bright. And like that we were her
flock in our black coats and white sweaters,
some of us reaching our wings to her
and some of us flying away.
from Dialogues with Rising Tides (Copper Canyon Press, 2021)
Register now for the 24PearlStreet course Secret Doorways Into Poetry: A Week of Writing New Poems, October 25 – 29, 2021.
24PearlStreet aims to increase your access to workshops—no matter where you are in the world. To view the entire 24PearlStreet workshop catalog, click here!