Five Questions for... Kelli Russell Agodon

Emily Dickinson seems to be a sort of talisman for you. When did you discover her, how has she shaped your own poetry and the journey to your collection, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room?
I wandered into Emily’s world quite a while ago, probably as an undergrad at the University of Washington in 1990, and was taken by both her words and her life. When I was finishing up Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room in 2007, I stayed at the Sylvia Beach Hotel (a literary-themed hotel on the Oregon Coast) in their actual “Emily Dickinson Room.”  While I was there, I started to realize how much I connected with her need for solitude and just how hard it was to find it in this busy world.  That idea of “trying to calmness in a chaotic world” became the theme or center to my manuscript and I was able to complete it once I had connected with that part of Ms. Dickinson again.

You co-edited Fire On Her Tongue: An eBook Anthology of Contemporary Women’s Poetry and have become sort of a pioneer in poetry publishing. Why an eBook anthology and what has the response been from the community?
My good friend and co-editor at Crab Creek Review, Annette Spaulding-Convy and I had each purchased eReaders and were annoyed at how we couldn’t find any good poetry books to download.  We were coming home on the ferry from a literary event in Seattle and we started talking about what we wished they had for our eReaders—an eBook anthology of women’s poetry.  Since it didn’t exist we decided we’d create our own and edit it ourselves. Next thing we knew we were editing an eBook and creating our own press (Two Sylvias Press) to publish it.  Have I said our motto could have been “anything is possible when you don’t know what you’re talking about?”  Thankfully, we figured things out and got it done. The response from the community has been incredible!  We’ve learned it’s being used as a textbook in college courses, there was a panel about it at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and readers have loved the poems as well as being introduced to new poets.  The anthology is huge—about 475 pages!—so there seems to be something for everyone inside of it.

With the changes in technology (like eBooks) and so many choosing to self-publish, how do you think literary magazines and small presses should change or adapt to remain relevant?
That’s a good question.  Poetry presses tend to be a little slow to anything new. There can be a lot of “we’ve always done it this way” thinking, which is lovely in keeping up tradition, but also we don’t want to lose our small indie presses and magazines, so I think it’s important to try new things and move along with the times in ways that help your press. If I could give advice to journals and presses, I’d suggest using technology to their advantage and to publicize their journal or press.  We can really reach readers (and new readers!) on a world level through the internet, so a regional press no longer has to be regional, but international—this is one thing we tried to do at Crab Creek Review. I think just trying something and seeing if it works out—say, a Facebook page or a Twitter account—these are free ways to connect with your audience.  Yes, they can take up time, but they can also expand your readership. One thing I’d really like to see literary magazines change is charging their writers a fee to submit work online.  I understand charging a fee for a contest where there’s a prize, but just to submit your work online feels very wrong to me.  That said, journals are just trying their best to stay afloat, so I know they look for any ways to get financial support.  Still, I like that submissions can be done online—I see this is a way that journals are adapting in positive ways—I just don’t like to see writers charged for the ease of it.

You’re a long-time blogger and active in social media. How does this connectivity hurt/help your writing?
Both!  It is so easy to get swept up in the instant-gratification of social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.  However, I love being introduced to new writers and journals all over America and the world.  Plus, people share things that are happening in the writing world that I would have missed, so I appreciate that aspect of blogs and social media sites as well. But the timesuck of blogging and social media can take away from my writing time, so I just have to be disciplined and always put my writing first…no matter how much fun getting “Likes” on Facebook is!

Name three poetry collections you’ve read recently that you can’t stop thinking about and would recommend to others.
Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightning, Frances McCue’s The Bled and Molly Tenenbaum’s The Cupboard Artist.

To find out more about Kelli, visit her websites at this link.  


Popular Posts