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Award-Winning Poet Karla Kelsey to Visit University of Saint Francis

By Dodie Miller

Fort Wayne Reader


Southern California-native and UCLA alum, Karla Kelsey, will give a reading at the Bass Mansion on the University of Saint Francis campus, 2701 Spring Street,Fort Wayne. Kelsey won the Sawtooth Poetry Prize for her book, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals. Kelsey did her undergraduate work at UCLA, and received an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and a PhD from the University of Denver.

Kelsey’s approach to creative writing has evolved from simply loving to write poetry, to her current status as an award-winning poet with a conscientious approach to the writing life and creative process. Recently, the Fort Wayne Reader discussed various aspects of writing with Kelsey via email.

Fort Wayne Reader: What is (are) your motivation(s) to write?
Karla Kelsey: On a large scale I write to discover things about myself and about the world. I write to think and I write to know and feel. On a daily scale I write because of sounds and images that arrive from the world around me or from reading…I love reading all sorts of things, poetry, philosophy, fiction. Right now I am obsessed with Greek Tragedy.

FWR: Did you know as a child or teenager that you wanted to write for a living?
KK: As a child and teenager I wanted very badly to be a classical ballet dancer. I trained very seriously from when I was 4 until I was 18 (well, as seriously as you can when you are 4. But I was very serious!) At 18 I realized that I did not love ballet as I had used to and gave up dancing and went to college. It took a couple of years to find writing (I always loved writing but never took myself “seriously” as a writer). Those were very hard years.

FWR: What in your nature/personality prepares you to write?
KK: I have always had a very vivid imagination and I have always loved to read. In addition, I love structure, form, and hard work—I cannot imagine being a writer without an allegiance to these things, though I know that all writers have their different polestars.

FR: Who are some of your favorite writers and why?
KK: I love Emily Dickinson for the philosophies and universes tucked between her seemingly simple turns of phrase. I love the poet H.D. for her fierceness and for her willingness to reinvent herself again and again. Sylvia Plath I love for her imagery and craftswomanship.

FWR: How important is giving public readings? What do you get out of it and what do want audiences to get?
KK: It was not until leaving graduate school that I realized how important giving readings is to me. I think this is because I was so lucky to have wonderful peers and a close community of writers in graduate school, so I was constantly in the world as a writer among writers. Now that I have left graduate school it is easy for writing to become a more personal occupation, between me and my computer at 5 am. Giving readings allows me to share my work and myself as a writer with lovers of writing. I always hope that audiences will find new possibilities of writing, reading, listening and imagining in my readings. I know that this is a lot to ask for.

FR: Can you describe your feelings about getting published for the first time?
KK: I felt very lucky and elated and I felt great gratitude to Janet Holmes, who runs the press that published my book and to Carolyn Forche, who chose it.

FWR: How would you describe the publishing world to new writers? What should they know?
KK: I would tell new writers to read and read and read. Read older work but also read new work from small presses so that you know what is out there. Keep an open mind and find authors and presses that you love. Become involved in your own publishing projects—zines and online journals are great places to start.

FWR: What should those planning to attend your reading at the University of Saint Francis understand about your work?
KK: Much of my work does not heavily rely on narrative (though new work is obsessed with it…though I am not quite sure I am ready to share it yet!), but invites readers to imagine their own narratives and images in between the imagery and ideas that I supply. I hope that the audience will come with their imaginations ready to fly!

FWR: Anything else you'd like to discuss?
KK: I just think that young writers need some room to experiment, rather than trying to make a poem perfect, measured by a received formula. Now, this will only lead to deep poetic discoveries if the poet is willing to read EVERYTHING and to work, rework, and work again drafts of poems for that "something" out of reach. This is the fun, and the work, of poetry. I am very much looking forward to my visit and to talking with Saint Francis writers about their own work.

Karla Kelsey’s appearance is part of the Books and Coffee series presented by the Department of English and Foreign Languages and the School of Arts and Sciences.

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