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Authors: Kelli Russell Agodon
Series: White Pine Press Poetry Prize
“These are poems of remarkable liveliness. In their wide-ranging wit and passion for language, their surprising juxtapositions of the ordinary and the exalted, and their willingness to foreground doubt in a search for meaning, they show a fellowship with the work of Dickinson that is deep without ever being solemn. Here is a fresh, distinctive voice that is consistently engaging and surprising.”
“Kelli Russell Agodon writes, "When God knew the gifts He had given me / He said, No givebacks. " She asks, "Still, what can we substitute for childbirth? Bamboozle? Inferno? Divinity? "
A black bra takes on the power of a celestial body--"no light can escape from it." Playful and tormented, rich in wit, this poet questions the misunderstandings and the miracles all around us. A wonderful book!”
— Peggy Shumaker
“Letters From the Emily Dickinson Room is a bright, funny, touching meditation on loss, love, and the power of words. Agodon's genius is in the interweaving of God and Vodka, bees and bras, astronomy and astrology, quotes from Einstein and Emily Dickinson, a world in which gossip rags in checkout lines and Neruda hum in the writer's mind with equal intensity. Self-help mantras resurface throughout as a reminder of the ways modern society chooses to deal with today's tragedies, a reminder that a cup of tea and a positive attitude are not always enough when struggling with life's bigger problems. Part of the book deals with the speaker's ambivalence towards marriage and religion, part with the death of the speaker's father, and part with the same themes that Emily Dickinson dwelled on: the natural world and its mysteries and ability to serve as a spiritual guide. This is a book that will linger in your mind with its humor, its honesty and insight, and its fervent belief in poetry and play.”
—Jeannine Hall Gailey, Author of Becoming the Villainess
Nevertheless its steps can be heard. . .
—Pablo Neruda, “Nothing But Death”
or so reads the back of
my Saint Christopher medallion.
And I want to engrave:
Or 911. Or an ambulance,
but not just the priest.
I know the priest would come,
offer everlasting life and pray
over my body, but I’m betting
on the medic, the EMT, the blonde girl
who works weekends at the fire station
to keep her daughter in private school.
I put my faith in the hands of these saviors
before I’ll kiss the white collar
of the man who loves God the same way I love life.
I’m not ready to be called back. Not now.
Maybe when my body begins to crumble
and needs every speck of energy to leave
a chair or revise a poem, then I will say:
Just the priest please.
But for now, call anyone
you think could help, anyone
who could pull me from the land of afterlife
where “eternal bliss” sounds lovely,
roaming the clouds with dead relatives
or wandering a white fog
near the wings of a friend who died too young.
I imagine yards of cotton unrolling.
God is remodeling the space
for the eighty million new souls
who will visit this year, souls climbing
the new spiral staircase.
It be enchanting to encounter people
who have passed before me. I’ll make a point
to ask Neruda about death
dressed as a broom, as I keep believing I’ll be swept up.
She dices the peppers. Forty
degrees and falling. Last night,
her birthday and the woman she was
raised her pen to the moon,
crossed out another year, wrote loss.
She sees her body in the curve
of letters and not the words.
She sees the letters
she never wrote in the chili powder.
She places bacon in the skillet
and the pop of grease
surprises her; a celebration of heat.
She cannot tell you why she cried
in the spice aisle of the grocery store,
why she turned away
when she saw a friend she knew.
It’s easier to suffer alone,
with a cold night and diced tomatoes.
It’s easier to suffer when the moon
is your best lighting, when fine lines
appear near an open window.
She cannot imagine her life
without black-eyed peas, without
someone to share them.
She knows her husband
will return soon. She knows
she cannot push away what’s already lost.
She adds a dash of cumin
because it keeps the chickens
and lovers from straying.
All of this, she stirs.
When we were in love
I read you How to Survive
If You Fall Through the Ice.
You were determined not to
listen. You plugged your ears when I read,
Face the direction from which you came.
You told me love could be confused
with drowning. I said, Use your elbows
to lift yourself onto the edge of the hole.
You never wanted to live
that coldly. You moved close, drank
peppermint tea. I read, Reach out
onto the solid ice as far as possible.
You said our chances were slim,
we lived in a temperate climate.
What if you knew then
that later we’d find reasons to dislike
each other’s sentences, how many times
I’d look away when you wanted most
to meet my glance? What if we knew
the instructions—Kick your feet
as though you were swimming and pull yourself up
—could be useful when we were breaking up?
Or later, when we tried to reunite
how we should have listened—
Once on the icy surface, stay flat,
roll away from the hole.
Kelli Russell Agodon was born and raised in Seattle and educated at the University of Washington and Pacific Lutheran University's Rainier Writers Workshop where she received her MFA in creative writing. She is the author of Small Knots (2004) and Geography, winner of the 2003 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award.
Her work has been appeared in literary magazines and anthologies such as the Atlantic Monthly, Prairie Schooner, Notre Dame Review, North American Review, Image, 5 a.m, Meridian, Crab Orchard Review, Calyx, The Seattle Review, Poets Against the War edited by Sam Hamill, as well as on NPR’s “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor and in Keillor's second anthology, Good Poems for Hard Times (Viking Press).
Kelli is a recipient of three Washington State Artist Trust GAP grants, the James Hearst Poetry Prize, the Dorothy Rosenberg Poetry Prize, the William Stafford Award, the Carlin Aden Award for formal verse, a Soapstone Writer's Residency, and a grant from the Puffin Foundation for her work towards peace and as a poetry editor for the broadside series: The Making of Peace.
Currently, Kelli lives in a seaside community in the Northwest with her family. She is the co-editor of Seattle’s literary journal, Crab Creek Review. Visit her website at: www.agodon.com
|$16.00||96 pages (Original Trade Paperback)||ISBN: 978-1-935210-15-3||2010|