Friday, September 10, 2010

An Interview with Poet Kelli Allen

Kelli Allen is a poet and, as part of the MFA program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, she is Managing Editor of Natural Bridge, a journal of contemporary literature.  She will be a panelist on the literary fiction panel at the 2011 MWG "Just Write!" Conference in April.  Kelli will also lead a poetry session during Saturday's breakouts at the April conference.  We took the opportunity to learn more about Kelli, her poetry and Natural Bridge in a recent interview.

Thanks for joining us, Kelli.  Let's begin by telling us what led you to the MFA program at UMSL.

After years of studying literature critically in pursuit of a degree in literary theory, I found that my passion for writing had become more focused towards the creative instinct, leading me to switch to the MFA program in poetry.  I have also found enrichment through participating in community development at UMSL.

Kelli Allen reading at a recent open
mic at the Northern Arts Council, in
conjunction with the Graduate
Writers Association.
You've been a driving force in allowing young artists to be heard in the St. Louis community, as well as helping to sponsor some well-known artists.

While working closely with other non-profit arts organizations in the St. Louis metro area, I have extended great efforts to improve our Graduate Writers Association.  We continue to welcome and host authors from around the country in our newly-established  reading series.

So tell us a little bit about yourself and your poetry.

I've been reading and writing poetry all of my adult life.  While my literary tastes expand a much wider field than poetry alone, verse has always held the strongest pull for me.  There is a vitality and necessity in poetry as an art, as a craft, that I have not experienced in fiction and other written arts.  My own work utilizes the vertical image and relies heavily on myth.  It is easier to explain what my poetry is not than what it is.  I am not a confessional or narrative poet.  I attempt to incorporate deep image and interconnectedness in my lines without delving into the hyper-autobiographical or domestic realms.

What are your concerns as you practice your craft?

I feel strongly that poetry must have purpose beyond authorial gratification.  For me, the work ceases to function for its author as soon as it falls under the eyes or into the ears of a reader or listener.  The responsibility for experiencing a poem therefore lies with its consumer.  I am also concerned with sound in my poetry and always attempt to pay close attention to cadence, musicality, and auditory experience when crafting my lines.  When holding workshops, I stress to the participants involved that the primary goals of the writer should always be the expression of longing, loss, and reverence for experience.  While that may border as esoteric for some, I firmly believe that it is our obligation as artists to illustrate the importance of questioning.

What poets influence your work?

My influences span globally and historically from Hafiz, to Stafford and Bishop, to Rilke and Bly.

Congratulations for attaining the status of Managing Editor of Natural Bridge.  What's happening with the literary journal?

Thank you.  Upon accepting the position, I knew there were many challenges ahead for the publication and its readership.  Natural Bridge is entering an exciting and tumultuous time for small press publications.  With the increasing diversity of material on the web and the reliance, and in some cases, laziness, associated with online publishing, we find ourselves having to ask some difficult questions regarding where we would like to see Natural Bridge.  Our journal has a marvelous history of publishing some of the most exciting new poets and translators of poetry in the country.  Notably our fiction has been vibrant, engaging, and unique.  All of this has occurred on the literal page.  We do not accept electronic submissions nor do we publish the journal online.

So we won't expect to see Natural Bridge online anytime soon?

I would like to see Natural Bridge's integrity remain intact while other journals may choose to go entirely online.  There is much to be said for holding a book in one's hands and for having the luxury to turn pages and see print upon paper.  I would like to see Natural Bridge beautifully archived online while maintaining a strong, consistent presence in print.

Are there any changes you would like to see?

It would be beneficial to include even more translations to broaden awareness of international literary achievements.  Natural Bridge is still fairly young compared to some of the giants of the literary journal community and we have room to grow, but I am extremely proud of our reputation as a journal of excellence.

What happens for Kelli Allen after she completes her MFA?

I hope to teach at the college level and would welcome the opportunity to explore both craft and criticism in the classroom.

Thank you and good luck, Kelli.  We look forward to having you with us at the 2011 "Just Write!" Conference in April.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. I can't wait to meet Kelli at the conference.