Part and Parcel: Kelli Russell Agodon

What happens when romance meets substance? Is the world of art somehow separate from the world of routine? Artists must constantly confront this issue, but not all deal with this tension explicitly in their work.
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In Part and Parcel, I talk with writers and artists about a fascinating facet of their work.


What happens when romance meets substance? Is the world of art somehow separate from the world of routine? Artists must constantly confront this issue, but not all deal with this tension explicitly in their work.

Kelli Russell Agodon's poems examine how art and life both inform and interrupt one another. This is a central concern of her recent collection, Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press, 2014). "There are hornets/ in your veins," she explains in one poem, "but I still want you/ close, your muddy shoes/ in my hallway..."

Agodon's poems drift and alight, purposefully meandering through galleries and vignettes. You'll be delighted to accompany her through these poems.

NOTE: My questions appear in bold. After the mini-interview, you'll find two poems from the book (which appear with the permission of the author) and the author's bio. Images courtesy of the author.

Q: Certainly, Hourglass Museum is brimming with art. But I also felt the equally strong presence of papers and plans (which feel, to me, connected). Calendar pages, forgotten schedules and logins, messages and messengers: these items of distraction and communication litter the halls of the museum you've created.

In one of your poems, you succinctly and insightfully state that "the challenge of life is making everything/ fit." How do you make everything fit? How do you find a balance (in both life and poetry) between distraction and art, the mundane and the beautiful?

A: That's such an insightful image of a museum littered with papers, as I so see that as our everyday lives. Today as I read this question and try to respond, a message just appeared in the upper right corner of my MacBook, my phone just blinked with a new text, my email box is overflowing, and I have a notification on Twitter. It's terribly distracting, and yet, this can be our lives these days -- if we choose to participate.

I believe if I answer honestly, I have never been able to make everything fit tidily in my life -- my writing life spills over into my family life, my family life spills into my life as an editor and so on --but that is just if you look at it on a daily level. I think if we keep our focus on what's important --especially if it's art or writing -- then everything will fit because ultimately, we can look at the larger picture of our full lives and not our overwhelming days. And maybe that is the secret -- to pull back and see what our lives look like "overall" and then to determine what fit in and what didn't, what was beautiful and what was mundane, and what space we found in our beautiful mundaneness to create.

I stopped judging my days with how balanced they were because I realized the pie of my life was never cut (or eaten!) equally. Instead looked at my life in a larger context. How is this week feeling? This month? This year? On my best days, my life and poetry are woven together like a gorgeously patterned rug. On my worst day, I am unraveling with To-Do lists, reacting to small disasters, and trying to find time in the day to write.

And I think when you ask about distraction, I've learned there a huge difference between distraction and interruption (or turning a distraction into an interruption). Before technology, I'd guess writers and artists found many other ways to be distracted: What are the kids/cats/spouse doing in the other room? I should really do the dishes or fix the broken fence. Maybe cocktail hour should start now. As long as the distractions don't interrupt the writing process, I think there can be a balance between them and art. If one's distractions continually become interruptions, then the distraction becomes the priority and an artist or writer will lose the struggle. I think the balance for me is knowing that I can be distracted and I can create art in the same five minutes, in the same day; there will always be distraction, but there will always be willpower and focus, too.


La Magie Noire

Sometimes darkness
is the beauty I am made of--

it's January and I've locked the doors,
I'm refusing to answer the phone.

Sometimes when I'm absent
of Vitamin D, the staircase murmurs:

Sorry, the life you ordered
is temporarily out of stock

Most winters it's easier to hibernate,
clean the windows
in my mind. Imagination:

taking madness and giving it
a loving home.

I have always wanted to attend a party
where someone wears a lampshade,
where a woman slips
into a coatroom with a stranger.

But these are not my parties.

Mine have schedules, cloth napkins,
side salads. Someone mentions The Son of Man.
Someone mentions thread count.

I have an uneasy relationship
with inspiration. I wear black boots,
dance the hubbub alone in the bathroom.

In a conversation about behavior,
I thought she said, You must be popcorn.
But what she said was, You must be proper.

Another side salad, please. Another
glass of wine.

In the closet, my skeleton
reconnects itself.

How long has it been since my aunt woke up
as part of the universe?

All the French artists believe in night.

She once told me there were many definitions
of crazy,

then passed me a voodoo doll of myself,
a bullseye in the shape of a human heart.

My aunt would have said, Be more

My aunt would have said, All the best artists
believe in night

Understand we are all trying
to create something.

Did I mention the light was touching everything?
Did I mention her voice was in the clouds?

Menacing Gods: An Abstract

Madness is a meaningful way to exist.

Sometimes it's hard to know
who we are, our attention's lost
before the centerfold is unfolded.

Sometimes plans are missing.

The future is a paper airplane
hitting me in the face.

It never lands softly.

Sometimes we don't know
if the article we want to read
has already been torn out.

The litter we fill our calendars with.

Madness is another way
to come unfolded. Future sins
are my favorite--

let's lose the map, find our red shoes.

My spirit is tangled. Hold my hand,
darling, let us stroll into hell.


Kelli Russell Agodon is a poet, writer, and editor from the Northwest. Her recent books are Hourglass Museum (Finalist for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize), and The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice, which she coauthored with Martha Silano. Her other books include Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room (Winner of ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year in Poetry and Finalist for the Washington State Book Prize), Small Knots, Geography, and Fire On Her Tongue: An Anthology of Contemporary Women's Poetry.

Kelli is the co-founder of Two Sylvias Press and is the Co-Director of Poets on the Coast: A Weekend Retreat for Women Writers. She is an avid paddleboarder, mountain biker, and hiker. She has a fondness for typewriters, desserts, and fedoras. Find out more about Kelli at or on Twitter at @kelliagodon.

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