I’m coming back from a horribly, unreasonably long blogging hiatus with a good excuse: I’ve got an all-new integrated website and blog! I hope you’ll now follow my new feed (available in RSS or by email) and/or check out some of my recent posts:

Cameo: Art, History, War, Beauty (and a Poetry Book Giveaway)

Bound for the Blue Plate Special

Don’t Forget This Song: Celebrating the Carter Family and Other Roots Musicians

I hope you’ll also join my email newsletter list for occasional news about my writing, poetry performances with Kelsey’s music, workshop offerings, and the writing community in middle Tennessee and beyond.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope to connect with you further at korywells.com!


I’m not sure if it’s a late new year or an early Valentine’s here on my blog, but I’m excited to be celebrating any day with a poetry book giveaway. The book is THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS, a new collection from Irene Latham.

The Color of Lost Rooms by Irene Latham

In The Color of Lost Rooms, author Irene Latham examines themes of love and loss through art, history and nature.

I’m a big fan of Irene’s first full-length poetry collection, WHAT CAME BEFORE, which was named Alabama State Poetry Society’s Book of the Year and earned a 2008 Independent Publisher’s (IPPY) Award. More recently, she’s been attracting a lot of attention with her debut midgrade historical novel LEAVING GEE’S BEND (G.P. Putnam, 2010), a Depression-era story that stole my heart – and, perhaps more significantly, Booklist called “authentic and memorable.”

Imagine how the cup/misses the weight of tea Irene writes in “Blue Still Life,” one of the poems in THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS. These lines hint at much of what this book is about: love and loss, desire and duty, regret and the return of hope. But if this book is about life and love, it’s of art and history and nature. After I read the book, I was very curious to learn more about the genesis of many of these poems, and Irene graciously answered a few questions.

KW: In the acknowledgments of this book, you thank the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) for the inspiration you found in their “stunning collection.” I know from your book that this includes Georgia O’Keefe, Mary Cassatt, and Berthe Morisot, just to name a few. Tell me more about that.

IL: When I was on book tour for LEAVING GEE’S BEND, I did a signing at Sherlock’s Books in the Nashville area. Right beside the signing table was a rack of postcard books. I picked up a set called “Women in the Arts” that featured art pieces from NMWA. I decided to use that postcard book as a prompt for the poem-a-day challenge I do every April for National Poetry Month. Twelve of those poems made it into the collection.

KW: Have you written poems inspired by other art?

IL: It has been my great fortune to have been part of two poetry/art shows with artist Liz Reed. We call it “Which Came First – Poetry or Paint?” Some of the paintings have been inspired by my poems, and some of the poems inspired by her paintings. In fact, a poem in the collection, “Black Dress,” was featured in one of those shows (Liz’s painting is so evocative!). So I am no stranger to ekphrasis. I love using other people’s art as a jumping off place for my own creations.

KW: In other poems throughout the book, you assume the voice of both fictional and historical characters, such as Hester Prynne, Guinevere, Lady Churchill and Einstein’s daughter.  What makes you decide to take on the voices of certain characters? How is it, for example, that you picked Abe Lincoln and Mary Todd, instead of, say, George and Martha Washington?

IL: It’s kind of like falling in love — I feel like the historical characters chose ME more than I chose them. But I did have some help. My father is extremely well-read (he reads on average a book a day!) and has a particular interest in history. So as soon as he was aware of my project on historical women, he began sending me tidbits and names of interest. Other friends did the same. I wrote more than 50 historical poems — 15 made it into this collection. (As for George and Martha, I did write one from the perspective of Ona Judge, who was one of the Washington’s slaves. Maybe it will find a home in the next collection!)

KW: Irene, I’m already looking forward to that next collection!


If you’re not familiar with Irene’s work, or you don’t yet have THE COLOR OF LOST ROOMS, I know you’ll want to enter here. The winner will be chosen by a random drawing on the evening of Monday, February 7th from all who have commented here or on my Facebook pages (including the Kory and Kelsey Wells fan page) by 6 PM CST on the 7th. And if you’re not the lucky winner, you can order your own copy here on Irene’s site.

For reasons I won’t go into, 2010 has not been my favorite year. But, inspired by the year-end list posted by fellow Tennessee writer Susan Cushman on her Pen and Palette blog, I’ve realized there have been plenty of things I’ve enjoyed, especially in the area of books and music. So here are my personal favorites of 2010, which I share in hopes that you might find something here that will inspire you. Happy reading, happy listening, happy following your muse.


Bobby Rogers, another writer from Tennessee, won the 2009 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize with this book.

Favorite new poetry book: We start out with a tie:  The Candle I Hold Up to See You by Cathy Smith Bowers and Paper Anniversary by Bobby Rogers.

Favorite new-to-me poetry book: The Door by Margaret Atwood (I especially love one poem in this book, “Owl and Pussycat, Some Years Later.”)

Other must-mentions : Cecilia Woloch (who was just awarded an NEA fellowship); Irene Latham (whose new poetry book The Color of Lost Rooms is out December 21st); The News Inside by Bill BrownGary Soto; James Applewhite.


Favorite new fiction: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Runner up: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This is the winter 2010-2011 “One Book” selection for Rutherford County, Tennessee, where I live (and was on this year’s selection committee. We picked it before Oprah did, I must say.)

Favorite new-to-me fiction: Plainsong by Kent Haruf (Yes, I’m embarrassed I have only just now read this.)

Other must-mentions: The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (related NPR story); Noah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne; Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Jennie Fields; The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton

Zeitoun is an essential American story. Fellow writers: It's a masterpiece of "show-don't-tell."


Favorite new nonfiction: Devotion by Dani Shapiro, which I blogged about earlier this year

Favorite new-to-me nonfiction: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. An amazing story about a hero in post-Katrina New Orleans…who is arrested as a suspected terrorist.  Related story

Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn and Bryn Davies on the set of Jammin' at Hippie Jack's.


Most of my favorites fall more or less into the category of Americana music, but there are a couple of very enjoyable outliers in the mix, too:

Favorite artist I saw live in 2010: Abigail Washburn, who absolutely captured my heart with her energy, eclecticism and unsurpassed originality. Her new CD, City of Refuge, is out in January 2011.

Runner-up: Straight No Chaser

Other must-mentions: Carpenter & May and Rockin’ Acoustic Circus (love that name!)

Favorite new CD: Genuine Negro Jig by Carolina Chocolate Drops. I love this video of them performing “Hit ‘Em Up Style” on WDVX’s Blue Plate Special in Knoxville.

Favorite new-to-me CD: Learning to Bend by Ben Sollee

Other must-mentions: Darrell Scott, Nora Jane Struthers, Kathy Mattea (who I love for her music and for her work as a spokesperson for LEAF, which is working to stop mountaintop removal in Tennesee), Sam & Ruby, Sarah Jarosz.

PERFORMANCE POETRY VENUE (where we performed, or hope to)

Kelsey and I were blessed to share my words and her music at a lot of venues throughout middle Tennessee in 2010.

Favorite outdoor venue: SpringFest/Diversity Day at Webb School in our second hometown of Bell Buckle, where we had a marvelous sound system.

Favorite audience: Southern Festival of Books

Of course, we also attended a lot of music events where Kelsey jammed or competed, but as she’s the expert in that arena, I’m going to let her mention her favorites on our Facebook page.

Other must-mentions: Author River Jordan‘s radio show on Radio Free Nashville, where I got to talk about and read poetry (mine and other authors’) almost as long as I wanted, and the Franklin Main Street Festival, where we were a guest of Landmark Booksellers and learned that performing poetry on the street generates about as much interest as preaching on a street corner while wearing a sandwich board that says “THE END IS NEAR.”

Favorite venue where we haven’t performed (yet): Poet’s Corner at Scarritt-Bennett in Nashville, where there’s a reading the 4th Thursday of every month.

Well, those are a few of my favorite things for the year. And now – with Julie Andrews’ voice in my head – I realize maybe 2010 wasn’t so bad after all.

Poets & Writers just published their rankings of both traditional and low-residency MFA programs for creative writing. I confess, I took a peek. The idea that I somehow need an MFA nags at me ever so often, although to date I haven’t quite mustered any full-board justification or enthusiasm for starting to file my applications. But as I scanned the rankings, something unexpected caught my eye.

It was an eight point – disclaimer, if you will – posted in the rankings’ Guide to the Methodology. (Scroll down in the guide to find this section.) It’s worth reading all eight points, but in the interest of brevity I’ll repost only the first one:

(1) MFA programs are not for everyone, and many poets and writers will find their energies better spent elsewhere as they attempt to explore and augment their existing talents;

I’m glad to see P&W acknowledging this truth and making the other recommendations they do, including #5, don’t go into debt for an MFA.

The Writer's Loft at MTSU

Click the image above to visit The Writer's Loft Facebook page.

P&W‘s comment offers a great segue for me to talk about The Writer’s Loft Program at Middle Tennessee State University. The Writer’s Loft is a low-residency certificate program in creative writing that is built around two main components: orientation/workshop weekends and one-on-one mentoring. (Full disclosure: I am a new mentor in this program, although I’ve been a fan a long time. I am not one of the “wonderful mentors” mentioned below.)

Sandy Coomer is a recent graduate who’s representing the Loft well: In 2010, she won both 1st and 2nd place in the always-competitive Tennessee Mountain Writers’ poetry contest. Her work also appears in the journal POEM, in Motif 2: Come What May, An Anthology of Writings about Chance (MotesBooks) and in Because I Said So, an anthology forthcoming from Aortic Books.

Writer Sandy Coomer

Recently graduated from The Writer's Loft, Sandy Coomer is winning writing contests and having work accepted for publication.

Sandy and I took just a few minutes the other day to chat about her experiences with the Loft:

KW: What do you consider the biggest benefit of participating in the Loft program?

SC: The best thing about the “Loft” was the three wonderful mentors I worked with.  For each of three semesters [required to complete the Loft program], I worked closely with my selected mentor to further my knowledge and understanding of the craft of writing.

KW: Were you required to work with different mentors?

SC: No – I chose to have a different mentor each semester, and I think this was valuable. But you can also work with the same mentor all three semesters.

KW: How was it to work with different mentors?

SC: None of them approached the field of writing in the exact same way as another, so I benefitted from a wide variety of opinions, tactics, styles, and philosophies.  I see it like this: It was like learning from the earth, then learning from the sky.  The mentors teach different things, and yet all things combine to make the writer whole.

KW: If you had an “elevator speech” for the Loft, what would it be?

SC: The “Loft” offers a wealth of knowledge spread over the acumen of its mentors, and compacts it into one well-directed program.  The product is a writer who not only feels more skilled and confident, but one who also feels exceptionally blessed. (more…)

Kory and Kelsey Wells perform poetry and old-time music.

One excuse I haven't been blogging: Kelsey and I do our best rock star imitation at a recent poetry/old time music performance. Tens of thousands of chanting fans not pictured.

So, when I last posted in late April, I really wasn’t planning to take off from blogging for the entire extended summer! But here we are in September, and I find myself with plenty of ideas to share with you. First, though, I’ve realized I should cross-link to some of my posts on the Risk a Day blog, where I did NOT take a summer vacation. Here are several which relate to writing and/or living a creative life:

  • A Daily Audacious Goal: Can I Do It? Can You?
    Twice in recent months, I’ve heard people mention a commitment to daily goals which struck me as totally audacious. First, my mentor Bill Brown mentioned that he and his friend Jeff Hardin were writing and exchanging a new poem EVERY DAY. That’s my emphasis, not Bill’s. Every day? How in the world? I thought. Read more
  • Five Things I Learned from Pursuing My Daily Audacious Goal
    On January 4th I set the daily audacious goal of writing or editing a poem 5 days a week until today, February 4th. Meeting my goal would mean I’d have 23 new or revised poems by today. The actual count as of today: 16. You – or I – could look on that as a failure, but I’ve decided it was a resounding success. Read more
  • The Grace of Gradual Change
    I think we all know that any REAL risk will push our comfort zones, but I’ve realized in the past few weeks that some zones are more uncomfortable than others. Read more
  • I Risk Feeling Like a Loser – a Nobody!
    In early June, NPR aired an engaging tribute to Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky, who had died just a few days before.  One part of the story, which was by writer and book critic Alan Cheuse, almost took my breath away. Voznesensky, Cheuse said, filled sports stadiums with tens of thousands of fans. That in itself is amazing, but there was something else: All those fans chanted Voznesensky’s poems with him. Read more
  • 18th Century Rules for 21st Century Mentoring
    Having my first book published has marked a real threshold in my creative writing life. Not only is it a thrilling accomplishment in itself, but it’s also opened up a lot more opportunities for me to teach and mentor.  (In fact, I’m now officially a mentor in The Writer’s Loft low-residency program at Middle Tennessee State University.) I’ve been incredibly blessed to have some wonderful mentors who I’m now attempting to model. But I also decided it was important to establish some rules for myself as a mentor. Read more

I hope one or more of these articles may speak to where you are with your creative life right now. And I must say, if you’ve never tried it before, do consider a daily audacious goal. I’m doing it again this month, I found it so helpful earlier this year!

The folks over at Chapter 16 are doing a great job of promoting both poetry and prose by authors who have connections to Tennessee, but in honor of National Poetry Month, I couldn’t resist making my own list of contemporary Tennessee poets whose work I enjoy. Here are 3, and I’ll be back soon with several more:

Darnell Arnoult

What Travels With Us, award-winning poetry by Darnell Arnoult

What Travels With Us, SIBA award-winning poetry by Darnell Arnoult

Maybe you’ve heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, a trivia game based on the theory that there’s at most only six degrees of separation between any two people in the world. Well,  I’ve proposed there are only two degrees of Darnell Arnoult, who’s very well known and respected in Tennessee and throughout the Southeast for her writing workshops and positive coaching methods.  I talk to a lot of people who have read her novel Sufficient Grace, but fewer seem familiar with her SIBA award-winning poetry book What Travels With Us, from LSU Press.  Many of the poems in the book capture the voices and oral history of Fieldale, Virginia, a milltown built by Marshall Fields in the 1900s and the community where Darnell grew up.  It’s enough to read these poems for their “plainspoken yet eloquent” language (to borrow Lee Smith’s praise for the book), but fellow poets will also note these poems are almost all in some form – pantoum, villanelle, sestina, cinquain, and more – forms Darnell does so well that they don’t “get in the way” of the language and the stories of the poems.

Fall Sanctuary, poetry by Jeff Hardin

Fall Sanctuary, from Story Line Press, was winner of the 17th annual Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize.

Jeff Hardin

An English professor at Columbia State Community College and a fellow mentor at the MTSU Writer’s Loft, Jeff Hardin has probably published more poems in literary journals than anyone else I personally know. Every time I turn around, he’s got a poem in Southern Review or The Gettysburg Review or Ploughshares or Passages North or...well, you get the idea. I’d be jealous for a little bit, except he’s such a likable guy.

Jeff’s work has been published in his collection Fall Sanctuary and also in a couple of chapbooks. His poetry often tends toward the spiritual, if, like me, you find the spiritual in yellow pansies, the shape of a leaf, the trail of a snail, or even the smell of chalk on a pool cue. Jeff’s poems reflect keen observation and reflection, rural Southern life and a love of the land as well as his life as a man of letters.

Minton Sparks

This Dress is a spoken word CD by Minton Sparks

It's hard to say which of Minton Sparks' CDs are my favorite, but I think This Dress wins.

Since I’ve begun venturing into spoken word performances with the help of my fiddle-and-banjo-playing daughter Kelsey, I almost hate to mention Minton Sparks. I mean, our routine seems to be catching on with folks (who’ve called what we do “hillbilly cool” and “bluegrass rap”), but she’s our gold standard of Southern spoken word performers. Based in Nashville, Minton (her stage name) is traveling nationally and internationally, spreading dark, funny, poignant glimpses of the rural South through her work. I love the fact that she’s taking poetry to an all-new audience.  All I can say is, you must take a look or a listen (she’s got published books, too). My favorites are her CD This Dress and her DVD Open Casket.

And Now, a Short Advertisement: Poetry and Old-Time Music at Landmark Booksellers

Not that I care to follow Minton Sparks, but let me mention that Kelsey and I will be at Landmark Booksellers on Sunday, April 25th during the Franklin Main Street Festival. If the weather cooperates, we’ll be out on the sidewalk in front of the store (otherwise we’ll be inside), sharing my poems and her old-time musical accompaniment. We’d love to see you there! Connect with us on Facebook to learn more and see where else we’re performing soon.

“Aren’t we all just waiting for bad news?” advice columnist Carolyn Hax wrote in 2009. She was responding to a reader who had asked for advice about waiting for a loved one’s medical test results. Her question – right there in the morning paper beside the daily TV schedule and across from Arlo and Janis and the Peanuts gang– struck me as profound. I clipped the column and have a poem in the works using that quote.

I know a few folks – like my dear Mama – who are most definitely not waiting on bad news. Mama could have major, risky surgery scheduled tomorrow and still sleep like a baby tonight. She says she asks herself, “Is this (thing I’m worried about) anything I can change?” If it is, then she gets up and does something about it. If it’s not, she puts it in God’s hands.

But if you’re anything like me, even the remote possibility of bad news has kept you awake – or awakened you at two a.m. – on more than one night. It’s haunted your work day; it’s nagged at the back of your mind as you tried to have a normal conversation with a colleague, a friend, a spouse. It’s made your heart race and your stomach knot. Maybe you’ve prayed; maybe you’ve meditated; maybe you’ve medicated. Or maybe, if you’re like Dani Shapiro, you’ve delved deeply and bravely into questioning just who or what it is you might pray to; just how you’ve come to believe what you believe; and just what you can do to achieve a sense of personal peace. (more…)