The writing life

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!


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.

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!

I first started writing creatively nine years ago this month.  I am sure of this because my youngest child started kindergarten that year. Theoretically, I thought, I should have a little more free time now that he was in school everyday, so I seized the opportunity to take a creative writing class in the continuing education at MTSU (similar classes now offered through The Writer’s Loft at MTSU).

Now, as that youngest child is a 5′ 11″, deep-voiced man-child starting high school and our oldest is going off to college, I have two new children: my first collection of poetry is coming out this fall, and my husband and I have purchased a little “fixer-upper” house to be a writing retreat and, perhaps in a few years, our full-time retirement home.  Between those projects, family obligations and my “real” job, I have no business starting a blog. None whatsoever. If I had any spare time, I should be using it to clean off my desk. Improve my aerobic fitness. Scrapbook eighteen years’ worth of family photos. Call my mother.

But no. Here I am, drawn to the page in yet another of its incarnations. I don’t expect that I’m going to produce my best writing for this blog, but I do hope I’m going to produce some thoughts and information that will be useful or interesting to others. For example,

  • Since I’m a geek, other writers often ask me about web sites, blogs, and other techy stuff. As I wrote up a long explanation addressing some questions about web sites and social media for a couple of writer friends a few weeks ago, it occured to me that others might like to see this information.
  • I follow the blogs of recent NC poet laureate Kay Byer (here and here). She often promotes other poets, particularly those in NC, and I’d like to do the same for writers, particularly those in Tennessee or who have Tennessee connections.  (So if you have something to share, let me know!)
  • I’m very interested in encouraging others to their own unique creativity as a source of divine joy and self-fulfillment. I’m not sure what that encouragement is going to look like, but I want to explore it.

Our Lady of the Spiral Notebook by Anne Carothers

Mentioning creativity reminds me of the art that inspired this blog title. My dear friend and neighbor Anne Carothers painted this iconographic version of me after I read her some of my poems (“Leap” and “Tired of the Same Old Answers”) from the forthcoming Heaven Was the Moon. I’ve had the pleasure of naming a number of Anne’s paintings, and she left this one for me to title, too. After kicking around a few ideas – including “Mama Was a Saint” –  “Our Lady of the Spiral Notebook” felt right to both of us. I admit it’s still a little disconcerting to see my image depicted this way, but it’s a very cool representation of how writing and faith have intersected for me.

More about that in coming entries.  In the meantime, I welcome you on this journey with me and thank you for your readership, ideas and comments.