with Ann Kelly:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Ann: My earliest memory of seeing my writing potential was fifth grade. My teacher told our class about the Vermont Governor’s writing contest and asked for volunteers. We only needed to write two pages, and the topic was wide open. This was 1980 and I imagined how it might be in the year 2000 which, at the time, seemed light years away like something you’d see on Star Trek with Captain Kirk and the gang. In my essay, I saw a world where space-age kids no longer needed a school lunch program and would instead swallow a red pill the size of a Tic-Tac to get all their nutrients … which of course meant no more God-awful lunches in the cafeteria with things like Tuna Wiggle. I won second place in the state contest. I’m pretty sure that started my lure to the written word.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Ann: I’m assuming you mean, who are my biggest influences in poetry? Well, first off, I should say that I’ve come to realize with these Fevers of the Mind interviews that you usually do your Q&As with experienced poets. Full transparency: I’m not a poet. (Laughs nervously.) So, first off, thank you for even entertaining the possibility of chatting with me. A friend on Twitter knew I’d recently started writing poetry which is why she suggested I look at your journal’s website. I have much more experience with creative nonfiction and I’ve been writing essays and memoir exclusively for years. But, I’ve always admired poetry: the lyric language and economy of words. I knew it could help me with my CNF writing and decided to take my first poetry class in April of this year, a six-week course with Cleaver Magazine. I loved it! I came out of the class with a number of poems in different forms: sonnet, villanelle, prose poem, haibun, and more.
After workshopping my pieces in class, I submitted them to journals over the spring and already I have three published poems to my name. In fact, I’ve gotten much faster acceptances for my poetry than I’ve ever gotten for my CNF essays. I’ve waited sometimes for almost a year to hear back from journals on some of those pieces.
I love how poetry elevates a piece of writing with lyric imagery. I also admire how poems establish a connection between writer and reader quickly because of the form’s shorter footprint. As a CNF writer, I can spend 3,000 words getting my points across, if I want. That’s the challenge I love with poetry: nailing that writer-reader connection off the bat and capturing pivotal moments in spare but beautifully layered language.
Well, I’ve gone off on a tangent and didn’t answer your question. I’d love to list influential poets, but I’m early in my learning stage.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Ann: Aside from my fifth grade example, I think I knew it by the time I was in tenth grade. I wanted to study journalism, but the university I attended didn’t offer that so I graduated with a degree in English Literature. I’ve since made a career of writing in the corporate world, starting out as a copywriter for a software company before moving into various marketing communications and public relations roles.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Ann: I give a lot of credit to a developmental editor I’ve worked with—Naomi Kimbell—who reviewed my memoir manuscript and gave me this just really tremendous feedback. She was able to balance pushing me to dig deeper, while understanding and honoring the intention of what I wanted to do with my manuscript. She helped me see arcs and metaphors I hadn’t seen, and my manuscript is absolutely stronger for it.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?
Ann: I lived just outside Philadelphia from birth until second grade, then my family moved to the middle of nowhere up nine miles of dirt roads in rural Vermont to fulfill a dream of country living my mother had. After college, I moved to the Seacoast region of New Hampshire, with a stint living in downtown Boston when I worked for an advertising agency as a copywriter. I’ve written one or two essays about my rural childhood, and it’s also in my memoir manuscript, but my writing is not heavily influenced by place.
As for travel, my job has sent me to a bunch of U.S. cities for work conferences, and a few places overseas. In fact, I was at a work conference in Barcelona just before Spain closed its borders in the spring of 2020 with the pandemic. I’ve also traveled to quite a few countries for fun. I’ve been through Europe, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and India, as far east as Hong Kong, and into South America. I’ve even been to the Arctic Circle and into the Sahara desert. I’ve written a few essays about some of my travels.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Ann: Tough question! Well, I’m hoping my most meaningful work will be my memoir if and when it is published. I wrote the manuscript to share with readers that a devastating diagnosis is not always a death sentence, even when it involves a bleeding brain tumor. If my memoir helps just a handful of people facing a scary diagnosis find strength or hope in my story, then it will be worth the years I’ve spent writing it and researching certain aspects and workshopping it a gazillion times with critique partners. I’m also proud of all of my CNF essays and flash nonfiction pieces. One essay was particularly difficult to write, but I think it’s beautiful. It’s called “The Color of Heartache” and was published in The Coachella Review: http://thecoachellareview.com/archive/nonfiction/the-color-of-heartache/
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Ann: I’ve really gotten into flower gardening, and I’m up to seven garden beds now. Pretty big ones, I might add! It has transformed the outside of my house, and I now have a ton of birds and butterflies. When I started trying poetry this spring, my gardens were the obvious choice to dip my toe in and see what resulted. My gardens serving as muse sounds like a cliché … but it’s true!
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
I find it haunting that Anne Sexton’s poem “Yellow,” though written in the early 1970s I think, could just as easily have been written about everything the world has endured in 2020 and into 2021.
When they turn the sun
on again I’ll plant children
under it, I’ll light up my soul
with a match and let it sing. I’ll
take my mother and soap her up, I’ll
take my bones and polish them, I’ll
vacuum up my stale hair, I’ll
pay all my neighbors’ bad debts, I’ll
write a poem called Yellow and put
my lips down to drink it up, I’ll
feed myself spoonfuls of heat and
everyone will be home playing with
their wings and the planet will
shudder with all those smiles and
there will be no poison anywhere, no plague
in the sky and there will be mother-broth
for all the people and we will
never die, not one of us, we’ll go on
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
As I mentioned, I took my first poetry class in April of this year, and I’m thrilled that three of my poems from that class have already been published! I have a few more poems on submission from that class. I also have a number of CNF essays on my website that I’ve excerpted from my memoir. My plan is to query my manuscript this autumn.
American sonnet: Kingdom Come
Prose poem: Puff
American sonnet: Abode
More writing on my website: