Monday, June 29, 2015

Better To Travel redux

The reissue of my debut poetry collection, Better To Travel, will be published by Poetry Atlanta Press this autumn. Here's a sneak peek at the cover mockup.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reading at Seat in the Shade series

Watch me read from my poetry and discuss my work with fellow poet Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor at the opening of the annual Seat in the Shade series at The Globe in Athens, GA. Many thanks to Melisa and the University of Georgia College of Education for having me and Ron Braxley for filming the event. It was a fantastic night!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Arrivals and departures: 20 years of Paris

June 13, 1995: Arrived at Gatwick...
Twenty years ago today, I set foot on European soil for the first time. It was the summer of 1995. I was 25.

I was a chaperone for a group of high school seniors on their graduation trip to London and Paris thanks to the invitation of one of my best friends, Joy Thomas. The roundtrip flight, two weeks of hotels, dinners, shows and sights cost $1,200. You can't even buy the plane ticket for that now. I jumped at the chance to go. I'd been dreaming of visiting London since I was a kid. But it was Paris that gave me something that I didn't know I needed to find.

On June 17, I checked into a little hotel called the Bel Air on rue Rampon in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. I was exhausted, a little hung over and really wanted nothing more than a working air conditioner. There wasn't one. I opened the window. Such a simple little act – letting in some air  – changed my life.

Paris, 1995
Across rue Rampon was an apartment with a long wrought iron balcony full of flowers. The doors were always open and the interior was lined with bookcases crammed with tomes. There was a big desk with an old typewriter, what appeared to be manuscript pages, and even more books. But I never saw the owner. For a solid week, the doors were always open, but the writer was never at work at the desk. So I invented her in my head: A Parisian widow disabled by agoraphobia, who never leaves her apartment and works as a book editor. At night, she spies on the guests of the hotel with her binoculars. She meets a young American writer who is staying in the room directly across from her apartment and they become embroiled in a mystery filled with unrequited love, strange apparitions, murder and a terrorist bombing. That was the genesis of what would become my novel Conquering Venus, the first book in The Venus Trilogy.

The fact that I've been living with that Parisian widow, Irène Laureux, and that young American writer, Martin Paige, for twenty years boggles my mind. Their story continued in Remain In Light and will conclude in Leaving Paris, which I just sent off to Sibling Rivalry Press a few weeks ago. Irène and Martin are as real to me as many of my friends. They talk to me, they choose where they want to go (and that was certainly the case while I was writing Leaving Paris) and what they want to do. Sometimes, I feel like they are writing me – that I'm the fictional character being made up in their heads.

Irène's balcony on rue Rampon, Paris. 
Irène and Martin told me it was time to let them go, so at the end of Leaving Paris they set off on a journey that surely wasn't my idea. For now, Irène and Martin have gone somewhere I cannot follow, but they have left me with Diane Jacobs and Bernard Sullivan – the wisecracking, loudmouthed, mismatched pair of detectives who have their own stories that need to be told.

Later this summer, I will make another trip to London and Paris to bookend the 20 years that changed my life and gave me three novels when I never thought I'd be able to write one. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to meet so many incredible people – real and imagined – while I've been writing these books. I plan to list them when I write the acknowledgements for Leaving Paris while sitting at the window of that same hotel (now called Le General) on rue Rampon in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. A city of both darkness and light. I will be 45 years old.

I will open the window – to let in some air – and I have a feeling (call it synchronicity, fate, destiny, divine intervention) that's where I'll find the roadmap for the next 20 years of my life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Examining Vanessa Place: Genius, opportunist, ignorant or next-level trolling?

So much has been written across the literary blogosphere and social media about the Vanessa Place controversy since my last post on May 17 that I can't possibly link them all here. Go ahead and Google her name and you'll spend the better part of a day trying to digest it all. However, I will link you to Atticus Review, which has just published a series of essays on Place.

Of particular interest to me was Jay Sizemore's essay defending Place and her appropriation of the Gone With the Wind text. Jay writes that those who signed the petition to have Place removed from the AWP panel selection subcommittee should be "ashamed of themselves." I signed the petition. I am not ashamed.

I signed the petition not out of coercion or "groupthink," but because Vanessa Place has lost her credibility to fairly adjudicate or make selections for an organization that claims diversity as part of its mission. It goes beyond racism – real or perceived – but is about her ability to be objective, especially after a large number of writers who have denounced her failed art project are sure to be on panel applications under review for next year's conference in Los Angeles.

I don't believe Vanessa Place is racist. I do, however, believe she is a tone-deaf, ignorant, opportunist. And thanks to Jay's essay and another bit of Place appropriation that happened today, I've come to the conclusion that she is also next-level trolling the poetry world for her own self-promotion. Someone pointed out that Place appropriated, without attribution, a Facebook post from poet Adam Fitzgerald, who announced he had a poem chosen for The New Yorker. Most of the people "liking" and responding to her post believed she had a poem chosen for publication. What could possibly be the point of that? Maybe her art is just trolling to see how much of a reaction she can get. My response: don't feed the trolls.

You can tell from interviews and other posts that Place is one of those who believes all publicity is good publicity, so she's flying with it. Jay claims in his essay that Place is smarter than us, yet she has been unable – or maybe just unwilling – to clearly articulate her appropriation of racist images and text in an attempt to make us see our internalized racism. Her explanation that tweeting out the entirety of Gone With the Wind is to provoke the estate of Margaret Mitchell to file a lawsuit against her – forcing the estate to claim the racist text – was not only late, but ridiculous. The Mitchell estate will never rise to the bait and since Place is also a lawyer, she knows better.

Maybe Place's zeal to mirror back racism has blinded her to her own white privilege. Maybe she sees herself as an ally, but she's critically misunderstood the mood of the nation, and especially writers of color. Frankly, they don't want to hear black voices coming from the mouths of white women (or men, if you're Kenneth Goldsmith – another conceptual poet working to get some extra ink by reading the autopsy report of Michael Brown). Neither do I.  There are plenty of opportunities for white poets to write and engage about race – appropriating a person of color's voice to do so is not the answer.

I've seen a few tweets and Facebook posts about trying to get a petition going to have Place banned from speaking at universities. For the record, I will not support that effort and will stand against it no matter how offensive or opportunistic I find Place's work. If there are students and professors who want her to come and speak, she should be allowed to do so. Having Place removed from a committee where she has tainted her credibility to be objective is one thing; trying to have her voice banned from college campuses is something else. Let Place go to the campuses to defend and debate her work with students who are interested in doing so. I'd like to sit in on one of those to see if she actually can.

I was debating with Jay about his essay on Facebook earlier this evening. During one of his responses, he called Place "quite intelligent." My reponse:  If by intelligence you mean attention-seeking, button-pushing troll then, yes, she's a goddamn genius. Until a couple of weeks ago, most of us had never even heard of Vanessa Place or only read a smattering of her published work. Place has plenty of supporters, her profile in the poetry community is off the scale – good or bad – and more people are reading her work than ever before.

Judging from the tweets on her second Twitter account and the things she's posted on Facebook, it's never been a better time to be Vanessa Place. And maybe we've all been suckers for indulging her.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Vanessa Place, Mongrel Coalition and notes on coercion

A petition is being circulated to have conceptual poet Vanessa Place removed from the committee selecting panels for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in LA next year.

I was only vaguely aware of Place's work until this past week, but knew her writing was racially charged and controversial. I examined her videos and Twitter account – where she has been tweeting excerpts from Mammy and where the n-word is used in Gone With the Wind – and decided to sign the petition.

I fully believe in her right to make art – even if it is grotesquely offensive – but I am less certain if she should be selecting panels for an organization which claims to strive toward diversity (that's a whole other post, probably). Art has consequences, especially if it is tone-deaf and culturally appropriative. When your "artist's statement" makes no sense, don't expect your racist words and imagery to make sense to the public at large.

On the other hand, the divisive tone and scare tactics by the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo (especially on their Twitter account) is unconscionable. Threatening other writers (including those of color) with censure – to "disappear" them – if they don't denounce Place and sign the petition is another technique to bully and silence. There is no attempt at dialogue, debate or to have any kind of nuanced conversation. Belittling, harassing and mocking writers you claim to be in alliance with is counterproductive and, frankly, makes you look like a bunch of assholes. Sadly, it reminds me of the caps-locked rants from conservative whack jobs and right wing religious loons who scream into the void about marriage equality, for example, being the downfall of civilization.

Credit goes to the Mongrel Coalition for bringing the Vanessa Place issue to the forefront and for their justifiable anger. It's too bad they can't take that rage and hone it to a fine knife rather than wielding it like a truncheon. Eliminating white supremacy, which is part of MCAG's mission, is a no-brainer; threatening to silence those who don't agree with your method of doing so – or dare to make an alternative suggestion – makes you an oppressor. Eliminating racism is the end goal, so let's continue to work toward it without alienating those who are also striving for that goal.

Examine Vanessa Place's work and make your own decision rather than being coerced. Don't let someone else make it for you.

Update: AWP tweeted just after 9:30 p.m. that Vanessa Place has been removed from the panel selection committee and a full statement will be released tomorrow.

Update 2: AWP's "statement" is as tone-deaf as Vanessa Place's work. Including links to two white guys explaining Place's work and expressing concern about the "ill-will" against AWP is sure to cause more backlash. You can read it at this link.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fundraiser for "Leaving Paris" book tour begins

With Leaving Paris complete, I'm thinking ahead to 2016 and the book tour. If you would like to help me fund this tour, the Sibling Rivalry Press Foundation is accepting tax-deductible donations on my behalf. You can click this link to make your donation.

My goal is $3,000 to help offset gas, hotels, food, airfare, etc. Even $1 will help. I'm really excited for everyone to read the new novel and meet new people on the road. Feel free to pass this link on to anyone who might want to support the endeavor. Thank you in advance!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Back to LA

WeHo Lamppost Poet Reading
(Photo by Joshua Barash)
I just got back from a hectic and exciting week in Los Angeles. It was a week full of poetry, catching up with friends, good food, a little shopping and treating myself to a nice hotel.

Let's start with the hotel. Ever since I was a kid, I had wanted to stay at the Westin Bonaventure in Downtown. I first saw it on the old sitcom It's A Living, about waitresses working in the top floor restaurants, and later in movies like True Lies, Forget Paris, In the Line of Fire and Strange Days. Its iconic cylindrical towers, glass elevators and lobby fountains are both futuristic and retro at the same time. A little wish-fulfillment never hurt anyone, so I booked a room on the 25th floor for two nights. It was totally worth it.

My view from the 25th floor at the Bonaventure.
I had a spectacular view of Downtown from my room and all of the city from the revolving lounge. For the first time ever, I treated myself to room service (the flourless chocolate torte was heaven) and even had a little time to write in the lobby lounge overlooking the bubbling fountains. 

Sadly, I could only afford a couple of nights, but friend and fellow poet Cecilia Woloch opened up her fab little apartment in Mid-Wilshire for the rest of my stay. She's got the comfiest couch in LA. 

My first event was the West Hollywood Lamppost Poet Reading at the WeHo Library on April 25. It was a gorgeous space and I was thrilled to share the podium with Michael Klein, Amy Gerstler, Teka-Lark Fleming, Eloise Klein Healy, Terry Wolverton and organizer/WeHo City Poet Steven Reigns. There were more than 100 in the audience – a great number for a cool, rainy Saturday afternoon in LA. And it was surreal to see my face on a banner along busy Santa Monica Boulevard to mark National Poetry Month. 

My finds at Amoeba Records on Sunset Blvd.
Sunday was fairly lazy, but Cecilia and I met up with her friend and author Heather Lyle for dinner at an LA institution – El Cholo on Western Avenue. Incredible margaritas, enchiladas and company. We talked for hours and closed the place down.

On Monday, I headed over to Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard. I had a mile-long list of vinyl and CDs that I wanted. Before I knew it, I had a shopping basket full of stuff. I put most of it back except for the 180-gram vinyl reissue of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and the expanded re-release of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. Those were my must-haves and I have them. 

Steven Reigns picked me up and we headed for dinner at In-n-Out in North Hollywood, because I can't leave LA without a Double Double and fries. So damn good! Then we headed over to the KPFK studios for our interview on the IMRU Radio Magazine show. Steven interviewed me about my poetry and fiction, I read a couple of poems and there were laughs with the other DJs about my love of pop culture. You can listen to the show at this link (just scroll down to the April 27 episode).

Filming the Leaving Paris video with Vanessa Daou.
Tuesday afternoon was set aside for what was a secret project, but the cat is now out of the bag. My friend and musician Vanessa Daou has written a song called "Leaving Paris," which is based on my books in The Venus Trilogy. The song, a collaboration with brokenkites, will be featured on her new album and will be released as a single in the autumn. There will be a digital booklet available for download with the song featuring sample chapters from Leaving Paris. There will also be a music video. Yep, you heard me – a music video. Vanessa and I spent Tuesday afternoon filming the first part and we are thrilled with the footage. The second part will be filmed in Paris at the end of summer. If you had told me that I would be directing a music video for one of my longtime inspirations, I would have said you were crazy. This collaboration with Vanessa has been amazing and I am eternally grateful for her friendship and support. We can't wait for you to see this video!

I was still on floating on a cloud from the video shoot as I went to meet friend and fellow author Kate Evans and her husband Dave for dinner. We decided on a little place called West End on Westwood Avenue and it was delicious. Great martinis, sliders and "dirt" fries (beer battered and rolled in garlic, herbs and olive oil), not to mention catching up with Kate after so many years. She and Dave have become "nomads," traveling and exploring all over the world. They had just come from driving up the Baja California peninsula and were headed to Jazz Fest in New Orleans. 

Leaving Los Angeles
Wednesday was my final full day in LA. I met up with Steven again and we drove down to the city of Orange in Orange County for our feature at The Ugly Mug. This was my fourth feature at The Mug, and hosts Ben Trigg and Steve Ramirez are sweethearts for having me back whenever I can get to the West Coast. It was a lively reading and open mic (Cecilia even drove down to read a few poems), and remains one of my favorite places to read poetry.

And then it was Thursday and time to fly home. I'm still a bit jet lagged, but already planning my next trip to LA. It just so happens that the AWP conference is there in 2016, so with a book to promote and any excuse for a visit, I'll be back in the City of Angels in no time.

Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional

Welcome to Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional, the website for poet, novelist, playwright and journalist Collin Kelley.