Monday, January 18, 2016

Loving the Alien: Remembering David Bowie

Heel head over, but we're strangers
when we meet...
We lost David Bowie a week ago. In the first few days of 2016, we've also lost Natalie Cole, Lemmy Kilmister, Alan Rickman, Celine Dion's husband and manager René Angélil and poets C.D. Wright and Francisco X. Alarcon. Tonight we lost Glenn Frey. So much talent gone in such a short time is a shock to the system. I'm almost afraid to turn on the TV or check social media to see who else we will lose.

Bowie's death has affected me the most. I got a text at 6 a.m. last Monday from my friend Donna with the news that he was gone at age 69, succumbing to the cancer he'd been diagnosed with 18 months ago. The weekend before, his new album, Blackstar, was on repeat. I'd watched the haunting "Lazarus" video over and over, proclaiming it as one of his best songs ever not knowing this album, these songs and that video were his carefully curated goodbye to his fans and this world.

In Bowie terms, I was a "late fan." I discovered him post Ziggy Stardust, post Aladdin Sane, post Thin White Duke. As an '80s kid, my introduction was the pop-jazz punch of "Let's Dance." This Bowie was nattily dressed in linen suits, perfectly coiffed blonde hair and looking incredibly handsome. He was made for MTV, which dawned just as Bowie's space odyssey crash landed back on Earth in an era of excess and narcism that he had already decided to eschew after indulging in all the sex, drug, rock 'n roll cliches and foibles of the '70s.

I love '80s Bowie, even if he never got very comfortable with that decade of his career. He would later call it the lowest point in his life artistically. He would try and shake off the '80s by forming a rock band called Tin Machine that no one cared about before reinventing himself yet again in the '90s with three of his best albums: Back Tie White Noise, Outside and Earthling. This was rock Bowie, electronic Bowie, industrial Bowie. Rather than dabbling in personas, he was pursuing musical sounds and genres that interested him. It was less about what the fans wanted and more about exploring his art.

Put on your red shoes
and dance the blues...
After a 10 year absence and a serious health crisis after suffering a heart attack on stage, Bowie returned with no warning in early 2013 with The Next Day – unquestionably one of the best albums of his entire career. And then again on Jan. 8, his 69th birthday, with the blindingly brilliant Blackstar. And then he was dead. And I, along with a legion of other fans, was devastated.

Bowie was an artist who had been part of the soundtrack of my life for more than 30 years. He was so larger than life, so otherworldly, that he did seem immortal. Bowie's androgyny and fluid sexuality made my coming out a liberating rather than frightening experience. He informed so much of my early poetry and writing. The Outside album – planned as the first in a series of storytelling-style albums with music and spoken interludes – is a criminally underrated masterpiece. Outside arrived in 1995, a pivotal creative year for me as my poetic voice started to grow and I embarked on the trip to London and Paris that would inspire The Venus Trilogy. "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," "I Have Not Been to Oxford Town," "Hello Spaceboy," "We Prick You" and "Strangers When We Meet" (which still brings a lump to my throat 20 years later) became part of the soundtrack of Martin Paige exploring beyond his – and my own – comfort zones in Conquering Venus.

The '90s were also when I really began to explore Bowie's entire oeuvre, realizing that I had heard so much of his work as a child in the 70s without knowing who I was listening to – "Life on Mars," "Fame," "Changes," "Golden Years," "Heroes, "Ashes to Ashes." I'd loved Bowie before I knew him. I'd also discover Bowie the actor – The Man Who Fell To Earth, Labyrinth, The Hunger and his bizarre appearance as FBI agent Philip Jeffries in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Ain't that just like me...
What I loved about Bowie is that he continually defied expectations and, as his longtime producer Tony Visconti said, Bowie "always did what he wanted to do." When Bowie found out last year that his cancer was terminal, he decided that his death would be just as artful as his life. He got to see his musical Lazarus premiere in New York, finished Blackstar and two surreal music videos. The image of Bowie – older and frail – striking one of his flamboyant poses before shimmying backwards into a wardrobe and closing the door in "Lazarus" feels like a wink to the audience (going back into the closet after famously proclaiming himself gay long before any other celebrity would dare do so) and a final goodbye. Personally, I like to think of the wardrobe as a time machine (wouldn't Bowie have made a great Doctor Who?), or the passageway to Narnia, a spaceship to Mars or a transporter to return him to whatever planet he beamed down from so long ago to grace us with his presence.

From what I've read in the past week, Bowie faced his mortality with grace, humor and determination. He didn't want to leave his art unfinished. I identify with this most of all. I am not afraid to die – and I hope I have quite a few decades ahead of me – but I want to finish what I've started as a writer. I have another poetry collection and a book of connected short stories in progress, an idea for another trilogy of novels exploring some of the other characters who appeared in The Venus Trilogy and a travel memoir. That's a lot of work and I expect it to keep me busy right up until the end of my life. There's a comfort in that and also a feeling of excitement and only the slightest sense, right now, of urgency.

Thank you for everything you gave us, David Bowie – you Starman.
The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time. - DB

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Leaving Paris" available for pre-order


The final novel in The Venus Trilogy, Leaving Paris, has an official release date of April 15, but you can pre-order your copy today direct from Sibling Rivalry Press at this link. You can find out more about the entire trilogy at this link.

Plans for a small book tour are underway and you can see the current dates at this link. I'll be at AWP in Los Angeles, the Rainbow Book Fair in NYC and there will be a special event here in Atlanta with Georgia Center for the Book where I'm in conversation with fellow novelist Erica Wright (The Granite Moth).

So go ahead and pre-order the book and get your hands on it a week before everyone else. You'll also be supporting and independent press, which is more vital today than ever.

More updates soon!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A mixed bag of a year

So long to another blink-and-you'll-miss-it year. I spent most of 2015 putting the final touches on Leaving Paris (out in April from Sibling Rivalry Press!) while keeping my toe in the poetry waters and despairing about world events seemingly every time I turned on the TV or picked up my phone.

The year began and ended with two horrific terrorist attacks in Paris – in January at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and in November at the Bataclan concert hall and cafes in the 10th and 11th arrondissements and Stade de France. Life imitating art would be a hallmark of 2015 as I continued to work on Leaving Paris, where terrorism and unrest in France is a main theme.

In America, the wanton killings of black people by police continued unabated. Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray received no justice. Conceptual poets like Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place opened their mouths in bizarre appropriations of black lives and had their asses handed to them via social media.

I had my own social media dust-up in April when I was accused of being a "stupid broet" who wanted to dig up Anne Sexton's corpse and fuck her after my poem "Saving Anne Sexton" was published online by Georgia Center for the Book to kick-off its Poem-A-Day project. That was a treat. But April was also the month that I was honored to have my giant head waving in the breeze over Santa Monica Boulevard as part of the West Hollywood Lamppost Poet project to mark National Poetry Month. I went to LA for a special reading and got to hang out and read with poetry pals like Steven Reigns, Cecilia Woloch, Teka-Lark Flemming, Michael Klein, Kate Evans, Ben Trigg and Steve Ramirez. I also got to work with musician and fellow poet Vanessa Daou on a music video for her song "Leaving Paris," which is based on my trilogy of books. I can't wait for you to hear and see it in the new year!

Over the summer, I got to read at the University of Georgia-sponsored Seat in the Shade series in Athens and at Red Rocks College in Denver. I also did a number of poetry workshops this year, including two at the Peachtree City Library near Atlanta and at Georgia Perimeter College.

In the autumn, my mother was in a serious car accident and scuppered my plans for a two-week writing retreat in the UK and France. I'm hoping to get over there early in the year before the madness of touring and promoting Leaving Paris begins in earnest.

I was delighted to have poetry appear in the Four Chambers anthology for the Phoenix Museum of Art, Atticus Review, Luna Luna and the Rabbit Ears: TV Poems anthology. Poetry Atlanta Press reissued my debut collection, Better To Travel, in November with a pretty new cover and some tweaks to the poems inside.

Next year will be solely focused on promoting Leaving Paris. I don't know how many people will read it or how it will be received by critics or fans of the other other two books in the trilogy, but I'm happy with the way Irène and Martin take their final bow. And since I've always got another pot boiling, I'll slowly begin turning my attention to the next poetry collection, which will hopefully be out in the next couple of years.

Thanks again for all your support and I hope that whatever projects you're working on will see fruition in 2016.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Leaving Paris" cover reveal and other notes


I'm excited to show you a mock-up of the cover for Leaving Paris, the final novel in The Venus Trilogy. This isn't the final cover, but it's close. The beautiful photo is by Colin Potts, the hand model is Karen Head (as the character Irène Laureux) and Cleo Creech gave me the Eiffel Tower paperweight as a gift some years ago. I knew it would eventually make its way to a cover. As usual, Elizabeth Holmes did the design work. She's really created a distinctive look for The Venus Trilogy. Leaving Paris will be out in April from Sibling Rivalry Press and keep your eye out for a special fiction bundle sale in the new year featuring books one and two - Conquering Venus and Remain In Light. Tax deductible donations are still being accepted for the Leaving Paris book tour next year. Make your donation at this link to help defray travel costs. If you click on the Events tab at the top of this site, you can get a little glimpse of what's coming in 2016. It's quite exciting! 

I just finished up my annual Christmas Eve link clean-up at Modern Confessional and, as usual, it was a little disappointing to see the list of blogging poets, writers and literary sites continue to dwindle. The blogs have either been abandoned (not updated in months or years), deleted, made private or the blogs have been traded in for traditional websites. The migration to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other social media outlets continues and it's hard to blame anyone for doing this, since it's so easy to update folks there. Still, there are a number of fine writers who are plugging away and worth your time. Check out the Link tab at the top of this blog or click here.

This is also the time of year where I contemplate retiring Modern Confessional, which has been a going concern for 13 years now, or incorporating it into a website. I still want the option to write long-form responses, critiques, reviews, etc. but I also hate coming here and seeing that the blog hasn't been updated in weeks or a month. And while I think I've done a decent job of keeping the limited Blogger platform looking "modern" there are some really, really, really pretty options from Wordpress and Squarespace that speak to me. If you have any thoughts on this, leave them in the comments below. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Rabbit Ears: TV Poems is out now

I am in some seriously fine company in this brilliant anthology Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (New York Quarterly Books) edited by Joel Allegretti. My poem "Girl Crush" for Farrah Fawcett is included along with work by Billy Collins, Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, Aram Saroyan, Kelly McQuain, Tony Hoagland, Regie Cabico, Timothy Liu,  Matthew Hittinger, Annie Finch, Diane Lockward, Grace Zabriskie (Laura Palmer's mom!) and many more.

The poems in the anthology explore the history and early days of TV, sit-coms, children's programming, the news, horror and science fiction, detective shows, soap operas and romance, reality TV, and commercials, among others. You can found out more and order a copy from your favorite bookstore at this link.

Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional

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