Kelly to read poetry today


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Kristin Kelly runs her boutique store Ode in western Massachusetts, texting herself little lines of poetry on her phone when she finds a moment.

“It’s interesting because it’s creating this little tiny space in which to write, so it is sort of like the space for poetry,” Kelly said. “Only a few words per line. It’s just a way for me to write right now.”

The poet turned shop owner and Writers’ Workshop graduate will return to Iowa City for a reading of her latest work, Cargo, at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St. Admission is free.

Since leaving Iowa City, Kelly said, she has missed the valuable poetry conversations she experienced while at the Workshop. It’s harder to find that elsewhere, she said, but that doesn’t keep her from satisfying her yearning for language — she recently hosted a poetry reading in her boutique.

“I don’t read my own work at the store because I don’t want it to be about me. I have books of poetry in the store alongside fashion magazines,” the 31-year-old said. “Each month, I host different art events, and my first window display had lines of poetry in the window. They are pretty separate for me, but I like to be a part of the art community, and that’s my way of doing it here.”

Friend, fellow poet, and Writers’ Workshop graduate Dora Malech can relate to Kelly in missing the great conversations found in the classroom. She is grateful, however, for her relationship with Kelly, because of their ability to strike up those talks on occasion.

“Her poetry is achingly attune to specific textures, images, and moments,” Malech said. “It also has a thrilling musicality and light-on-its-feet muscularity that is never light on import and emotional thrust.”

Kelly often writes from experience, even if it seems fleeting. She said she loves the way one can rip apart language and moments and piece them back together into something stronger than before. She is energized by the access languages gives — you can experience something in life and then write about it for a completely different experience.

She is especially interested in the tragedy and beauty of the human condition — the strange things people say or the miscommunications people have. She likes to write in places in which she can overhear conversations and in which she can see the scraps of paper and trash left behind.

“I listen to what people say, and just recently there’s been this woman who sits outside my store who I have to ask sometimes to leave because she’s spitting on people,” Kelly said. “But she also says these really amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking, and also offensive things that I tend to want to steal.”

Cargo, the book from which she will read from today, deals greatly with the human condition. The poems start in a fragmented emotional state, but as the pages turn, she hoped to establish a unifying notion.

“My hope is that I was moving from a feeling of interior ruin to exterior empathy,” she said. “A little bit of an emotional road map, I think.”

Kelly has learned a poem is either a poem or an elegy. It’s easier for her to write poems about broken-heartedness, but she feels a poem can still have heart and be happy. It’s more of a challenge.

“What also is really hard for me is, lately, I’ve been trying to write odes or happy poems,” she said. “It’s hard, because a lot of times I think we start from a darker place. It’s hard to make art when you’re celebrating, but it’s important to do that.”

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