Meet A Poet at Your Table: Kelli Russell Agodon and Letters From the Emily Dickinson Room

Kelli Russell Agodon
As a way to introduce the poets of A Poet at Your Table I will be running a series of profiles, one poet per week. All of these poets are available to attend your book group -- although we try to match each poet with a geography that is not too far from home --- unless of course book groups in Hawaii or California, London or Paris,  want A Poet at Your Table -- and then we will happily work with you.

Kelli Russell Agodon's most recent book is Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, winner of the White Pine Press Award, Foreword Book Prize and a Finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Here is what poet Martha Silano says on Goodreads about this award winning collection:

I've been a fan of Kelli Russell Agodon's poetry since her debut collection Small Knots appeared in 2004, but this book is definitely my favorite. There are poems in this collection that will make you laugh, such as "Coming Up Next: How Killer Blue Irises Spread" and "In the 70s, I Confused Macrame and Macabre," and, "What the Universe Makes of Lingerie" (three of my personal favorites), but the cool thing about Agodon's work is how often pain/sadness and humor/joy appear side by side, just as they do in real life. The poem "Other Words" is a great example of this:

We say dishrag and ribtaker
instead of homemaker.
Use whiplash and lackluster
instead of breadwinner . . .

There are days when sippy cups
become purgatory and family vacation
suggests space mission . . .

I don't want to say fishhook
when I mean marriage, or not-tonight
when what I meant to say is: I can't explain
my sadness or the night has stolen the sky.

It's rare to find a poet with such a keen ear for the vernacular. Before Agodon sat down to write this book, she carefully took America's pulse; she "gets" what it means to be a mother/wife/daughter/writer in a consumer-driven, spiritually-anemic culture. With refreshing honesty, the speaker confesses, in "Quiet Collapse in the Dharma Shop": "I charged spirituality / on my VISA" and "what might improve my mood is / a new bra and some bravery. I believe her when she says "I pray to anything these days--/the plants without names, the beetles, / my garden of hissing snakes," and I am buffeted by her news that

We were not born with wings
Like fireflies, we've had to invent what holds us

Agodon is by turns versatile, ambidextrous, inventive, grave, and funny as all get out in this stunning collection. If you like reading poems that encompass not only what's going on down the street but also way past Pluto, this is a book for you.

And here is one of my (many) favorites from the collection originally published in The Atlantic Monthly.

Coming Up Next: How Killer Blue Irises Spread
—Misheard health report on NPR

It’s the quiet ones, the flowers
the neighbors said
kept to themselves,

Iris gettagunandkillus, shoots

and rhizomes reaching
beneath the fence.
The shifty ones,

Mickey Blue Iris, the tubers

that pretend to be dormant
then spread late night into
the garden of evil and no good.

They know hell, their blue flames

fooling van Gogh, the knife
he stuck into soil before he sliced
the bulbs in three, nights

he spent painting in a mad heat.

They swell before the cut
and divide of autumn.
An entire field of tulips,

flattened. Daylilies found

like lean bodies across the path.
The wild blue iris claims
responsibility, weaves through

the gladioli, into the hothouse

where the corpse flower blooms
for a single day, its scent
of death calling to the flies.

For more information on inviting Ms. Agodon to your table please write to "poetatyourtable(at)

In addition to three full length collections and one chapbook, Kelli also works as an editor, publisher, and teacher. Read her full bio here. 


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