Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life of a Poet - Mama Zen

Kids, you are in for a treat. Today we are visiting Mama Zen, aka Kelli, of The Zen of Motherhood, a way-cool site exploring all the issues of womanhood. You will find Kelli's poetry at her other blog, Motherhood After Dark, which she has affectionately subtitled another damn poetry blog. There's a table reserved for us there. In the darkened lounge, we’re seated ringside, (due to our Press badges), and some Irish Coffees are being delivered, comp. They are dimming the lights and, in the focussed beam of stage lighting, Mama Zen steps up to the footlights, to tell us what motherhood is like, before and after dark.

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Poets United : Kelli, I am so stoked to be visiting with you. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and look forward to hearing your story. Your profile says you live in the USA.....would you like to tell us which general area?

Mama Zen: I’m a red dirt Oklahoma girl.  I’ve lived here all of my life, and I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.  The older I get, the more I realize how much this place is a part of me.

Poets United: On your site you describe yourself as Mom to Baby Puppy, wife to Daddy Zen and keeper of the geckos. Of course, we’d love to hear about your family. And we must hear about the geckos! Are there any other critters?

The adorable Baby Puppy and Big Snoop

Mama Zen: We keep a pretty full house.  We have an axolotl, three turtles, a chameleon, four leopard geckos, and a German Shorthaired Pointer named Big Snoop.  Oh, and there’s some fish around here . . . somewhere.

A google Axolotl

Poets United: I had not heard of an axolotl. It looks human, in an alien kind of way. Now, it is going to be very hard to keep Baby Puppy from stealing the whole interview, but I have to tell you, as I read back in your archives, I became enchanted with her. She seems extremely original, intelligent and precocious, with a wicked sense of humor.......Do you have a favorite story or two to tell us about her? (I loved what she said to the teacher, who was admonishing her : “I have mysterious ways.”)

Mama Zen: Baby Puppy would probably be a more interesting interview!  I tell you, that kid is something, even if she is mine.  I could tell you a hundred stories, but since we’re talking poetry, I’ll share a poem that she wrote for me.

Zen is like a charm.
Charm is a drop of water.
Zen is love.

Not bad for an eight year old, huh?

Zen is love

Poets United: Oh my goodness. Buckle up, that girl is going to FLY! So, let’s talk about you! Have you always written?

Mama Zen: I remember writing a couple of short stories when I was fairly young, but I didn’t get serious about writing until my early teens.  That’s about the time that I fell in love with music and started writing songs.

Poets United: Oh, tell us more! (See, kids? Every. Single. Time. Blown away!)

Mama Zen: Back in my bad old days, I was a singer / songwriter.  I started writing songs when I was thirteen or so, and joined my first rock band when I was sixteen.  And, I spent the next seven years as a working musician.

                                    Kelli  singing, Back in the Day

Poets United: Wow, kiddo! You are so good!!!!! Beautiful, too - what glorious hair! Do you still perform?

Mama Zen: These days, I only sing to amuse my Baby Puppy!

Poets United: Well, it isn't over yet. You should keep singing! You are that good. There is a close connection between lyrics and poetry. Did your song writing lead you into poetry?

Mama Zen: Oh, definitely.  The best song lyrics are poetry, and song lyrics were my earliest exposure to poetry, as well.  When I stopped performing and writing songs for a band, poetry was a logical progression.  It took a few years, though.

Poets United: Do you have a fave singer?

Mama Zen: Janis Joplin.  Janis was everything that I wanted to be when I grew up.  Well, except for the dead part!

Poets United: Do you still write songs?

Mama Zen: I do, but unintentionally!  Often, I will start writing a poem, and it will start singing to me.  Before I can stop myself, I'm writing verses, a bridge, a chorus.  A lot of what I write is meant to be sung, rather than read.

Poets United: I notice that you write both poetry and prose. Which is your favorite, and why?

Mama Zen: Depends on when you ask me.  My favorite is whichever happens to be going well that day.

Poets United: What does writing mean to you?

Mama Zen: When I write, I feel completely alive.  And, when I finish a piece, I feel completely whole.  That’s why I write.

Poets United: Being a busy wife and mom, are you able to spend as much time as you would like to on your writing?

Mama Zen: You know, actually, I am.  If I have too much time to write, I over think myself into a wicked case of writer’s block.  I work better if I have to work fast.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that I tend to favor shorter pieces.

Poets United: What would you say to other young moms,  who find it hard to make time for their writing (or art)?

Mama Zen: Don’t tell yourself that it’s not important.  It is.  Give yourself permission to treat your passion as if it matters.  And, learn to write in the bathroom.

Poets United: Good advice! What makes for good poetry, in your opinion?

Mama Zen: Ah, Sherry, if I knew the answer to that . . .To me, good poetry catches a moment, holds it up to the light, then lets it go.

Poets United: Oh, I love that definition! So, in your poetry, you strive for...?

Mama Zen: Exactly that.  And, clarity.  And, a good beat so you can dance to it.

Poets United: Do you prefer free verse or form poetry?

Mama Zen: Free verse.  But, form poetry can be a great way to stretch a little and challenge yourself. 

Poets United: Who or what would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Mama Zen: More than anything, music has influenced my writing.   I often still find myself singing what I’m writing.

Poets United: Do you have a favorite poet?

Mama Zen: Back to music, again!  Woody Guthrie, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen.  Love those guys.

And, I love a lot of the poets that I’ve discovered on the net.  Fireblossom (Word Garden) and Hedgewitch (Verse Escape) are two of my favorites.  Their work will be part of the Senior English class syllabus someday.

Poets United: I so agree! They both should be famous right now. Luckily, in this lovely blogosphere, they are! Do you have a poem written by you that you feel describes you?

Mama Zen: I guess all of them do, in one way or another.

Poets United: What is your favorite place in the world?

Mama Zen: An open road.

Poets United: When you aren’t writing,  what other  things do you enjoy doing?

Mama Zen: I read just about anything that I can get my hands on.  I’m a political junkie, so I love following the news.  I enjoy gardening (if I can keep the dog out of my tomatoes!) and fishing.

Kelli's typical summer garden

Poets United: Oo, I love that garden! [Kids, last Saturday Kelli was featured at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads, and it turns out she is a spectacular photographer, as well. To see some of her beautiful photos, click here.]
So........favorite book of all time?

Mama Zen: Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind.  I first read it when I was about eight, and it completely captured my imagination.  I think that I spent that entire summer pretending that I was Scarlett O'Hara.  Sometimes, I still do!

Poets United: What are you  reading right now?

Mama Zen:  I always have several in progress.  Right now, I'm reading More Beauty, Less Beast by Deborah Coty, Catch 22, The Help, and a couple of books on Buddhism.

Poets United: An eclectic mix. Love it. If you were to write a book, would it be fiction or memoir, and are you ever likely to?

Mama Zen: If I were to write a book, it would probably be some sort of collection of essays and poetry.  You know, the kind that doesn't make any money!  Unfortunately, I just don't have the, I don't know, patience? desire? to write long fiction.

Poets United: Do you have any causes that are dear to your heart?

Mama Zen: I spent the majority of my career working with persons with developmental disabilities.  I’m a huge supporter of Special Olympics and other organizations that seek to serve that community.


Poets United: I so admire you for that, Kelli. What a great place to put some energy. If you were granted One Perfect Day, and could go anywhere and do anything, no limits, what would you do?

Mama Zen: No limits?  Can I find a cure for a disease? I would cure COPD.

Poets United: Oh, when you do, sign me up!! Are you satisfied with how your poetry has developed over the past year?

Mama Zen: I think that I’m growing.  Becoming a little more sure of myself.  Willing to take a few more risks when I write.

Poets United: Yes, you are. Your poems knock our socks off. Do you have any goals for your writing in the next five years?

Mama Zen: I would like to be a good enough poet to be published.  Now, whether or not I would actually want to be published is a completely different matter!

Poets United: Which do you enjoy most: the way a poem turns out when you are writing to prompts or the poem that results  when inspiration hits you? Or is there any difference to you?

Mama Zen: I don’t think there’s any difference.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Particularly heinous form prompts get a victory dance.

Poets United: I know, me, too! Or at least a Victory Hobble. What is your least favorite domestic duty?

Mama Zen: Scrubbing the shower.  Hate that.

Poets United: Your most favorite?

Mama Zen: Cooking . . . most of the time!

Poets United: Would you love to travel?

Mama Zen: I would love to do some version of a Route 66 road trip.  I love a good road trip.

Poets United: Is there something you have learned in life about honoring your writing gift,  that you would like to share with beginning writers?

Mama Zen: Don’t feel like your writing has to pay your bills or put food on the table to be worth something.  And, don’t think that you have to sling books like J.K. Rowling to call yourself a writer. 

Poets United: Isn’t that the truth? Thank you so much, Kelli, for giving us a peek into your life. And, kids, I did a quick follow-up interview  with Baby Puppy! Though it was tempting, I refrained from asking her for the Inside Scoop on Mom. But it took every bit of self-restraint that I have!

   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Poets United: Baby Puppy, I love your Zen poem. Which do you prefer to write, poems or stories?

Baby Puppy: I have to say I prefer stories.  Poems are harder to think of because they usually have to be rhyming.

Mama Zen:  She has also threatened to write her own Family Newspaper about the daily happenings in our house.  Now, there's an idea that made my blood run cold!

Poets United: Oh, I love that idea so much! What I would really love to do is have Baby Puppy interview Mama Zen!!!!!  Maybe next time! What is it like to have a mom who is a poet?

Baby Puppy and Mama Zen on a.......camel!!

Baby Puppy: It's very interesting.  She is very creative.  And, sometimes when I see her work, I feel like I should write stories of my own.

Poets United: Well, I hope you do, because I strongly suspect you are already a writer! What is the best book you ever read, or had someone read to you?

Baby Puppy: My favorite book in the world that my mom and me read together is Lord of the Rings: The Hobbit.  She's read it to me lots of times, but that was when I was too young to read it. 

Hobbit house in Wales from

Poets United: I read that book to my kids, too, when they were your age. I have always wanted to live in a hobbit house. Now, I know you love critters. What is your favorite animal in the world?

Baby Puppy: My favorite animal in the world is a wolf.  I really love wolves and wish to study them some day.

google image

Poets United: I love wolves too. It would be very cool to study them. And maybe work to preserve their habitat. If your gecko could talk, what do you think it would tell you first?

Tony, the gecko

Baby Puppy: Actually, I have multiple geckos.  But, if one them could talk, I bet it would be Tony.  I think Tony would say, "Please, let me out of this cage and feed me more crickets!"

Poets United: I think he would, too, kiddo!


Well, kids, there you have it. A double-decker interview with not one, but TWO wonderful Zen poets. Isnt it true that the people behind the pen are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!



  1. Wow!!! Fantastic interview (double interview)... Mama Z we have several things in common and I found that really interesting. I loved watching your video and hearing from you kiddo too. Keep on doing all the wonderful things you do, shining your unique vision into the world.

  2. Wow, Baby Puppy sounds about 28, not 8! I'm telling you, that girl is going to be heard from.

    As for Kelli, I don't know what she means when she says she hopes to write stuff that's good enough to be published, cos she already does that, all the time. My opinion is, that with creative expression, it's like athletics. Training and practice are good, but past a certain point, one either has the gift or one does not. Kelli has the gift in spades.

    What a joy and treat to read this interview, put together by blogdom's most talented interviewer, Sherry, with the focus on a gal who is simply my Favorite, period.

  3. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into MZs world and the extra on her daughter! I really enjoyed learning more about Kelli and her animals, songwriting/singing/gardening/inspiration. Music inspires me, too. Janis Joplin grew up where I live, she's a big deal around here.

  4. Sherry, this is so cool! Baby Puppy is going to be so excited. Thank you for all of your hard work. You are the best!

  5. well, kelli from oklahoma, it is very nice to MEET you! :)

  6. Loved this Sherry. (Esp the part with Baby Puppy; she was very informative and amazingly mature--more so than a lot of adults I can think of. ;_) ) As always you think of the best questions to ask--and with an interviewee like Kelli, you got some of the best answers, very typically Mama Zen, too--short, sharp, to the point and full of her own vision. I definitely have felt many times reading Kelli's poetry that music lyrics are in there, and often think of it as something I'd play on the jukebox twenty times. (Do they still have juke boxes? Substitute latest app or whatever if not) Also many thanks for the shout out--I only wish I could write the way Kelli does--so concisely, so universally. Great interview of a very talented poet.

  7. Very cool double interview with Mama Z and Baby Puppy!

  8. WOW! What an interview .. enjoyed each question and each response! The video too ........ rock on Kelli!

  9. I do love your interview with MZ and Baby Puppy! I do so enjoy her blogs every day! Thanks for this!!


  10. WOW that was quite the interview indeed. Great job on all fronts.

  11. Great interview Mama Zen,
    We have a couple of things in common: I also sang for a couple local bands and am a huge supporter of Special Olympics. Got to meet John Kennedy Jr. when he was here in town at Notre Dame back in 1980's back when in its first beginnings. Also Eunice and Ethel Kennedy and Maria Schriber before she married Arnold (I'll be back) Schwartznegger. I think I might have damaged their spelling forever, please forgive me

    Anyway, wonderful getting to know more about you, Mama Zen

  12. I came in from the heat of the garden, drank a big glass of water, and then read this interview. Completely fulfilled and refreshed, I realize I have a wonderful life. Thank you Sherry, Mama Zen and Baby Puppy for adding this long-cool, satisfying drink and for reminding me it's a wonderful world.

  13. I SO enjoyed doing this interview - it was a total pleasure! I would have loved it even more had I thought to let Baby Puppy conduct it herself:) That girl IS going to be heard from! Thanks, Mama Z and Baby Puppy, for making this a totally enjoyable week. You both rock!

  14. the bits with baby puppy...and this about sums it up for me MZ...

    When I write, I feel completely alive. And, when I finish a piece, I feel completely whole

  15. I so enjoyed getting to know more about Mama Zen and Baby Puppy~
    I now, want to go chill in my garden and listen to 60s music :D
    Great interview gals, I feel more calm and refreshed! Love the vibe all of you have created! Wow, love that you were in a band...If you want to start another one, I'm available ;D

  16. MZ is one of a kind. I loved this interview - so upbeat and interesting to read.

  17. Wonderful interview, Sherry and Kelli. I interviewed Mama Zen over at Real Toads a while ago; so it was fun to learn even more about her! And Baby Puppy is definitely a winner!

  18. Another cool interview Sherry - nice to meet you Mama Zen and Baby Puppy ... you're both true originals and both writers too. Your work is already publishable in my view MZ,(I know I'm not the first to say so) - loved your early band stuff and would kill for that hair! Or your hair now, come to think of it ... great read.

  19. I loved reading your interview, Kelli. When I write and read poetry, I do it to an Ani Difranco beat. There is such a huge connection between poetry and music. Have you and Pup read A Wrinkle in Time together? I loved her zen poem.

  20. Fantastic interview, all 3 of you ladies! It was terrific to learn more about one of my favorite poets and about an up and coming poet! I am so envious of your singing voice, Kelli! I sometimes sing my poems too, but no one would want to hear them!

  21. Adorable interview. Loved it. I'm of to organize and beautify my new office... I mean bathroom.

  22. This was such a treat!!! Thank you so much for this!! :)

  23. Loved this interview. I too am a big fan of this poet - and yes, I bet Baby Puppy will go far with her writing too.

  24. This was a surprise to find: a film clip, a great interview and a sneak peek at Baby Zen before she becomes a full-fledged artist. I really liked your def of a good poem : let it go -also, I don't write in the bathroom, but rather at redlights. Cheers!


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