Monday, April 23, 2018


This week, my friends, we are catching up with Kelli, the incomparable Mama Zen, who writes at another damn poetry blog, (though it is anything but!) We are looking forward to hearing what she's been up to, reading some of her fine poems, and enjoying some photos that will give us a sense of her location on the planet. Pull your chairs in close. This is going to be wonderful!

Sherry: Kelli, our last update was in 2016. Bring us up to date, won’t you? How is your Grandma doing? How is Baby Puppy? Is she writing herself, these days? (I am still waiting to interview her one day. Smiles.) And how are you, as you mark three years since the death of your mother at the too-young age of 62?

Kelli: So good to be with you again, Sherry.

The family is doing well.  At 85, my Grannie is still able to run circles around most people half her age (including me!).  We're trying to get her to slow down a bit, maybe hire out some of the yard work and such, but I don't know if she is going to have it.

My Grannie and I at an Oklahoma City Thunder game.
She's as Thunder crazy as I am, so this is our thing.

Baby Puppy is the most naturally gifted writer I have ever seen.  Pure raw talent.  It truly awes me. 

Sherry: I am not at all surprised, given her talented mother!

Kelli: We home school, now, so we have access to more rigorous classes and more areas of study than were available in traditional school.  But, it's hard work.  For both of us.

Sherry: A wonderful option for a creative person. And safer, too.

Kelli: As for me, it's been difficult.  Frankly, I just went numb for a while.  But, I'm at peace with my mother's passing. That fact alone is at least some evidence of God.

Sherry: I'm glad to hear that, Kelli. Sometimes when we go through hard times, our writing slows for a while. Louise Erdrich calls this a “time of gestation.” How is your writing going?

Kelli: "Time of gestation." I like that, and I certainly hope that it's true.  It sounds much prettier than "banging my head bloody against the wall." I seem to be going through a slow period when it comes to my writing.  It's painful, but maybe it's necessary.  Refilling the well and all that.

Sherry: Well, the poems we are reading are consistently amazing, in my humble opinion. What do you love about poetry? How do you feel those times when a poem turns out exactly the way you want?

Kelli: I don't think that I've ever had a moment when a poem has turned out exactly the way I wanted.  I'm not sure I would recognize a moment like that if it happened.  I have had some moments when I finished a poem and felt a little less ordinary than I am.  Poetry has that kind of magic.  That's what I love about it.

Sherry: Wow. That astonishes me. So many of your poems take my breath away. And you are anything but ordinary! Do you have a favourite poet?

Mama Zen at (cos)play dressed as Roxy Lalonde,
but that's not important. The important thing is the Trans Am
I'm leaning against. Recognize it? That's the Smokey and the Bandit car!

Kelli: Yes, but I'm not monogamous.  I like playing the field.  Right now, I'm dating Nikki Giovanni.  Recently, I had flings with John Berryman and Walt Whitman.  But I always come back to Shakespeare.

Sherry: When you look back, are there any clues in childhood that you would become a poet? 

Kelli: I don't know if you would call it a clue, but books were a huge part of my childhood.  I read everything that I could get my hands on.  And I had a very vivid imagination.

Sherry: Ah, the foundation of most poets, I suspect. When did you start writing?

Kelli: I started writing in earnest when I was about 14.  I was a living stereotype!  Dressed in black from head to toe, blue black hair dye and nail polish, motorcycle boots, and a tattered notebook of poems detailing my teenage angst.  But I didn't think of myself as a poet.  I was a songwriter.

Sherry: I can see you! Smiles. Is there one person you feel had a significant influence on you in your life, and/or as a creative person?

Kelli: I can think of a few people.  My grandfather was the greatest storyteller I've ever known.  He rooted me deep in the Oklahoma red dirt, and I think it shows in my poetry.

My favorite kind of Oklahoma landscape

Sherry: I love it when that red dirt seeps into your poems. Two of your recent poems that I really really love are “Getting Old” and “Blessed”. Let’s include them here. Would you tell us a bit about each poem?

My bad witch
is fat
and contented.
She picks her teeth
with my good
witches bones.
Gray springs free
from my braid, but I've made

peace with the griefs
that I own.
I'm a Buddha that bakes and drives carpool.
I'm a shrew with hands full of hell.
The ways of the world can't shock me anymore,
but I still astonish myself.

Kelli:  I'm afraid that I don't really have a good story for this one.  I think this was a poem that I wrote for the New Year.  Sort of a personal celebration.

Sherry: I love her picking her teeth with her good witch bones! Delightful!

I'm the taste on the lion's tongue.
Wild mother
of wilder young.
Sun, salt
sugar, sweat,
breasts -

Kelli:  Ah, this one I have a story for!

A couple of years ago, my family and I toured a tiger rescue.  At one point during the tour, we were able to interact with the tiger cubs.  While I was sitting in the enclosure, one of the tiger cubs bounced up to me and began licking my hands.  A young woman (a tourist from India; I have to mention that because she had the most gorgeous, lilting accent) watched the cub for a moment, then said, "You're blessed."  Her tone was this mixture of matter-of-factness and awe; it gave me shivers.  It felt like a sign to me.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible that tiger cubs just like sunscreen.

My husband and I with my little cub friend.
He's actually a Liger - a tiger-lion mix.

Sherry: Oh, he is so adorable!!! It was a sign, I have no doubt! Animals sense a person's spirit. I always trust when they like someone...and when they don't. I love this poem so much. And I would so adore patting a tiger cub. Sigh.

Would you like to pick another? (Cant get enough, lol! I really love “Workhorse”, for one……..)

Kelli: Well, since I do take requests . . .      

Give me the weight; my back is strong.
I've done time in the traces, it's where I belong.
There is solace in knowing just what I am -
a workhorse plodding slow.
Plodding slow
and plodding home.

Look at my hands to see my true face.
They work wonders without waste.
This may not be the story I intended to write,
but this is the language of my life.

So what's one more brand new year unfolding -
I've got the same sweat on my brow.
I've bargained my penance and starved for forgiveness;
I'm fat with forgetting now.

A workhorse at the plow.
Fat with forgetting now.

Sherry: I adore "I'm fat with forgetting now." This is just brilliant, Kelli. I think we can all relate to "this may not be the story I intended to write". But it's our lives; it's what we have. Do you have any writing goals for 2018?

A view of my neighbourhood from the walking path

Kelli: For about the first 30 minutes or so of 2018, I had a few writing goals, but I ended up changing my mind.  I don't want to ask more of poetry than it can give, or burden it with expectations.

Sherry: Oh, I love that: not asking more than poetry can give. That is likely how we keep our work fresh, not flogging it. What activities do you enjoy when you aren’t writing?

Kelli:  I'm an avid reader; if I have any downtime, you can bet I have a book in my hand.  I'm crazy ridiculous about professional basketball.  And, naps!  I love naps.

My vegetable garden in summer

Sherry: Thank you so much, Kelli, for this visit. It's always good to catch up with you. I love the photos of your part of the world. Say "hi!" to Baby Puppy for us! Maybe she will share a poem with us one of these days?

Wasn't this a lovely visit, my friends? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. So nice to meet Mama Zen after reading her poetry for awhile. Love her visit to the tiger reserve! Thank you for this outstanding interview.

  2. I'm so happy you enjoyed it. I loved the tiger visit too!

  3. I loved the interview... so much to like here.. but the story of the tiger was perfect. I'm sure it was not sunscreen.

  4. I could picture you as that teenager you describe, Mama Zen. Being that stereotype then may have freed you for now when anything "expected" is rare in your writing. "Look at my hands to see my true face." and
    "The ways of the world can't shock me anymore,
    but I still astonish myself." Lucky lady! "Workhorse" is my new favorite, Mama Zen! Sherry, I enjoy these "updates" immensely. Thank you.

  5. It is always a pleasure to put these features together. We have such wonderful people to catch up with!

  6. Mama Zen is one of my most admired poets, and how delightful to spend time with Kelli behind the scenes. Lovely to encounter the 14-year-old stereotype, the proud mother, the woman so sweetly blessed by the liger cub.... Above all I (predictably, lol?) loved meeting the dual-natured witch Kelli sees herself becoming. Thank you, Sherry and Kelli, for making this interview so enjoyable.

  7. Another of your excellent profile pieces, Sherry. You are the best at them. Love the tiger cub story.

  8. Such an enjoyable interview. I loved the poetry and Kelli's easy, genuine, talented style. The liger strory is precious and I think animals do bestow blessings. Accept them Kelli, you deserve them.
    Thank you Sherry for this interview.

  9. I've admired her for a long time and am floored by her creativity. I KNOW it wasn't the sunscreen. Loved all the poems and getting an inside look at what makes up "Mama Zen". Awesome.

  10. What a glorious interview you two! I love the earthiness of your poetry Kelli and the feel of your words. This is so much like honest poetry of rural people sparing nothing as they tell of their days.

  11. Thanks for stopping by, friends, with your kind words. We appreciate it.

  12. This is just marvelous! Thank you, Sherry. And thanks to all of you for your lovely comments.

  13. I am so happy you like it, Kelli. Thank you for letting us catch up with you! And for sharing your poems, and the adorable liger with us!

  14. The ways of the world can't shock me anymore,
    but I still astonish myself

    Look at my hands to see my true face.
    They work wonders without waste.
    This may not be the story I intended to write,
    but this is the language of my life.

    I think I found my new fave poet! :D

  15. This is such a wonderful read, ladies.

  16. Loved reading this - and your poem about growing old hit me right in my aging...everywhere. Love for you and Sherry!

  17. thanks Sherry for another wonderful interview and a great thank you to MZ for being so willing to share her/your works, and a slice of her/your life ~ it's so wonderful to peek a bit into someone's world and get a richer, deeper sense on our compass.

  18. top notch interview... I enjoyed getting to know Mama Zen

  19. Another wonderful interview, Sherry, thank you both for making my day with tooth-picking bad witches, lions and a work horse! I've been reading Kelli's poetry in the garden with the toads for a few years now and I'm always amazed at her sharp inventiveness - and she's not afraid to tell it like it is!

  20. I love Kelli telling it like it is, too. You have a voice all your own, Kelli, and we enjoy it so much!

  21. Great catching up with you is always wonderful to read your poems. And thank you Sherry for bringing us over to visit with Kelli.....if I was there you know I would be nosing around that veg garden! Enjoy your summer in the garden Kelli.

  22. Your poem affected life?! Yes, you can share your lovely poem and its great "after story" with the world... Submit now on

  23. Have always enjoyed MZ's poems. She says it like it is. So many seems to share the same opinion. Thanks Sherry and MZ!


  24. I have been popping in on Mama Zens blog for years and have never been disappointed. A true talent and I am so pleased to have learned more about her. Thank you for another wonderful interview Sherry!

  25. loved this interview, of one of my all time favorite poets. cheers to you both ~

  26. A poet whose unique style of writing i really luv.
    Sherry thanks for sharing this up close on mama Zen.

    much love...

  27. I always enjoy Kelli’s poetry. Great interview. Thank you, Sherry. I love this interview.

  28. I'm a bit late in reading, but I loved all you wrote about the Oklahoma poet, Mama Zen! I loved the post, Thank you Sherry and Kelli.


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