Kelly Belmonte is Chief Muse at the lovely blog site titled All Nine – a site that showcases excellent guest writing by a number of regular contributors but is especially blessed by the craft and voice of Kelly herself. She is the author of the new book Three Ways of Searching. Kelly’s writing is a rarity among a mass of writers I read with her clean, spare style and her penetrating insight. Kelly is the more rare though in that her character matches her craft. When she writes that she “nudges” poetry out of others, it is in fact, true. Kelly does exactly that, not just the poetry recited in public readings – as marvelous and delightful as that it is – nor the longer lasting written poems shared among a circle of friends. Kelly nudges and inspires poetry out of others in themselves; the poetry of character. Kelly allows those around her to be better people than they are or perhaps believe themselves to be. She does this as a regular way of living and being, so much so I have often wondered if she even notices that she does that. Grace is a word fitting her, and so is sparkling intelligence, refinement, and a striking lack of ego or pretense. And she brings something all too needed to those of us who suffer from an over-developed sense of seriousness. Kelly Belmonte makes it all fun! Her nudging and urging gives welcome to confidence, encouragement, trust and comfort. That is poetry indeed and, of all poetry, the kind I most admire.
LES: Kelly, your new release is coming out this May 24 – Three Ways of Searching. You have had this book developing in you a long time and yet rather than put a constant focus on writing and moving through the mechanisms of the publishing process, you have chosen to encourage and “nudge” poetry out of others. Why do you place such a deep value on cultivating the poet in others and in context of community – like the Facebook group Lion and Lamb?
KB: Life informs my writing. Life is people, relationships. Much of my poetry over the years has been about and for other people. It has been relational. I’m not an outgoing extroverted sort, but I tend to develop very deep and lasting friendships. It’s a natural outgrowth of who I am, to want to create a safe relational space for other poets to grow and be encouraged. I love to hear what other writers are doing, how they overcome the myriad obstacles to writing, when they experience the “ah ha” moment. It’s encouraging. It’s a reflection of the Creator’s imprint. It is ennobling.
LES: Tell us about the title. It seems definitive and yet also somewhat enigmatic. And the beautiful opening poem echoes the title. What are these ways and what do they mean to you?
KB: I wrote the opening haiku (“three ways of searching / the way of eagles, the way / of hounds, and stillness”) as a tweet on Twitter two or three years ago. In fact, most of the poems in “Three Ways” were first tweets. In the case of the title poem, I may have been responding to a writing prompt, I can’t quite remember. As far as these ways of searching and what they mean… I have been blessed with a variety of experiences in my life to meet and work with people from very different backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, worldviews, temperaments, and personality types than myself. But a common ground experience across all of this diversity is that of searching. Whether it’s the “big search” for meaning in life, or simply a job search, or search for some lost item (I frequently lose things, and even more so as I get older… sigh), there seems to be some common ways people go about this searching business. They circle above as the eagle, they sniff around in the nitty-gritty from below like a hound, or they sit still and wait for it to come to them (which, ironically, is a way of searching). I like to look at these different ways as neutral, without judgment. They all have their place, their moment. When putting together my collection of poetry, I went back to this as a convenient way of organizing my work. The pieces tended to fall neatly into one of the three ways.
LES: Poetry is for some writers something that seems as natural a channel of expression as breathing and yet for others it is not an easy entry. What draws you to poetry and particularly the very delicate, spare micropoetry – haiku and tanka that you write?
KB: Poetry runs in my family. My great grandfather, Clark Ford, used to write poems for friends and relatives to mark birthdays and special occasions. My mother also writes poetry, and my brother writes frequently as a blogger and a pastor (sermons count as writing in my book). I wasn’t going to get away with not being a writer. I started writing poetry in my early teens – mostly rambling, emotional, undisciplined stuff. As bad as it was, I had enough adults I respected see something in it to encourage me to continue. Honestly, though, I think even without encouragement, I would have kept on writing poetry. I just loved it, and still do. Why poetry? Well done, poetry is a container for the deepest emotions and deepest truths in life. Even poorly done, it’s a great outlet. Why not poetry?
It’s more like a physical need for me. I have to write. Even if it’s awful stuff, it needs to get out on paper (or on keyboard). I suppose it’s like the now proverbial “10,000 hours”… You do any one thing for long enough, you’re going to learn something about it and get better and may eventually be in a position to encourage others to do the same.
The interest in haiku and tanka is pretty recent, though. It’s a little strange, really. I wanted to gain some discipline over my poetry, which I felt had gotten a bit self-indulgent and lazy, and I didn’t have much time (working full time and being a new mom). At the same time, I was interested in this “new thing called Twitter,” but couldn’t figure out a way in to learning how to use it. I talked about this recently on my blog (http://allninemuses.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/midweek-muse-nine-twitter-muses/):
“Back in 2008, I decided it was about time I learned what this Twitter thing was all about, so I signed up. I struggled at first to get a handle on the “noise” of all the tweets about everything and anything. It was madness, until I decided to focus my attention on haiku and haiku only, just for the sake of figuring it out. I followed only haiku poets and tweeted only haiku (or what I thought was haiku). I was skeptical at first and truly only in it to learn about Twitter. But before long it became an ongoing poetry workshop filled with encouraging master poets as well as beginners, scribblers, readers, a few trolls, and a lot of fun.”
Through this, I have found a nice fit for me with haiku and other forms of “micropoetry”. I have always been drawn to strong imagery and writers with the ability to put you in a particular place and moment. The haiku poets are masters at this very thing.
LES: You have a unique, fresh voice as a writer. It is reflected beautifully and consistently in your blog All Nine. How did you find your voice as poet and writer and how would you encourage others to find theirs?
KB: In my writing, I am not trying to “be” someone else other than me. I am simply trying to say or show to the reader something so clearly that it becomes a shared experience. I don’t frequently think about my “voice” per se, but I do try to say things in a different way – this has always been important to me – because it shakes the reader (and the writer… me) out of lethargy. If as a reader you’ve seen something so many times before that it has become cliché, you won’t be paying attention. I want to keep the reader hanging on my words. More than that, I want to keep myself hanging on. I get bored easily. I need to shake it up for myself.
Reading good writers across a variety of genres is useful. It’s good to see how others do this on a regular basis. There are many very good bloggers who are putting it out there on a consistent basis and keeping people engaged. Check out places like 12most.com or Hieropraxis.com for a taste. “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg is a book I recommend frequently to writers trying to find their voice and break through self-imposed blocks. She gives the reader permission to write badly and fearlessly, both very important “hall passes” for the writer. In addition, I’ll be recommending Stephen King’s “On Writing” from now on, as I just finished it, and found it primarily practical and deeply encouraging.
LES: One of the things that you do that I have learned to appreciate and admire is invite other people to guest on All Nine. I have seen it done sporadically on other blogs but you have woven it in to the fiber of the blog itself – rhythmic occurrences of other voices offering observation and witness to poetry and beauty. Why did you opt to have others write and why are you not threatened by their voice in your blog space?
KB: I started out having guest bloggers for some very practical reasons. I had made a commitment in early 2012 to post weekly about poetry. Before long, I found myself getting somewhat tired of writing about the subject, although readers still seemed very interested. (Remember how I said earlier I was easily bored? Alas.) So, guests eased the burden and helped me keep going, push through my own barriers. They also brought their own traffic to the site, and I wanted to increase the visibility of All Nine.
As the year progressed, I started to see patterns that coincided with where I wanted to take the site. I wanted to develop a sense of community around All Nine, and community doesn’t happen alone. To have regular contributors supports that goal.
It never occurred to me to feel threatened by the other voices on my site. The more the merrier! Maybe I’m more of a choral singer than a soloist, but I truly love the company, and I feel honored by the presence of such consistent quality talent at All Nine. And we all have such unique perspectives. It’s why I changed things up a bit this year, to have all contributors share their thoughts on the same poem each month. I wanted to foster mini-conversations about particular poets and particular poems. So far the dialog around Jane Kenyon’s “Happiness” and E.B. White’s “Trees of Winter” has been wonderful. I am so pleased.
LES: Why did you choose to title your blog space All Nine Muses and how does that play into the role of being a poet?
KB: As I state on my website, the “nine” of All Nine is a reference to the nine sister muses of Greek mythology. These inspirational sisters represent multiple domains of creativity and intelligence, from epic poetry to science. For any vision to move from the inside of one person’s eyelids to the physical world where it can make a positive impact, it takes a collaborative effort across multiple disciplines and an openness to many sources of inspiration. Hence, all nine.
I am interested in all sorts of creativity, the creative process, where new ideas come from, what prompts the “ah ha” moment. And I believe in the importance of multiple perspectives and relationship – community – in the context of creativity. “All Nine” seemed to bring all of that together for me.
I have to give credit to my husband (Kevin Belmonte) for the idea. When I was trying to land on a new name for the site that expressed all of these concepts, Kevin reminded me of the story of Hannah Moore. Moore was an English writer and philanthropist in the late 18th- early 19th century and a colleague of the reformer/parliamentarian William Wilberforce. David Garrick, the great Shakespearean actor of the day, had such admiration for Moore’s multiple talents, he dubbed her “Nine,” signifying that she was the embodiment of all the Muses.
LES: One of my favourite pieces posted on All Nine is the one titled Discovering My Voice. This paragraph grips me hard and commands my attention. “For me, as an artist, as a writer, words have a high place of honor. They are my tools, my paint, my block of wood waiting to be carved, and my blank sheet waiting to be filled. They are not my idol, but my means of praise; not my all, but my sacrifice.” Tell me about this and particularly about ‘not my all, but my sacrifice.’
KB: I don’t have a lot of other skills that I can say I go back to on a near daily basis (although, I do make a pretty decent guacamole), and there are no other skills that I work at with the same vigor and determination. It is my “hedgehog concept” (see Good to Great, Jim Collins), where my passion, skill, and economics overlap. So the words matter. I must respect them. But I have to keep them in their proper place or they may become in idol or an obsession. The “not my all, but my sacrifice” is a nod in part to King’s “On Writing” where he talks about the necessity of keeping the writing as something that supports life, and not the other way around. It is also a recognition of the place that words should have in my faith, a place of service, devotion, and sacrifice.
LES: What did you learn in the process of writing Three Ways of Searching?
KB: As mentioned earlier, most of these poems came out of my Twitter experience, so I really learned quite a bit about how Twitter works well (and when it doesn’t) . I also learned that there is an incredibly generous global community of poets out there that are mentoring a new generation of writers eager to learn the ancient forms.
LES: What do you hope for this book as it finds its way into the world?
KB: I would hope for readers to start noticing more in the moment, more of the imprint of the Creator. I would love to think that “Three Ways” might find someone in stillness and bring a sense of deep gratitude for what is right now.
LES: What are the best ways readers can follow you and support you in the release of Three Ways of Searching?
KB: Here are a few ideas:
- Buy the book!
- Share the link to my book page on All Nine, where I talk about the book.
- Follow my blog (http://allninemuses.wordpress.com/) and leave comments. Keep the conversation going!
- “Like” All Nine on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/allninemuses) and share your thoughts with the growing All Nine community.
- I’m also on Twitter two ways: @kdbelmonte (prose) and @haikunut (poetry)
Many thanks and blessings to Kelly for all the poetry she creates, encourages and champions!
The images of Kelly Belmonte and Kevin Belmonte in the following interview series are copyright of Lancia E. Smith.
If you wish to use the images please contact me directly regarding their usage.
Thank you so much for your courtesy!
Many blessings to you, friend!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the disciple making. Reflecting that calling, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating Good | True | Beautiful, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts, with a special emphasis on writers. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. Lancia loves strong coffee with cinnamon, writing, website design, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips with Peter, and nearly every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R. R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.