Kelli Allen, who will be reading from her first collection of poetry, Otherwise, Soft White Ash at 7 p.m. this evening at Left Bank Books, does not consider herself a confessional poet. Though some of her poems concern the final illness and death of her mother, many others come from myths and fairy tales and the Great Subconscious.
Some might call it the world of dreams -- if Allen, who teaches in the Lindenwood University MFA program; is involved in several projects in the St. Louis poetry community, including judging the St. Louis Poetry Center's annual writing contest and organizing the River Styx Hungry Young Poets reading series; and, incidentally, is the mother of five kids, ranging in age from three to twelve, ever had time to sleep.
"Everything I understand about myself comes from fairy stories," Allen explains. "The force [of nature] takes non-human form. It plays with us in a charming way and explains things we can't."
Allen is particularly attracted to foxes and coyotes, who are trickster figures in many cultures ("They're much more interesting than the traditional male figures; there's too much of them we already know") and to swans. "Swans are both delicate and aggressive at the same time," she explains.
Several of Allen's poems are based on the fairy tale "The Twelve Swans" in which a young woman rescues her twelve brothers who have been transformed into swans by an evil sorceress. But in the end, the spell is incomplete: Instead of an arm, one of the brothers still has the wing of a swan.
"I love that he's connected to both worlds," Allen says. "You're always connected to the world above and below."