Amy Keller

  • Amy Keller, Business AdministrationAmyKeller_web

    Amy is an old friend of Illuminations. The recipient of the Runner-Up Poetry Award for her work in Volume 12, she has returned with four new poems and a short story in the recently released Volume 16. In the interim, she and her husband have created an exciting new community literary magazine – The Lincoln Underground. Amy spoke with us about her personal writing preferences, her themes and where they come from, and why she returns to Illuminations when she has a successful literary magazine in her own backyard.

    Illuminations: Greetings, Amy! Your short story, “Through Snowy Windows,” and several of your poems echo a sense of longing, of not fitting in, of family disturbance. What attracts you to this theme?

    Amy: Unfortunately, it’s less that I’m attracted to it and more that I write what I know. I have a difficult relationship with my family, and my writing is a way to process that and deal with it. I think most people who know me would say I’m pretty positive and don’t talk about myself or difficult things I deal with much. But my writing is a place where I can let those awful experiences out, give them the attention they deserve, confront them, and right the wrongs that have been done. I also believe that children are not listened to or respected the way they should be in our society, and that’s something that needs to change. That’s one of the statements I’m making when I write on these themes.

    I: Powerful statements indeed, Amy. Obviously, you write both fiction and poetry. Which is your favorite to write and why?

    A: Actually, neither! I like writing creative non-fiction and song lyrics best. I feel like I have a lot of stories to tell from my life and am just now finding the voice to tell them. The past few years, I’ve been experimenting with genres to see where I fit best. I still want to write a successful novel someday (I’ve written two so far, but am not completely happy with them, and they haven’t been published anywhere). I guess the short answer is that I’m still finding my voice and genre.

    I: Aren’t we all? Whom do you like to read, and how have these writers influenced or motivated your own writing?

    A: I love Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Thomas Hardy, and the Brontes. I like to discover new English and Irish women authors (Harriet Evans, Cathy Kelly, Cecilia Ahern, Roisin Meaney), and absolutely love Aaron Cometbus’s zines. I also like to read biographies and non-fiction books about feminism, the 60s, and social issues. It’s funny because half of my reading list (and overall sensibilities) is that of a 70-year-old woman, while the other half is totally punk. You can see that aesthetic in the magazine I edit, too. But I think all of these are very real, down-to-earth writing about people’s struggles yet finding the beauty and good in life despite them. And the writing technique is wonderful and challenges me to write as well as they do.

    I: You and your husband Jeff created and manage the community literary magazine, The Lincoln Underground. What was your motivation behind developing the magazine, and how have you seen its success influence the Lincoln artistic community?

    A: We originally started the magazine because we were hosting a weekly open mic night at Indigo Bridge Books here in Lincoln and were blown away by the wonderful poetry, fiction, and music we heard each week. We wanted there to be a record of the writing we’d heard, instead of it just being read and then disappearing into the air. Jeff had a history of working on literary magazines, and I had worked as a clinical report writer for years, so we knew we could make one between the two of us.

    We also felt like the literary world was becoming increasingly academic and hard to break into, and we wanted to make something that would be an alternative to that. So, when we read submissions for the magazine, we don’t consider a person’s degrees or previous publishing credits (as many magazines do), but only the writing itself. As a result, we have rejected professors with PhDs and published elementary school kids. We’ve been really happy to see the magazine grow and flourish! We’re now putting together our 16th issue, and we continue to receive new work from people within Lincoln and Nebraska, and also throughout the U.S. and even a few contributors in Europe and beyond! We’ve also been asked by the Nebraska State Historical Society to send them a copy of each issue for their library archives. It’s a passion project with us – not a money-making one – but I think writers need a place to be heard and somewhere that will help nurture their abilities and their confidence while introducing their work to a wider audience.

    We are always taking submissions, and encourage anyone and everyone to send us their work! Submission deadlines and guidelines can be found at www.thelincolnunderground.com.

    I: As if being a poet, fiction writer, and editor aren’t enough, what other artistic pursuits do you enjoy?

    A: I’m a singer-songwriter, and think of myself that way first and foremost. I’ve played a lot of shows in the past, but took some time off because my schedule was too busy. I recently got a new guitar and am looking forward to getting back into the songwriting and open mics (and possibly some solo shows) soon again. There are so many things you can express through music that can’t be said any other way. I also paint, embroider, and design the covers for the magazine. I like anything artistic!

    I: No kidding! You have a daughter, Astrid. How do you encourage a love of the arts in her?

    A: Astrid’s like a creative force of nature on her own (as so many kids are)! I paint with her – it turns into wild immersive painting on the kitchen floor, where she needs a bath afterward. We also like to go to Paint Yourself Silly and paint pottery. She loves to draw pictures and write poems and stories, and we encourage her to be as free and imaginative as possible.

    I: You’ve published poetry in Illuminations a few years apart. With a successful literary magazine of your own, what brings you back to submitting to Illuminations?

    A: Sending your work out to magazines is a difficult thing. I feel like, if I’m going to be in the position to turn down other people’s work, I need to know what that feels like, and put my work out there in the same way. I’ve been attending SCC on and off until I found a degree program I wanted for sure (I’m graduating in September of this year with my Associate’s in Business Administration with an Accounting Focus). The first time I submitted, I had just begun to write poems. A few years later, I was helping run a literary magazine of my own! I think all editors should submit their own work other places and get in the habit of receiving rejections. I haven’t sent my work out many places simply because I haven’t had as much time to write lately between school, the magazine, and being a parent. I’m also still finding my voice. But it means a lot if someone else thinks your work is good enough to publish, and you’re subjecting yourself to the same criticism you’re dishing out.

    I: Makes sense! And now the random question of the day: How are your tap dancing skills?

    A: I don’t really have any, though I’d love to learn! However, I do go ballroom dancing with my husband Jeff, and am working on learning all the different dances. It’s really fun and romantic.

    I: Thanks, Amy!

    “To the Sensitives”
    by Amy Keller:

    They spin words
    Like fine threads;
    They embroider
    Cold morning light
    And stale brew

    Out of letdowns
    And never-too-muches,
    Pain ignored
    And stomped-on souls, too.

    They paste scrap pieces
    Over black sorrow,
    Pin hopefulness
    On stabbing despair

    ‘Til mansions of phrase
    They construct from mere air
    Live in them like communes

    In this closed, corporate,
    Cold-blooded, wrong-minded world.
    How much more can
    A sensitive do?