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Otherwise, Soft White Ash

From John Gosslee Books

Published September 2012




Praise  |


Otherwise, Soft White Ash is a book, first of all, of the spirit journey of one often thwarted yet determined creature. You will not learn a great amount about the author from these poems, anymore than you learn about Auden from his, with the exception of the author’s capacity for love, thought, courage, and skill. These poems, informed by symbolism, tell a history of the inner life. Here we find myth in the modern sense, where meaning is brought to light rather than story. The touchstones are Rumi, Bly, and Lorca’s dark art, duende. Dancer, choreographer, polymath, Kelli Allen has shaped a first book of intense beauty.

- Steven Schreiner, author, Too Soon To Leave


To locate the motherlode exacts a cost; to extract and refine it requires immense dedication and effort. Kelli Allen’s work, which illustrates all three stages in the making of an artist, burrows deep into Yeats’ rag-and-bone shop. If I were to damn this book with faint praise it would still burn luminous.​

- Gary Geddes, poet and editor, 20th-Century Poetry & Poetics​​


The poetry and poetic prose in Otherwise, Soft White Ash re-conditions us to our world’s wonders with imaginative words we want to carry around, because in the lightness of their absence, it’s shown that there is truly a shame above all others: missing out on Kelli Allen’s exceptionally intellectual and highly physical writing.

- Tyler Malone, author, The Brief Life Is Always the Best


There is incantation in Kelli Allen’s Otherwise, Soft, White Ash, a kind of magic which good poetry has always striven towards. Kelli does not shirk; she does not look away from her poetic responsibilities. She leads us into the middle of a miraculous forest, and, if we willingly leap with her, we learn the hidden names of all the trees. These poems are full of the dark and wonderful complexities of life.

- Glenn Irwin, Assistant Director, UMSL MFA​


Kelli Allen’s debut collection Otherwise, Soft White Ash is remarkably clear sighted; with a fearless approach she shows us “hope is a round shade of some beloved eye, watching as we climb, climb hard...” but here, the words seem to stalk meaning (or meaning is climbing after the words) the language becomes haunted, almost sinister, and poetry swallows the truth like “the priest ignores the ark in his woods because he is busy absorbing his shadow.” To overcome this shadow she goes there, she unflinchingly delves into the darkest parts of sorrow “and the animals know their work is to hide every egg like dark stones meant for the river.” Kelli’s poetry reveals these “dark stones,” these elemental life and death struggles of survival, and through her rich and effulgent writing she brings us through it and back to those moments of truth where “silence is its own type of vertigo,” and “gratefulness is rhetoric aimed closer at thunder than rain,” the reader walks away from this collection feeling humbled, grateful and yes, even blessed.

- Melanie Huber, Book Review Editor, New York Quarterly


One of Kelli Allen's strengths is rendering impressions. "Orphaned Near the Cave" speaks explicitly of "old masters," but this idea of something ancient, something tribal, is also implicit through the story's imagery. The world Allen draws is at once character specific yet universal, modern yet mythic. In it, readers catch glimpses of their own lives, their own worlds, but what sticks is the feeling of something deeper, something more collective. To accomplish this to the degree she does, Allen relies on shadows, suggestions, the connotative--almost as if she herself has mastered the art of seeing her own world impressionistically, with one eye squinted, the other mostly so.​​

- Don Balch, Editor, Echo Ink Review


A compendium of prose and poetic narratives, Kelli Allen’s Otherwise, Soft White Ash marks the emergence of a poet possessed of a fierce and contrarian voice and intelligence. Throughout, while delving deeply into themes both playful and painful, Allen fights a hard and successful battle against sentiment. Constantly, she pushes the boulder uphill with the result that her reader is privileged to experience the world in a new way and see the fractured spaces we live in as being more complex that we had imagined. Otherwise, Soft White Ash is a most impressive first collection.​

- Eamonn Wall, author of Sailing Lake Mareotis (Salmon/Dufour, 2011)


Kelli Allen’s wise and lovely and poetic stories tap into hidden and unknown emotions. They are the kinds of stories that should be read out loud, and more than once.​

- Mary Troy, author of Beauties​​


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