I had a clear intention for my time at NES—and was surprised by the opposite direction my work took this summer. New synapsis in my brain seemed to happen. New forms of expression. I am a PhD researcher and writer @Aberystwyth University in Wales, and former Fulbright Fellow in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I stepped away from my academic work in literature this summer to focus on a new project. I created The Foss and Moss Puppet Theatre to support the epic absurdist poem I have started writing. I cultivated stanzas by utilizing textiles from the natural world, such as Icelandic wool roving, to create individual characters who represent surrealist ideas about what it is to exist as a human in a meaningless/meaningful world. Through this practice as research and the use of interdisciplinary modes of expression, I was able to generate new creative impulses in my writing. The intense natural environment of Iceland, the mountains, sea, wind, arctic terns, sheep, unseen elemental beings, and the opposing force—the human being—was fertile ground for a delve into existential questions for my Puppet Theatre of the Absurd Poetry Project. I also began to read and study the fiction of Icelandic writer, Sjón, who inspired me immensely, as well as the poems of Gerður Kristný. I have been deeply moved by the imaginative landscape, both in Icelandic literature, as well as out the door on foot, miles and miles of wide expanse.
Side event: I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with fellow artists for one week on a concert, where, besides reading from my book, Firewalking, I performed two pieces musical theatre pieces—one dramatic, one joyful. I was trained as a soprano and performed for many years but had not done so in more than almost two decades. So, I was thrilled to work together, especially with Galina Dimova Georgieva, the gorgeous classical pianist and composer from Cyprus. https://kelleymckenna.com
While at NES, I’ll be working on a collection of poetry and photographic images that address the shifting dynamics in the female body when hormonal fluctuations begin to alter a once known entity–one’s own self–into something unrecognizable. Transformations in the natural world that happen on a daily basis in extreme climates and geographies like Iceland, and transformations happening because of what we’re doing to our beautiful planet, mirror what I’m experiencing in my own aging process: a transmutation of the body and a cataclysm of heat creating a violent expulsion of a former self. It feels like devastation.
Kelley McKenna, 2015 Fulbright Grant recipient in poetry and literature
(accompanied by Beesly)