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The long way home



Some travelers rack up frequent flier miles. Collin Kelley accumulates poems.

His debut collection of poetry, Better to Travel, calculates the emotional sum of a decade's worth of journeys, from London to Berlin, New York to New Orleans.

Kelley, who grew up in Fayetteville, wrote most of the poems either while traveling or immediately upon return. But his verse most often transcends foreign terrain and maps a more personal landscape of loss, isolation and empowerment. Travel follows a loose narrative arc, from a failed relationship through the journey back to self-actualization. The starkly honest voice has led some readers to call him a confessional poet, like Sharon Olds or Robert Lowell. Kelley embraces the comparison.

"I don't flinch away," he says. "If you're not going to be honest, then why bother? Write fiction instead."

By day, the 33-year-old writer deals in non-fiction: He worked as a reporter for the Neighbor newspapers for 12 years, and now serves as managing editor for Atlanta Intown.

The poetry collection, available locally at Charis Books, Peachtree Highway and Barnes & Noble, takes its title from a Robert M. Pirsig quote: "Sometimes it's a little better to travel than to arrive."

Kelley seems to be experiencing an arrival of his own right now. He's starting a monthly poetry night Sept. 12 at the new Georgia Tech Barnes & Noble Booksellers, modeled after Kodac Harrison's popular Java Monkey Speaks series in Decatur. He also has several reading engagements lined up for the fall.

"The scene right now is just hot," he says. "This city amazes me for poetry. You would think you'd have to go to New York or L.A. But there's such a scene here in Atlanta."

Maybe travel is overrated after all.

Collin Kelley appears along with the Jennifer Perry Combo Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 7 at 4 p.m. at the Alternative Arts Festival. Contemporary Art Center, 535 Means St., 404-688-1970. He also appears Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. as part of Intervals. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. 404-584-7450. www.collinkelley.com.

Shelf Space is a weekly column on books and Atlanta's literary scene.

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