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Born in Tokyo, half Japanese, Kathleen Hellen is the author of the award-winning collection Umberto’s Night and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Loved Mothra and Pentimento. Nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net, and featured on Poetry Daily, her poems have won the Thomas Merton and James Still poetry prizes, as well as prizes from the H.O.W. Journal and Washington Square Review. Awards include individual artist grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. Hellen served as senior poetry editor for the Baltimore Review and on the editorial board of Washington Writers’ Publishing House.


Kathleen Hellen’s poems remind us that reasons for migration are rarely simple or easy. For those whose migratory legacy is war, who live “in the collapse of silk,” being multi-situated is a fact of life—a fragmentary labor, but also a sum force greater than national provinciality. The people of The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin are the children of war, “pretty as defense,” and they also claim space, pushing against platitudes of race, gender, and nation even as they internalize them. Hellen’s Country is fleeting on one hand, and disastrous on the other—a “crafted Occupation” born of a kaiju’s “o, monstrous egg.”  —Kenji C. Liu, author of Monsters I Have Been and Map of an Onion

The Only Country Was the Color of My Skin presents the world through the eyes of a speaker caught in layers of history and mythology. Kathleen Hellen’s poems, beautiful in their density and haunting in their breadth, defy silence as they tell stories of a family haunted by the spectres of war and relocation. In this book, Tojo and Hirohito must reconcile with Mothra and Mr. Moto, Tokyo with the effects of Manzanar—these poems don’t shy away from the complexities and contradictions of being Japanese American in our world. Hellen insists, “I have a mouth to tell my story.” Thank goodness for her voice.  —W. Todd Kaneko, author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies

Kathleen Hellen is a bright voice in American Letters. Her poems are folklore, fairytale, myth, heritage, and crystal water. There’s a simple unadorned beauty in every syllable, and not one syllable is in the wrong place. When I read this work, I feel I’m in the hands of a natural poet who has complete control of her intuition and senses. These become the images making up the stories that I want to read over and again. In this world of flagging spirits, it’s lifegiving to find poetry that’s modest, beautiful and true. These poems in their sweet simplicity will bring pleasure.   Grace Cavalieri, “The Poet and the Poem,” Audio Podcasts from the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress