Monday, November 20, 2006

Five Books, Part III

Tina Kelley’s poems consistently contain two of the qualities that are essential to successful, memorable poetry: they apply language in a precise manner, conscious of both sound and definition, and they make extraordinary observations in unexpected places. Further, she is playful in both situation and voice, which showcases those essential qualities in novel, often fascinating ways. In The Gospel of Galore, her first book, she imagines a letter from God to humanity, considers labrador retrievers as both Gods and a school teacher, and projects herself as the blood in her lover’s veins and as a kite. Kelley’s passion for precision is incredible, and her deeply developed sense of wonder are simply unmatched; this uncommon combination makes her an essential read for people who are exploring poetry’s capabilities.

In “The Word Kite”, Kelley uses names from other languages to capture the way we sometimes describe things that are difficult to describe:

In Italian, it’s cervo volente, flying red deer. In French, flying stag.
In Germany, it’s the same word as dragon. In Japan, octopus.
The Spanish cometa suggests the stars, and fengzheng, in China,
is the wind’s stringed instrument. Kite for us is predatory bird,

from the Old English cyta, for which “no related word appears
in the cognate languages,” though we know now that kites
were once used by virgins, midwives and surviving twin sisters
to hang their laundry up to dry.

She routinely asks questions that are anything but routine, as in “I Love A Man Who Gave Blood Thirty Times”:

And everywhere I go, I think Do you have a pint of him, honey?
Does the sweet health and consideration running through him
run through you, too?

The Gospel of Galore contains also a number of poems based on bird names, birdsong, and almost-found poems from old Audobon guides, and makes magnificent connections, such as “Other Names”:

Remind me of the Scrabble words when I have too few vowels:
the strany, the tysty, wagell and wamp. Particularly the quandy,
the marrock willock scuttock, kelinky,
murre and gwilym, kiddaw and skiddaw.

Tina Kelley crafts poems to hang in the corners of rooms that most people would walk through without stopping, poems that create moments that become irreplaceable, once you become aware of them. Word on the street is that she has another book ready for a smart publisher to snap up. I'll be first in line with my preorder.

Next up: Something from outside New Jersey.

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