Monday, May 6, 2019


Spoiler alert: I am a horrible poetry reader. Often it feels like improvisational jazz - for some reason (perhaps my need for order?) I have a hard time connecting. I keep trying and may be getting a tad better at it. The best part of poetry (so many forms and formats) makes selection difficult. I can look at non-poem genres and covers and have a gut reaction to what's inside and whether it's for me. That ability has been ground into my bones by decades of experience with hits and misses. Poetry not so much, and the exact thing I love about it (the lack of "rules," or at least rules I understand) makes it hard to pick out what I might relate to. So I swing semi-blindly and hope to connect. Even when I don't, I learn something. Win-win.

There was simply no way for me to resist Claire Kelly's collection, One Thing - Then Another. Everything about this cover makes me want to figure out what the hell is going on inside.

I liked the collection very much. It's broken into sections--"East, "Then," and "West," and begins with a line from a Karen Solie poem, Bitumen: "The west stands for relocation, the east for lost causes." The bridge of "Then" is a move from Eastern to Western Canada with both ends a series of contrasts. See below for a description of the book from the book itself.

There are nifty cultural references (film titles, music, even a poke at Americans--rightfully so--about the Fox channel's use of a glowing puck during hockey games so we could follow the game) which I'm always a sucker for, but it still all comes down to language. Kelly has some fantastic lines, including: "Persistent as a raccoon drawn on by the perfume of antifreeze" and "ah blessed midnight organizer of books and records by alphabet, by genre, by country of publication, by size and year, by mood." She kept me engaged even when I was hesitant.

The collection starts with a lovely piece that highlights both what I get (the words) and what I don't (the format). It's called Yesterday I thought winter had given up:

Yesterday I thought winter had given up
all its images: white worn out, utter glut of neutral.
       But today, weird mitt-ruts. Snow-bank etchings from kids dawdling
their hands to school;
overhead another storm
isn't breaking but is moving on: the elm-edge and the cloud-edge slotting
into each other.
       As if the tree picked up the sky secondhand, and wears it--
       a sapphire heavened hoodie in the black and white film of early
expertly, the elm-clutch
       lets loose, disrobes. A sliver of blue expands, becomes a sluice, a
gorge, becomes the whole
damned naked winter
       flouncing down a side street shoving her hands
in the bank.

I adore the image of the different "ruts" and "etchings" from the mittened hands of kids on their way to school. That was one of those "Yes!" poetry moments. I would love input on the format. As an anal-retentive with OCD, I usually find these formatting choices jarring. They disturb the natural order of things I'm used to. Which is good, but it also makes me want to understand and find a reason, when there really may be none other than what the poet felt in the flow. Maybe I'm trying to force too much reason into things (unsurprising). I'm trying to use poetry to loosen up a bit, but I also welcome all input into format from those who know much more about poetry than I. So comment away.

"One Thing--Then Another is a collection of poetry divided into three unique sections: "East" explores the constraints of living under the poverty line in a have-not province. "And" is a long poem about moving in a U-Haul across the prairies during an ice storm. "West" considers what it meas to live in the have-est of have provinces and trying to acclimate to that alongside an ever-present drought. The poems are largely about contrast: east to west, flood to aridity, poverty to comfort, small town to city."

This is a collection I now have on my list to buy for the shelf. It came out on April 19, 2019 from ECW Press. Claire Kelly's first full-length collection of poetry is titled Maunder and it's now on my list. Hope you'll give her a gander.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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