Lisa Kelly is half Danish, half deaf. Her pamphlet Bloodhound is published by Hearing Eye and she is a regular host of poetry evenings at the Torriano Meeting House, London. She has an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Lancaster University, and is the Chair of Magma Poetry.
Poets Annemarie Ní Churreáin and Lisa Kelly read from their work.
Annemarie Ní Churreáin
Annemarie Ní Churreáin is a bilingual poet from the Donegal Gaeltacht in North-West Ireland. Her publications include Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017) and Town (The Salvage Press, 2018). She is a recipient of Arts Council Ireland’s Next Generation Artist Award, and a co-recipient of The Markievicz Award. A former literary fellow of the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Ní Churreáin was the 2019-20 Writer in Residence at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her second full-length poetry collection will be published by The Gallery Press later in 2021.
Lisa Kelly is half Danish and has single-sided deafness. Her first collection, A Map Towards Fluency, was published by Carcanet, 2019. Shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and longlisted for the National Poetry Competition, she won the 2016 University of Lancaster (MA) ‘Reading’ Prize.
Her pamphlets are Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood Press) and Bloodhound (Hearing Eye). In 2020, Nottingham Trent University and the Science Museum London commissioned her to create a film-poem in collaboration with other poets responding to telephony from a d/Deaf and marginalised perspective.
Her latest pamphlet is, From The IKEA Back Catalogue, 2021 (New Walk Editions). A regular host of poetry evenings at the Torriano Meeting House, London, she is Co-Chair of Magma Poetry.
These poems are preoccupied with how IKEA, as a global corporation, uses language and marketing terms to create iconic products that will find their way into our homes and are part of a disposable culture opposed to a more sustainable way of living. When the language is freed from its corporate mould and the explicit aim to sell, other worlds and stories suggest themselves. The poems attempt to resist the orbit of the corporation and its intent to subsume language into currency and profit.
“Wandering the claustrophobic and endless aisles of IKEA, Lisa’s imagination delves into language and draws on inspiration from the likes of William Carlos Williams and Anton Chekov.” Briony Bax.
While A Map Towards Fluency might be Kelly’s first poetry collection, it shows an impressive imagination and originality. The poet is both partly deaf and partly Danish, though entirely unable to understand her mother’s native tongue, and she has incorporated both of these aspects of her life into her poetry, which focuses on the power of words and the idea of fluency.
As a Dane myself, I am particularly fascinated with her use of my mother tongue. A Map Towards Fluency includes everything from Danish insults ‘Se, en anden giraf!’ (look at that giraffe!) to declarations of love ‘Jeg elsker dig.’ (I love you). Kelly’s fascination with the Danish language can be observed in the poem ‘Ø’, despite it only incorporating a single Danish word. In ‘Ø’, Kelly talks about her yearning to be able to speak her mother’s native tongue.
I dream of Ø, wishing it in my blood as the English sound that comes so easily, it is thoughtless [.]
The poem also dwells upon Kelly’s difficulties with the pronunciation of the Danish language. It is an emotionally charged poem, full of frustration and dissatisfaction.
Surrounded by a sea of white Ø is what it means but I can’t possess even this small word [.]
Besides her use of the Danish language, Kelly incorporates Danish culture into her poetry, which ranges from a reference to Danish art in the poem ‘Life Model’ to geography and superstition in ‘Six Perspectives on Lilian Kjærulff’, where the narrator is told that ‘13 was a lucky number in Denmark.’ Thirteen is, by the way, considered the absolute opposite of a lucky number in Denmark – just as it is in most of the Western World.
Kelly’s aforementioned partial deafness is likewise an important aspect of her poetry, and her fascination with sign language – a language to be seen rather than heard – results not only in poems with a focus on deafness but additionally with a structure built upon being seen rather than heard. This is perhaps most clearly shown in the title poem ‘A Map Towards Fluency’, where Kelly has made various unconventional structural choices, one of which is her use of spaces for visual effect.
Words are shifting animals a fish is a handshimmer a cat is claws, preening whiskers a bird, a forefinger breaking a thumb[.]
In the same poem, we find a structure focused on the physical shape – or body – of one of the subsequent stanzas. Kelly’s use of the pyramid shape is particularly interesting, as the subject of the stanza is her old teacher. It is not uncommon to utilise the pyramid structure while teaching, as it can help make poetry more approachable. It is also a valuable tool in teaching children about language, and one has to wonder if Kelly’s choice of the pyramid is caused by nostalgic memories accompanying the shape.
Jean Our teacher is a landmark All eyes look to her What can you see out of your Peripheral vision? Furrows forming and reforming on ever-more familiar faces[.]
While many poems in her collection are divided up into more conventionally symmetrical stanzas, Kelly does not shy away from more unusual structures. She generously utilizes footnotes, symbols, and columns to create a unique poetic structure, and one poem ‘Philip Levine´s Good Ear’ has quite literally been turned 90 degrees in her quest for the desired visual effect. Kelly’s use of shape to make socio-political points is reminiscent of the prose-poetry in Microbursts by Elizabeth Reeder, in which she makes use of compacted typescript to simulate a torrent of emotion.
A Map Towards Fluency is an experimentation of the written language and a must-read for anyone interested in the amalgamation of the audible and the visual. In the poet’s own words: ‘How can form not matter?’