Julie Hogg is impressed by the unorthodox but skilfully crafted poetry of Lisa Kelly
Philip Levine’s Good Ear
The title of this pocket volume, the seventh book in the Thumbprint series by Stonewood Press, caught my attention. Lisa Kelly has single-sided deafness from childhood mumps and since my son is partially sighted this shared variance of a sense intrigued me.
This is a hugely satisfying chapbook. I found the contents page similar to a selection box of artisan chocolates and so I dipped into the title poem, after Levine’ “Nightship”, an exploration into the complexity, or not, of what may be heard:
in what you hear – the three layers of sound: water crashing into
the hull & beneath that the steady beating of the engine & beneath
that the wind whispering “Ceuta” into your good ear.
As a stream of consciousness piece with long lines, the form of this poem delights me. In fact, the variety of form within this whole book delights me; each choice being perfect for each work. The momentum of the poems together, often jostling for attention with exuberance and attractive energy, is delightful too. Quirkily, the unpunctuated “Aphid Reproduction and Unpunctuated White Noise”, has punctuation solely demarcating each section. Even when poring over intricate familial observations (“Slant of Summer”), these poems travel over each page; free-spirited, carefree and resilient.
Back to the sweet index. Poems that explore hearing and its loss are compelling and vital:
How close, if notes are missed,
Is melody to malady,
(“How to Explain Melodious”)
Bisect me: discover my left eardrum lined with rockwool
How many times has someone mistaken
my leaning in as an attempt to get amorous,
(‘The Flesh Made Mobile’).
The rhythm of “Deaf Dance” is infectious. In the way that Philip Levine’s poem asks us ‘know what work is?’ I wanted to know what deafness is and now I do, in a small beginning way.
Delving again, “Saltatorium” is particularly moreish, with wickedly playful realism and I relished the sensation of the sounds on my tongue: ‘O drear, O dreary, dreary dirge for this deer.’ Those mutes! Each line over five feet, this poem sprints breathlessly, resembling the fleeing, magnificent creature:
its formerly fine fetlock, fends off the dog howls,
fends off the fender of the four-by-four Ford,
This work revels shamelessly in sibilance:
sometimes in a sensitive somewhat sensory
rush hour of solemnity sensed its shadow?
Then, after these flowing alliterations, it becomes stilted by those mutes once more: ‘its ditch down’
In “Ø” (Kelly is half Danish) the pleasure of sounds is again savoured and shared from poet to reader, ardently:
Danish for Island
a new word
tastes the sound of Ø
touches its shores
The poet’s voice treats limits with respect, although always keen to wink and take a risk with freshness and vigour. “Aubade for an Artist” is a veritable, addictive earworm; a timeless lyrical poem, rhyming couplets in quatrains and refrain in the final stanza neatly wrapping up an evening with imagery so intoxicatingly precise:
the blunt edge, notched tip of a fish knife –
I thought, Can we possibly still our lives.
This appetizer of a collection hurtles, in a pleasingly unorthodox manner, engaging in a myriad of frequencies. It has longevity. I will return to it again and again, and it tantalizes for more.