Rose Kelleher, Bundle o' Tinder



Foreword by Richard Wilbur
(Judge of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, 2007)

88 pp,  ISBN: 978-1904130-33-8, £7.99 (paperback only),  
Publication, November 1st 2008

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A note about Bundle o' Tinder

From an acerbic poem on the subject of poetry competitions to a touching meditation on what might once have been a Neanderthal's flute, from a light-hearted meditation on the origins of ticklishness to a measured account of her reaction on first hearing about 9/11, Rose Kelleher's Bundle o' Tinder is a debut collection of unusual thematic diversity. It is also a collection of unusual formal resourcefulness, written by a poet immersed in tradition but not in thrall to it.
he judge’s foreword


A note on Rose Kelleher

Rose Kelleher was born in 1964, grew up in Massachusetts and earned her B.A. in English at UMass Boston. She has worked as a technical writer and programmer, and authored four computer books and numerous technical articles. Since rediscovering poetry in recent years, she has published poems and essays in a variety of magazines – including Anon, Atlanta Review, the Dark Horse, First Things, iota, Measure, the Shit Creek Review, Snakeskin and Verse Daily – and been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She lives with her husband in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

To read a recent interview with the author, please click on the link below:

For more information, please visit Ms Kelleher's website at:




Praise for Bundle o' Tinder

"Rose Kelleher’s poems are everywhere the work of a sharp intelligence, a good heart, and a great technical gift ... Bundle o’ Tinder is a thoughtful book ... of wide reference and observation. It is very unlike the claustrally personal work of which one sees too much at present; at the same time, it is strongly personal, in the sense that its tone and vision are distinctive and recognizable. This is that rare thing, a first book in which the poet’s voice has been fully found.” – Richard Wilbur (from the judge's foreword)

“Rose Kelleher has an assured voice and mastery of technique, but hers is not cozy, complacent poetry. It is non-conformist. Living, and organic, it grapples with reality in unpredictable and often uncomfortable ways.” – Paul Stevens, Editor, The Shit Creek Review

“This collection presents a naturally gifted writer who has taken care and pleasure in becoming consummate in craft. Everywhere there is the striking content, the surprising development and the deft phrase-making that distinguishes a poet not just of power and skill, but of grace.” – Mike Stocks, Editor, Anonted alike.

Reviews of Bundle o' Tinder


Iota, 85, August 2009

I must turn to another collection, Rose Kelleher's Bundle o' Tinder. This book won the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize for 2007. Richard Wilbur has contributed a foreword of glowing praise. I can only agree, humbly. This first collection is a revelation. Here is the ending of the first poem, 'Asperger's Muse', about a boy who chants numbers, remembered and reproduced by Kelleher:

Seeking spoken sanctuary
in the perfect circle’s key,
he draws a closed perimeter
around himself; and though I cannot
understand the tongue he speaks,
I know he sings a hymn to something
steady, central, infinite.

The short, delicately rhymed lines settle into a hypnotic, falling rhythm, like a Shakespearian charm. Kelleher's own reverent listening entrances the reader. This is the slow fuse of poetry, from patient technical tricks to vision.

'Asperger's Muse' opens into celebration, but Kelleher's poems frequently close with hint and menace. A quiet list of the features of a school ends with 'the rectangle' (also the poem's title) 'where Father Geoghan's portrait used to hang'. In 'Famine Ship', the memory of a slaver begins to unfold, also in a tense final line:

the freight we carried twenty years ago.

The poem has done its work. The line sinks into the reader's mind, igniting echo and story. One of Kelleher's strengths is her remarkable ability to confront two worlds, as in 'Not Our Dog', the story of an adoption:

and the dog
growls low in its throat, and bares its teeth at me
while I choose curtains for the nursery.

Kelleher's is a tough, colloquial voice. Her outspoken poem 'Lourdes' addresses the sacred place as a fallible person: 'You're hard to get to/ and can't fix everything'. But she is not afraid, finally, to expose her own desire: 'Cure my doubt.' Kelleher's short lines are excellent, an unshowy proof of strength.

My praise for Kelleher acquired a colleague for this review. My husband, sceptical about the worth of much new poetry, read the whole of Bundle o' Tinder, captivated by its humour and by the delicate, playful sensuousness of 'How Ticklishness Evolved':

whose touch was feather-soft before it stung.

I was particularly moved by 'Neanderthal Bone Flute', which shows a rather different Kelleher, eloquent and bare. Her work does not depend upon lush adjectives but upon an inner vision overflowing into sound, as the syllables at this poem's close overflow the measure of the traditional sonnet:

Let bone be flute, the music in our marrow.

The poem is its own music, but in hoping that the Neanderthal musician might be our ancestor, Kelleher, as she admits, defies the taut subject heading for this poem, 'Science'. Yet she is often adept at integrating science into her poetry and her vision. 'Impulse' refers to synapse and robot before - without contradiction - 'The spirit moves'.

It is a bold ending. Kelleher's diction also often startles. A giant ray's landing is 'the splat'. This is accuracy, not conceit. Though she can deploy rhetoric most effectively, Kelleher is never histrionic. The final lines of a short poem about September 11 are charged by understatement:

preferring to go on just as before
but loving what I loved a little more.

I have few reservations about Bundle o' Tinder. Occasionally a theme is stretched too thinly - although across very well-made bones - as in the various mermaids and crabs in 'At Sea'. Very occasionally a poem struck me as rather crowded and overwrought. The frantic lists of 'Gingernut' end by stretching word order to the limit. The fuse can snap:

nor is the fox
with its slim black feet more elegantly dressed.

Yet, two pages on, how eloquently Kelleher summarises the great 'Rays at Cape Hatteras', as they rise briefly above the sea: 'rude fliers in the face of disbelief'.

I stand in awe of Kelleher's formal accomplishment. Technique is the imagination's fuse. This book's strength is underpinned by varied quatrains, three-line stanzas, passionate sonnets and quick couplets. Its rhythms include falling trochaics, quietly authoritative iambic pentameters and the often despised, essential, lilt of folksong. Rhymes in multi-syllable words often sound facetious in English, but Kelleher's delicate use of part-rhymes is both serious and spirited:

be you saint or Aztec goddess
heal the earth, cast out the darkness.
Evil times are now upon us.

One of her favourite stanzas is the brooding quatrain, abba. This is a reflective collection, whose brief title is not explained until the heart of her book, in 'Ditty'. 'The saddest songs are those that burn/ black as a match and a bundle o' tinder.' Kelleher commands, 'Slowly unroll each note,'

I would note that there is not a bad poem in this book. Page after page delivers excellence, a memorable line, a jolt to the heart. Why was Bundle o' Tinder not on every English prize list? Perhaps this is a slow-burning poetry. Collections blaze; but the anthologist may be the more patient incendiary. – Alison Brackenbury


The Antioch Review

"Rose Kelleher's whimsically titled first collection, winner of the Anthony Hecht Prize from Waywiser Press, maintains the high standard of the series: in Kelleher's poems, formal confidence combines with a sharp eye and inventive intellect to uncover worlds that we, and history, too often overlook ... Kelleher's poems are succinct and tightly crafted, accessible yet subtle in their wit and oblique approach." – Ned Balbo


The Chimaera, February 2009

"[This]collection is a rich and varied series of dialectics that explore such contemporary conundrums as evolution/creation, first world wealth/third world poverty, male/female relations, sin/redemption, faith/doubt. The insights of the dividing lines are reinforced with an energetic use of form and language. Unlike so many of her contemporary peers, who would free themselves of the stodginess of form but often devolve into self-involved sloppiness or mere confession, Kelleher’s work finds its footing (pun intended) in the compression of form, line length, and syntax. As Richard Wilbur notes in the Foreword, her “poems are everywhere the work of a sharp intelligence, a good heart, and a great technical gift…” Too, one might add, a wickedly wry sense of humor." – David Holper

To read the whole of this review, click on the link below


Rattle, April 30, 2009

"Why do we read poems? Poems can be songs, prayers, chronicles, confessions, memories, meditations, complaints, portraits. Poems give us contact with the world and help us feel less alone. Reading a poem can be a moment of pleasure in an otherwise painful world. Sometimes poems speak for us when we can’t find the words, when it all seems too terrible. Here’s where we can be thankful for Rose Kelleher’s brave, strong book of poems, Bundle o’ Tinder. This book wrestles demons to the ground and pins them there, crushed." – Mary Meriam

To read the whole of this review, click on the link below


From Bundle o' Tinder


Don’t look away, you gave me this disease.
A carrier, you passed it unawares.
My every cell is altered now; each bears
your stamp, a mutant, every drop of me
adulterated. If I could, I’d squeeze
the stinging poison out. It’s in my hair,
my fingernails, each microscopic pair
of spiral strands, corrupting by degrees.

Geneticists who study me on slides
could piece you back together. My remains
will carry traces, in these scalded veins,
of your warm hand; in my triglycerides,
and in the deepest etchings of my brain,
they’ll find the you my body memorized.





Zeitoun, Cairo, 1968

What if you were, as I suspect,
a hologram,
a Coptic tourist trap, a scam
the mortal eye could not detect?

What if photons, fiddled with,
beguiled the eye,
glittering in the Cairo sky,
a brilliant flimflam veiled in myth?

What if the world, wanting a mother,
embraced a ruse,
thousands of Muslims, Christians, Jews,
fooled into seeing the light together?

And what if the only light to see
is in the faces
of foolish crowds in sacred places?
Our Lady of Light, enlighten me.




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