of Bundle o' Tinder
85, August 2009
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:
in the perfect circles key,
he draws a closed perimeter
himself; and though I cannot
understand the tongue he speaks,
I know he
sings a hymn to something
steady, central, infinite.
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.
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:
freight we carried twenty years ago.
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:
growls low in its throat, and bares its teeth at me
while I choose
curtains for the nursery.
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.
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
touch was feather-soft before it stung.
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:
bone be flute, the music in our marrow.
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'.
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:
to go on just as before
but loving what I loved a little more.
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:
is the fox
with its slim black feet more elegantly dressed.
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'.
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:
you saint or Aztec goddess
heal the earth, cast out the darkness.
are now upon us.
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,'
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
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."
Chimaera, February 2009
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, Kellehers 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
read the whole of this review, click on the link below
April 30, 2009
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 cant find the words,
when it all seems too terrible. Heres where we can be thankful for Rose
Kellehers brave, strong book of poems, Bundle o Tinder. This
book wrestles demons to the ground and pins them there, crushed."
read the whole of this review, click on the link below