03 June 2009

Toccata & Fugue by Timothy Kelly

Toccata & Fugue By Timothy Kelly. Floating Bridge Press, 2005. 37 p. $10. Reviewed by P. Nelson Timothy Kelly is a wordsmith which means if you prefer your poetry with crafty fittings and tolerances, you’ll probably like this guy who seems not only to think the poetic journey means as much as the arrival but that the merest vehicles of the trip, “used” words, signify most of all. That this is a flawed disposition can be demonstrated by the quick transport of a decisively contrarian poem. So I hereby quote an efficient one that violates this crabby site’s (unwritten) rule against self-promotion. The poem is my own -- “Blue”; “Blue” an immediate and may I say perfect work embodying in a very few words (er, one) the entire spectrum of Azurility from robin egg pale to intergalactic purple. What more could you want in a price to earnings ratio ("standard and poor") of reading? But Kelly would insist on delivering beautiful, freighted lines … ‘ …like a well- made tool, the palmed body docks and snugs, convex to concave, with heft centered and a contouring, wraparound grip. Nothing, not even the long bones straight.” [ from “Voluptuosity”] A calm, competent voice, pitched at a knowing middle distance but articulating tactility and actual ministrations of touch. “we disarticulate our ankle with a hundred circumferential cuts, the crosslaced ligaments isolated, appreciated, incised, the snug, bony mortise and tenon. With effort prized apart. [ from “On Anatomy Being Destiny”] So is this author an enjambist or anatomist? In fact, he was trained and works as a physical therapist. Most of the twenty poems feature anatomical detailing and clinical vocabularies. There is even one semi-extended trope-ic pun… “I’m thinking of a section of saxophonists in an Ives concerto, in a passage where birds lift from trees, not playing but drumming their horn keys ten, fifteen seconds with their fingers, so that the clatter, if you close your eyes becomes the rising din of beating wings [ from “Forearm Dissection”] Fingering—geddit? In a book called “Toccata & Fugue”! That’s going for baroque. Well, what do you expect when the dedicatory epigram is from John Donne. Who was Dr (spiritual therapist) Donne, anyway? A Shakespeare wannabe whose less elaborated lyrics are sometimes quoted in wedding invitations (and dissertation dedicatia) of the more vaunting sort. (“I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I did til we loved”). A rake to rector type who believed that words in their complex quality of denotation, connotation, etymology and sound could be shaped and fitted into poetic volumes that have both a horizontal dimension of narrative and vertical one of intense semantical harmony. Kelly is like that ["In the Garden, the stemwinder spoke sotto voce,/sibilant, tip-split, seedsowing, slying inclining Eve;/then the bite, the bright bath of juice, stars and/heavens scintillated: the browsing creatures pause, barely named; the world, in a swallow, remade."] and 'An Anatomy of the World' Donne is like that and the effect is a bit like looking through a pair of over prescribed spectacles, the focus so lucid you get a headache. Or call it a thought. Now that’s creepy or maybe really great. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The book, qua object, is handsome with a creamy letter press cover (depicting digital bones) that complements nicely the not quite white text paper, the text itself printed competently (high praise) in Adobe Garamond, offset printed in a edition of 500, perfect bound, sans ingratiating authorial photo and poetastery resume. This is a press exemplifying that in poetry, the medium matters as much as the message. The unqualified laudation of the book’s materiality versus a more problematic appraisal of the contents might suggest a pose on the reviewer’s part, as if in this Jaded Age praise could only be signaled as a series of back handed slaps, doubling as salutes, as if the little extra artifice testified to this reviewer’s sincere and definite article of admiration. If so, then donne. Tocccata & Fugue was the winner of the 2005 Floating Bridge Press Poetry Chapbook Award.