Render – Collin Kelley (Sibling Rivalry Press)

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Pre-Order from Sibling Rivalry Press

I’m very familiar with Collin Kelley’s prose, being a fan of
the first two books of his Venus Trilogy, and I’ve heard him read his poetry.
However, hearing a piece is much different than having it in front of you, so Render
is the first volume of his poetry that I’ve had the pleasure of reading. My
expectations were high, and Render did not disappoint in the least. In
fact, it added a whole new dimension to Kelley for me.

I was used to the literary Kelley—the erudite writer of
thoughtful prose who makes me think of Peter Dubé or Alex Jeffers (even though
Kelley and Dubé don’t have Jeffers’ reality-shifting atmospherics). However,
the poetic Kelley is steeped in pop iconography, bad Eighties music—a redundancy
if there ever was one—and a truly horrific family dynamic. He is also as
powerful as the prose Kelley. Perhaps more so.

Popular culture figures are scattered throughout in Render,
especially in “To Margo Kidder, With Love,” “Mr. Rogers Made Me Fat,” and “Why
I Want to be Pam Grier” (and who doesn’t?), but my favorite along these lines
is the marvelous “Barney Rubble Saves Our Lives” in which a Barney Rubble bank
is repurposed as a container to fetch water for a broken car radiator. The
ending is as wry as it is poignant:

                        “Even
after I lose interest, Barney remains/

                         not tossed into dark attic or tagged for yard
sale/

                         but tucked into a corner of the trunk, and
since/

                         Hanna-Barbera never gave him a proper job/

                         we keep him employed, our tiny lifesaver.”

But Kelley has poignancy down to a fine art, especially
where his family dynamic is concerned. Most of grew up in a household
dysfunctional to some degree, but Kelley has turned the awful into art, as in
“Stroke,” “Christmas Day,” “After Adultery,” and “At Southlake Mall.” Never,
however, has a dividing line after which nothing is the same, been illustrated
as sharply as in “Breaking My Mother’s Leg”:

                        “She
would wear a cast to her thigh/

                          for the rest of the summer, perfecting
invalid/

                         and she would never be the same again.

                         After mending, she lived a lifetime in five
years/

                         casting my father off for another man,/

                         flaunting herself around town.”

Sexuality also plays a huge role in Render, from
innocent boyhood crushes to the seamier side of the equation, as seen in “First
Blackmail,” “Freshman Orientation,” “Physical Education,” and “Hustling. But
Kelley’s gay sensibilities are not merely sexual. They extend to other aspects
of gay life, such as a fondness for strong women—not just in the obvious, Judy
Garland sense (though “Garland” and “Freedom Train” address her specifically),
but also in the powerful prose-poem about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller,
“Tuscumbia, Alabama”

            “…The
Kellers giving in to Helen’s every whim was

             a new battleground, yet Annie never yielded.
The high,

             hot Southern sun scorching her corneas even
after the

             surgeries, books held so close her eyelashes
rustled the

             pages, hungry to absorb every visible word, to
ingrain

             them in case she woke up in permanent
darkness. Going

             back to Boston was never an option.”

Each piece in Render is a perfectly composed
photograph, highlighted not only by the cover, but by the pieces which bookend
the marvels between, “A Broken Frame” and the title poem, “Render,” which has
the exquisite closing lines: “Note that a blue sky and clouds are impossible to
render/Expect imperfections and subtle debris.” Imperfection and subtle debris,
indeed.

Kelly has taken this dross and spun gold.  

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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