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A Clattering of Attentions

A review S.K. Kelen's 'A Happening in Hades'

Puncher & Wattman, Waratah, Wollongong, NSW, 2298, 95pp. (2020)

ISBN 9781925780611, RPP $25.

In the here and the now of Kelen’s world, the only traces of Frazer’s magic and religion are golden glimpses of nature, love –“honey, song and sanity”. But these are infrequent and seem the very opposite of what is real. Birds don’t sing but “cry” in their failed attempts at understanding the place they survey. We call it “civilisation”, Kelen calls it the equivalent of the underworld for its darkness, reductive tendencies and coy nod toward memorialisation rather than actualisation of love, passion and joy (“those old-fashioned words” says Kelen as though lip syncing the news).

The “happening” in this underworld of our today world, is the motorised ticking over of technology, the ability to control things or objects remotely; robots or the privilege of sleuthing lovers online. It is so real it is unreal, a world without roots that either floats or drifts in unpredictable moods of heaviness or lightness. What happened to the golden days, the happy days of playing flutes and watching out for the seasonal pleasures of falling leaves and river eddies. Times of “bliss and light and miracles”. Kelen does not hazard a guess but knows sagely what is missing is precisely what will overthrow us because it makes appearances in nature: is the same moonlight we dilute with our modern flashbulbs or the bright, sunny opposite of our climate ignorant “dark and sad” skies.

From Sydney to Hong Kong to California, the Grand Canyon, Paris, Venice, Chiang Mai, Amsterdam, world-wide, the sword of a “godawful war” lies down beside a “laundry basket”; and the past mists away. Like life entrepreneurs, invisible operators move like ghosts morning to night, leading us to believe this new world is good, great, lucky, going places. Yet Kelen is sceptical, made more so by dreams of his parents making home seem as itinerant as the gold light of salvation. If Heaven is forever and sunny and light as his father’s spirit in the dream then this, this is Hades.

Kelen poems in A Happening in Hades looks at the nuts and bolts, the nitty gritty, the dark and deluded, the nightmare of a life intent on attacking the nervous system. In the broader scheme of contemporary poetics it seems about right, on trend, accurate in its depiction of the world we orbit in but amidst this is a sensitivity for heritage and true beauty. When home, bed-ridden with a twisted back and limited in movement, Kelen still finds his way to sustenance from the refrigerator, moving in a certain way so that “each leg finds a less painful angle/ feet find footing” and he can get in and out of bed. Things are far from ideal in Hades, our world of the here and the now but Kelen is on task, writing his lament for the lost seasons of our time. So that the fall of just one leaf in Autumn is once more enough to know the climate, not the knowledge well after the fact.

More than this though, is the museum quality of the collection replete with ornaments that rendered in these poems seem miniature versions of their true selves, instructive to the narrative as an object with a particular aesthetic and history. Gondolas, Dragons, Buddhas, Minibuses, Nissans, Mercedes, BMW’s, Medicines, Sulfur-Crested Cockatoos, “Red gums with cheery birds”, an “ivy tombed terrace house”, trams in Amsterdam, “steep stairwells you can fall down in the morning”, Snow White and more pièces de résistance crowd in across the 95 pages and Kelen moves them about to make sense of why what is seemingly old-fashioned is his alone. In the poem “Kiss” for example, Kelen muses on the fact that thinking and writing about love and the “lush eyes” of a woman he misses and wishes to see brings him to life; and how magically, the picnic rug on which they kissed seemed in the moment to be airborne and flying. Such “odes” are “old-fashioned” thinks Kelen, which perhaps explains the abundance of contemporary ornaments in his poems but undeniably, this is human nature and with it, fate which is never bound by time zones.

It takes time to read A Happening in Hades and like walking a maze, takes a few goes to get to know the twists and turns but the clearing at the end is worth the challenge. The golden light never really left us, suggest Kelen, but just needs to be recognised and reacquainted, given the time of day so to speak, to flood our spirits with natural nourishment. We have “grown in the opposite direction of nature” decides Kelen, the orator of fact but also, poetic mourner urging us to wake up and remember those “Fey Provincial folk” – aka Chaucernerians, with old love once more in our eyes. Where, back in the Golden Age” the Barbarians “watch and listen”, we might instead dream, gaze and reinvent.

Rebecca Law has a PhD in Humanities and Communications from UWS, a Masters Degree in English Literature from Melbourne University and a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art, RMIT. With amateur studies in violin, she adores contemporary and romantic classical music and hopes to reflect this in her own poems. Widely published, her books include Offset, Lilies and Stars, The Arrow & The Lyre and Earthly Darling Came. Forthcoming (from 5th September 2020) is Rebecca's new collection Pan's Dance, available on Amazon. She lives and works in Sydney, and maintains a web presence at Rebecca Kylie Law.