One of the gifts of a book of poems is that unlike a novel it doesn’t require the reader to read chronologically, however at its best it still needs to work that way. Anne Kellas is a poet who understands poems speak to each other as much as they speak to us, that where poems belong in relation to other poems and to the book as a whole, matters – and we benefit from this understanding and structuring. The opening poem Prologue for example, could have just as easily but not as effectively I think, been retitled and replaced as Epilogue. To me, this poem hints at a circular concept of time, one which is touched on in each of the four sections of the collection. It is the perfect opening poem.
In Notes in the final pages of the book Anne reflects on the importance of symbols as (and I quote) a powerful means to work with material not yet known to the self. The poet references her poem Gift here as an example of one that finds its genesis in symbolism. In the kind of symbol that can arrive in moments of silent reception, especially within the cloister of grief. I’m paraphrasing here. In these moments there exists an invitation to trust, to trust that the symbol’s meaning will unfold over time, that it may morph into unexpected shapes.
Many of the metaphors and much of the imagery woven throughout the book are drawn from the natural world: mountain, sky, birds, bodies of water … and from things less graspable but no less vital: dreams and memories bidden and unbidden, music, angels …
I’d like to read the poem Various Angels (inspired by paintings by Terence O’Malley). It’s the first poem in the section by the same name and again I think perfectly placed …
If you travel this way like a dreamer
you’ll come to that fair beach
where all the new souls are born fresh as the ocean air
with no lines on their brows.
Hear them singing
their parting, parting songs.
Poems about angels not only form a dedicated section of the book, they also make several appearances throughout the collection. As do birds. So winged things are motifs perhaps. Emily Dickinson’s Hope is the thing with feathers comes to mind because for all the sorrow therein – Ways to Say Goodbye also feels quietly hope-fuelled to me: hope for better communication, understanding and appreciation of the similarities and differences between human experiences, within the context of our mortality.
The French poet and symbolist Charles Baudelaire wrote I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy.
Many of these poems do reflect a sense of loss - past and impeding, particular to the poet and universal. But what breathes life into all the poems for me, is a sense of the poet’s curiosity. Anne Kellas’s writing sparks (and sparks us) with a thoughtful questioning of things apparent and mysterious, of self, of all selves. From such startling lines in the poem Another kind of winter … as … ‘How rich the hand grenade of memory’ … what astonishing irony, what an insightful way to encapsulate memory as the mixed-blessing-treasure-trove it is …
By contrast we find more subtle but no less evocative lines in My Father the Orange Sun …where ‘the day sinks in steps of colour’ in ‘wedding-blue sky’, ‘the trees’ dancing green’. But the two lines that strike me in particular marking the transition into a parentless phase of life are
‘a rush of air – and I knew I was an orphan’
‘I wind up my toy life’
It takes wide reading and committed writing I think to know which poems are best served by an economy of words, purposeful repetition and white space, the application of all these in the poem Bird culminates in a layout which feels to me something of a meditation. I’ll read it now.
Anne seamlessly links outer and inner landscapes and these final stanzas from Silent Mountain are just one example of how adept she is at this…
I swept up some snow
in my hands, to make sure I was human
that it was really snow. It’s cold drove
through me its want for images, its hunger
for soul, its devouring breath.
It drove through me until I wept
drove through me its stanza rose
its London red bus of long-ago
its purple satin ballgown of star-sky.
Anne Kellas pays attention to what calls her to write and honours that call by crafting intelligent, intelligible poems with lasting impact. But of course, the best kind of poetry is shaped by more than command of its structural elements … initially I think, it requires courage. Because before working a poem into its rightful form the poet must dare to believe in something worth writing. Ways to Say Goodbye is that something. Please join me in welcoming and celebrating its arrival and ongoing journey.