Karla Kelsey, A Conjoined Book, Omnidawn, 2014, 98 pages, $17.95
It’d be easy to recommend Karla Kelsey’s third book, A Conjoined Book, simply by cataloguing its instances of stunning depiction: “trumpet vine to maple branch lashed,” starts the first of the sequences titled “Interstitial Weather Remnant,” and one feels the incisive surge and swoosh flourishing in seams. Through such burling transport, Kelsey offers “a form of looking // into the present state of attrition // eliciting truth.” This visionary relationship to landscape has forebears—recently, Andrew Zawacki’s Videotape; before that, Lorine Niedecker and Keats’s “To Autumn” and Hopkins’ notebooks—though one might also hear Dickinson in the lilt and hitch of phrasing (“Time points to the hour of the curtain, the glass swan still warm / from the / child’s hand / the room / become a minor legacy as this telling frosts over double-paned glass: / the road”). This intent looking shudders between seeing and thinking, emphasizing “questions of interval” in the book’s quicksilver perceptions and its bifurcated structure. The second half of this conjoined book, “Become Tree, Become Bird,” is less sequel or mirror than an afterimage glimpsed while the present landscape continues. Through lyrical annotations and more overt exposition, it at once explores the book’s method and clarifies the method’s magic. Drawing from folklore and varations on the Grimm tale of The Juniper Tree, these explorations show transfiguration in many lights: through the painterly technique of “cangiante” (“a painter’s changing to a different, lighter hue when the original hue cannot be made light enough”); through mythic grief and “the split place of its purpled heart”; through live reading of the “bluing through / the river of / the book,” in which “feathers cover / my eyes.” A reader’s eyes should feather similarly.
-- Zach Savich