June 2006

Olivia Cronk


Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary by Karla Kelsey

Karla Kelsey is a cerebellum trickster. Examine this:

These things I have rubbed with a soft cloth
for the gleam in them remembering the street outside
and the way she said “hero” as she once said “green in my hand”
upon seeing the park these simple utterances I envy
walking in language even when the song refuses to through.

In parsing this stanza out, I am of course in love with the wild enjambment -- the lines spill into one another as a never-ending stream of multiplicity. The possibilities for metaphor are soothing, odd, pleasantly bewildering. The polishing of a worn surface in order to reveal a shimmer as window, which looks onto a flashing bit of memory is so delicately mimicked in the diction of the “she.” The “utterances” inform all the words inhabiting this shift in space. So that: heroes shimmer, the hand turns to a grasping envy, the park offers the optimism of novelty while also striking the “I” as merely a landscape of unknowable language and so on. I read through the words, not as a coherent stanza in a poem or a book of poems, but as a tiny jungle-gym for my brain. Something to toy with my thinking muscle. In this way, Kelsey allows the reader an intimate exchange; Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary is a staging of thought -- words as players in a dramatic reenactment of musings (which form the world within us).

This is Kelsey’s first book. It won Ahsahta Press’s 2005 Sawtooth Poetry Prize. Carolyn Forche was the judge and she writes an absolutely rapturous introduction for the collection. “This is poetry that resists possession of the world by mind with all that this implies for the dominions of power... Kelsey’s gift is for the inter-subjective lyric, the ‘we’ of interdependence.” And this seems to me a perfect notion with which to think over moments like the one above. Both Forche and Kelsey (in her author’s statement) make the claim that the book is political. Not in its content (that would be dull, I suspect), but in its poetic stakes. “Being able to think in and through as many worlds as possible is important to me -- I deeply believe such thought is the foundation of freedom and the fact that we can grow in our capacity for such thought is, I think, one of the great glimmers of hope, particularly in a social and political climate such as ours, where we are trained at birth to limit our scope and action of thought.” To this I say: fuck yes.

Kelsey’s project is seeded, in part, with an intellectual response to Plato’s Theaetetus (a text in which Socrates imagines the mind as an aviary, knowledge as birds -- pursued by a thinker’s thoughts -- plucked from flight for use). As a poet, as a thinker, and as a member of the world, Kelsey is opposed to the idea of the mind using the world’s knowledge. Her view, in most respects, is non-consumerist. This is how we understand Forche’s “inter-subjective” label as one of great consequence. Karla Kelsey, the trickster, is presenting a vision of how we might think about thinking. The reader thinks alongside the writer -- thereby modeling the failure of imagining human roles in the universe as roles of “dominion” (the language of fundamentalists, I might add). Kelsey does, however, find real charm in Plato’s form. The dialogues are a record of thought. And thought (as a form in and of itself) is so very undervalued these days.

It is hard to talk about the content of the book without investing oneself in Kelsey’s ideas; the form and the material are inextricably bound -- a melodic play of time and space. I will say that the actual language in the book is dreamy. Where there is unclear intent, there is also shared space. A generosity. By virtue of her wide-open “between-ness”(I will call it) in line and poem, Kelsey creates the possibility of accident. She allows the thinker to think. A bird becomes a crack of sky and a crack of sky opens onto the mind. An orchid creates an optical illusion, suggesting an eyeball peering from a beautiful stretch of road. Things are constantly opening onto metamorphosis, slashes of themselves. And the holes, because they can be seen through, become dwellings “to steep through.” “This is sight this is sound... Where there are grooves in the record/ our voices die into hovering.” Gaps in text, like a Sappho fragment, allow the thinker to create. And Kelsey, crazily egging the chaos on, says, “[O]h rustle into what is given and/ prepared for meeting:/ let it all in[.]”

Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary by Karla Kelsey
Ahsahta Press
ISBN: 0916272877
92 pages