Claire Kelly. Maunder. (Palimpsest Press 2017).
According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, ‘maunder’ refers to both speaking & walking, the former ‘in a dreamy or rambling manner,’ the latter ‘listlessly or idly.’ Well, the poems in Maunder, Clair Kelly’s first collection, definitely ramble & often have the intense visual specificity of dreams, & they do wander over a large territory in the apparently rambling manner of the flaneuse, but they are not idle at all.
Early on, in the delightful sequence, ‘Keeping Track, Keeping Pace,’ Kelly explores variations of walking: ‘Swagger’ (‘a tear to the target’; ‘John Wayne advertising adventure wholesale’); ‘Shuffle’ (‘Here’s an army of slouch and grimace’); ‘Promenade’ (‘Pretend your partner is a stable / influence: hook arms and match pace’); ‘Lurch and Reel’ (‘you stutter-step on too / shadowing some off-kilter scent’); ‘Hobble’ (‘spasmodic rhythm: / crimson marionette with / a snagged string’); & finally ‘Strut’ with its ‘Cluster poise and cluster pose’ & final
Strobe. Muybridge sequence:
a horse galloping. In slow-mo.
The variant phrasings in this series provides a neat introduction to Kelly’s wide-ranging interests & the vocabulary that attends them.
This certainly applies to Kelly’s titles, which often startle (‘Apollo in a Sulky,’ ‘I Dreamt I Could Fly; I Awoke Encased in Lead,’ ‘In the Torso of a Great Windstorm,’ among others) & offer strange doorways into the poems that follow. ‘In the Torso of a Great Windstorm,’ for example, apparently having something to do with Emily Carr, is filled with oddly appropriate images, such as ‘Airstream gale whipping / the pinprick stars into dashes,’ a lovely shift from visual to written. Many of the poems in Maunder demonstrate a fiction writer’s sense of catching the action of a moment in an ongoing narrative, except the narrative can only be sensed hovering somewhere behind the poem’s specific perception of the imaged now.
Kelly happily shows off some of the writers & artists she finds inspiring in her epigraphs, & quite rightly for a maundering poet, she includes that lunchtime New York walker, Frank O’Hara, who clearly acts as a spiritual guide in ‘Street Haunting,’ with its ‘inner walk gone wrong: / my mind, a gymnast’s spiraling ribbon, / something loose and beautiful about / the planned the lack of plan, / as if, here, the only message is to maunder.’ The final sequence of this collection that wanders in its planned-unplanned way across a wonderfully eclectic range of topics,
Maundering,’ is a series of crisp ghazals, the leaps from couplet to couplet quick & sharp: ‘Your friend’s grandfather clock stops working. / A stilled scythe in a museum case. // Three right turns and you’re speeding eastwards again. / The sun resolute as a gobstopper stuck in your throat.’
Maunder is a fine & wide ranging volume that suggests Claire Kelly will be walking her poetic lines for a long while yet.