I was introduced to Collin Kelley’s work when we did multiple readings of his poem “Wonder Woman” for Nic Sebastian’s Voice Alpha site. So when Collin’s book Render was released from Sibling Rivalry Press, I wanted to see if the other poems were as charming as both “Wonder Woman” is and Collin seems to be. (I only know him in the virtual world, but we share many interests including music and Doctor Who, so I’m sure we’d get along fine in person.)
The collection is firmly rooted in the turbulence of the 70s and 80s – early mentions of Vietnam and Three Mile Island hint at the domestic and personal implosions that will follow. The reader is whisked into the family album and shown not just the best photos – the ones in frames or carefully-pasted scrapbooks – but the candids, the blurred shots, the ones that company usually never sees. These narratives of descent into family disintegration and of the wild upward splash of emerging sexuality are firmly rooted in popular culture – a Barney Rubble bank saves the day when the car breaks down, the Members Only jacket means belonging, and Pam Grier and Wonder Woman are role models. No details are spared, although some of them may be a bit folded, faded, and rounded at the edges like old Kodak prints from the 70s.
The opening poem “A Broken Frame” sets up the idea of the narrator as outcast as its refers to a relative “marked/out, maybe with black wax,/which runs to the bottom corner/where the frame is cracked.” The manuscript is divided into sections – in the first, called “aperture,” we read of a childhood and young adolescence marred by the infidelity and illness of the speaker’s mother and an awakening sexuality in the speaker. In “blowup,” the speaker’s sexual life (from first crushes to one-night stands to hustling to acceptance of his bachelor life) is both simple and explicit enough to be real. And the last and title poem provides us with a “resolution” that uses photography terminology in a more experimental form.
These poems give us narrative scenarios that function much like scenes from a movie. Kelley is also a fiction writer, and those skills show in this collection of poetry. Each poem has a narrative arc and, more often than not, loops back to the opening detail in some way. My favorite piece in the collection is “Broken Things” which begins “My mother hovers now, whipping this world/with damaged blades, her selective amnesia/is rudderless, requires a stabilizing hand/from my father, the elephant who never forgets…” The poem revisits many of the themes in earlier poems and ends “and even from this distance I can hear/her distress call, waiting for a message/that I have forgiven her, and I have./Even broken things can still fly.”
You can find the book at the link above. If you are a child of the 70s or like your poems with a strong narrative bent, then Render will be a collection you want to read.