Paul McLoughlin finds an appropriately lyrical way to show his appreciation of a new collection by Richard Kell 

kellOld Man Answering
Richard Kell
Shoestring Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1910323045
120 pp    £11

.
        I: The Poet
.
	Having no alternative, the sun still
	Shines its critic’s light on Richard Kell
	Whose unforced rhymes are better than my first,
	Their nothing new appearing unrehearsed.
	
	Nor is his anti-God religion new.
	From Control Tower in 1962
	To this latest, Old Man Answering, he’s
	Stayed faithful to his mentor Socrates,

	Asking the bigger questions, and in verse,
	In an age that’s given up – and what’s worse
	Sometimes glories in it – on worrying
	Over moral matters by burying

	Its head in sands of theory and technique
	As if how a poem looks or sounds can seek
	Refuge in itself, free from what is said,
	Where sense has finally been put to bed.

	That’s not for Kell, who should be better known.
	But now risks relegation with those grown
	Old in the bright eyes of youngblood shakers
	Slipping on the robes of status-breakers

	To digs for past-its in a poet’s Hell.
	You’ll find a poem by an impish Kell
	Back in a 40s’ Irish Times, so neat
	His pigeons ‘paddle with staccato feet’,
	
	Out-Martianing the Martians long before
	Their ludic sweep threatened to wipe the floor
	With all their dull forebears (as if MacCaig,
	Too, had not preceded them). Kell’s brogue

	Originates from Ireland, north and south,
	And his voice flirted in poetic youth
	With Movement and Group but if you’ll forgive
	The pun his poetry, more elusive

	Than that suggests, resists the pigeon-hole—
	His metrics take some beating, while ‘Cold
	Spell’ (page 11), starts abcb
	Then modulates to other fours as free

	From constraint as constraints allow, but it’s
	Above all love of kindliness that sits
	Astride these verses by a real good bloke
	Who, John Shoestring told me when last we spoke,

	Has another volume ready to go. 
	Quality will out it’s said. Kell would know,
	Has doubts he’ll see the thing, says two years
	More is tempting fate. Whether it appears

	In time’s neither here nor there, as Murphy
	Knew too well. Old Man Answering is the 
	Stuff to read, for its wit, its learning and
	Its formal mastery, its guiding hand. 
 

	II: The Book

	This latest book’s in three equalish parts
	Organized thematically and starts
	With ‘In Common’ about the everyday.
	‘Old Man Answering’ has its quiet say

	About the queernesses of what’s believed;
	And ‘Makers and Making’ at times is peeved
	That trendies make it false instead of new
	(though formal rigour won’t make untruth true).

	It’s really one long poem that opens
	On a 38 from town, and attends
        To all-sorts before, despite his pecker,
        Richard Kell is billed as a Rebecca!
             	
	On the way we meet five ideas he likes:
	Animism, The Great Spirit, Allah-
	Jehovah, Mysticism and this last’s
	Alliance with fundamental science, 

	Though each ‘up to a point’ (they’re moody pets).
	It’s ‘more angry than arrogant’ he gets—
	He’s generous, too, to politicians
	And to Robespierre, and admired musicians

	Like his poet-friend at the piano
	Watching her ‘fascinating mime’ - she’s grown
	Quite deaf. He’s wise distinguishing between
	Freedom from and freedom to, having seen

	Relatively little of the latter
	Manifest in what we do. The matter
	Is we don’t invite what our lives inflict, 
	The stress. What we end up with’s rarely picked.

	The truth is Kell’s a kind and thoughtful soul.
	Whose poetry avoids the rigmarole
	Of agonizing over what cannot be known – 
	He makes tradition and what’s new his own.

	We could do with more of him as we try
	To ‘weave a wishful-thinking plot’ or cry
	Over the milk we couldn’t help but spill.
	He’s a realist who’s wondering still.