London Grip Poetry Review – Lisa Kelly

Leah Fritz identifies with Lisa Kelly’s poems about hearing loss

A Map Towards Fluency
Lisa Kelly
ISBN-13: 978-1784108403
100 pp   £9.99.

Firstly, I’m deaf on my left side as Lisa Kelly is, and we’ve joked about that. She is also right-eared. I usually sit at the Torriano Meeting House up front so that my one ear is given full hearing, and I strain to watch lips. I’ve never written about this lack, but I’m glad Kelly has done.

Secondly, I didn’t have a mother who spoke Danish, as Lisa Kelly did. She couldn’t understand that language, partly because of her lack of hearing. Occasionally, my mother spoke Yiddish, when she didn’t want me to know what she was saying. I never caught that language, either.

What I like especially is Lisa Kelly’s poem about sitting naked for artists, as an artist’s model. ‘Life Model’ begins,

I can’t look him in the eye because I’m naked.
And I can’t look down because he’s naked.

And in the second stanza:

My back is skin-to-skin with his back;
there’s not a cigarette paper between us,
and I curl my legs around myself
and try to look like the statue of the Little Mermaid
and create interesting contours,
and stare out motionless at the sea of blank faces.

She goes on about her partner who is an artist and doesn’t understand anything about how she feels…well, that’s almost the run of the book, how she feels…the run of any poet’s collection.

Here’s one about her problem with her ears: the second stanza goes

The Christmas cracker joke you told,
What did a fish say when he swam 
Into a wall? has an in-built sinker,
if not the right line, hooking codswallop,…

What she heard is ‘b’ instead of ‘d’ in that word.

And I much like ‘Aubade for an Artist’, which ends:

Of course the morning came; it always does,
but before was an evening, and it was
such an evening I felt already afraid
of morning before the light began to fade. 

Lisa Kelly is clearly an artist and very definitely a poet. She has divided her collection into several parts: Scale and Accuracy, Coordinates, Orientation, Projection, Navigation, Legend and Neatline. Kelly is upset by the functional waste of animals, the remains of which are listed in ‘Fragmentation: Top Ten Objects, Grant Museum of Zoology’. ‘The Negus Collection of Bisected Heads’ goes thus:

Chimp, wallaby, sloth, seal, pangolin
lemur, wolf fish, shrew in collection
Negus specimens at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Negus worked on anatomy of larynx in animals and humans
may remind you of artist Damien
cut in two to display nose and throat structure, brain;	 
beautifully presented specimens.

Who can blame her for being upset?

Kelly’s poetry can be brilliant, but there’s a bit too much of it here – as there would be in a first collection assembled too late in a poet’s career which comprises both the brilliant and the self-consciously artistic. I do look forward to the next collection. But this one is very good, for all its occasional pretensions.