May 22 2020
Poetry review – The Whispering Sky: Carla Scarano finds rather sombre messages in Richard Kell’s well-crafted poetry
The poetry in this collection resonates with thoughts about the meaning of life and possible dimensions of the afterlife. The poems interrogate the self about its position in this world, the influence of nature on humans and the impact of ageing. Kell is in continuous conversation with his poetry, conveying to the reader a sense of uncertainty because it is not easy to express definite answers to big existential problems. Human nature and the world are often described as delusional, disappointing and violent. Nature, science, God and ancient philosophies, such as Greek myths and Buddhism, do not help the poet’s quest and do not answer his pressing questions: who are we and is there any progression in humans’ journey?
Humanity is inscribed in a cosmos that gives us the illusion of eternity or ‘durability’ but, at the same time, makes us aware of our vulnerability. In this perspective, life ‘isn’t a thing of beauty to be enjoyed,/but a tragedy to deplore’ (‘The Beauty of Life’). Instead life denotes a state in which the poor are exploited, the cruelty of the powerful rules and Nature is indifferent to all sufferings:
The water goes, the grass, the leafy shade. Starved and thirsty, elephants feebly plod. A female drops. Her little son, dismayed, not knowing that she is dying, urges her with his trunk. Then come the lions. All, with ignorant innocence, are relying on Nature, who works for God. (‘Providence’)
The world is portrayed as a Godless one dominated by a void that erases our illusions and takes their place. In Kell’s dialogue with these major themes, there is a constant yearning for something absolute, meaningful and valuable. Unfortunately, the poet cannot find solutions or positive answers because ‘Life is as bad as God’ and ‘we crawl/before a vital power whose ways appal’. Eventually, though, there is a glimpse of hope:
…. But I have hope. I’ll never join you on the slippery slope that ends in black negation and despair. I’ll walk on level ground, still try to care for things long cherished by the simple heart, including trust, compassion, friendship, art. (‘A Triad, (3) A Reply’)
Nevertheless, a sense of disintegration prevails in most poems; they are embedded in a cosmic dimension in which human beings seem lost and unprepared for their own failures and lack of progression. In a similar way, language and poetry do not seem to be able to rescue the poet either with his own writings or with other poets’ works:
What are you trying to say? I’m working hard, but though a ray of understanding, so of hope, glimmers occasionally, still I grope in desperation. Oh, I feel so dim, so simple-minded! Nursery rhyme and hymn are all I’m fit for. (‘To Some Poets’) Perhaps I’m wrong, but ‘here I stand’. Poetic writing should have a style that’s clear: obscurity uninviting. What’s publishing about if readers feel shut out? (‘Reader Taking Trouble’)
For me, the most successful poem of the collection is ‘Letting Go’, in which all the themes dear to the poet, the meaning of life, death, universal dimensions and language, are integrated in clever lines and compelling imageries:
……………….. Why cling to the foolish myth of heaven – that you’ll go on from death, proud You for ever? I find that notion scaring! … … But think of a river made conscious that its flow would never reach an ocean to merge with … Perhaps you’ll say eternity’s not duration: it’s timelessness, and the way to that is mystical, beyond all celebration and sense of self as well. Yes. Though grand, be humble. As the long hours go by, This monumental I, thank God, will slowly crumble under the whispering sky. And after? Who can tell? (‘Letting Go’)
Therefore, the future is uncertain, fortuitous, and we are lost in a wide, apparently boundless, space that is both a void but also a place where hope lingers for a while. In this existential quest, ageing becomes an issue but also an inevitable conclusion of our troubled life. It is our fragility that makes us human but it also makes us angry and wish for death to come ‘as a dear friend’. Old age is described as a trial: life has lost its taste and the body aches. Though the poet seems to be grateful for his past, he suggests people show their love ‘by staying away’, which is a logical conclusion to his impeccable arguments.