Aileen Kelly

Working Note

There are a great many sorts of poetry that I enjoy and admire, so anything I say about the poetics of my own writing is not trying to be prescriptive for poetry in general. Using words makes me aware of at least a notional reader (even if it might be only oneself on another day) and so although I write for my own satisfaction, my poetics are reader-oriented - about pushing the way a reader will read the poem (which raises complex questions about what sort of reader one is expecting). I want the reader to experience something, not just receive ideas or information. A poem I write usually arises from sources of image or phrase rather than from a ‘subject’. Ideally each phrase or image is lucid; but it’s more important to get right the sensory and the affective, producing a coherent sequence of experience, than always to produce easy access to some one lucid idea or situation that the whole poem might be ‘about’. The way meaning is structured in poetry is so much affected by sequences of images, and by lines and the grouping of lines, that it often does not need a grammatical sentence. So although I write in a variety of ways, my work is directed to multi-layered use of language, even in poems that are conversational or apparently casual phrase by phrase.

The challenge is to make all the elements work together: the literally sensuous elements (rhythm, line-pacing by punctuation and lineation, what is heard, what happens in the mouth, what is seen on the page); the imaginary sensuous (overt imagery and implied or latent imagery); the voice of the speaker (who is at least partly, and sometimes entirely, fictional); and intertextual, cultural and unconscious elements. That’s the sort of analysis that happens when I come back and try to look objectively at a draft, and it aims at an ideal that may never be achieved. However, while I’m actively writing I’m not working on a theory, just trying to make this poem feel as right and as strong as possible.










Three Wild Angels

...those wild angels tugging at the seams of your poems
                                          – Catherine Bateson, ‘When You Leave’


His skull encloses
mineshaft country.
We suspect
seams of chittering bat
and dragging claws
(human nature fills a vacuum
with such surprises).

His surface speaks
the structure of bone
the grammar of vault and jawhook.
he grits the air to meaning.
His abyss
stares back at our pretence
of blank surprise.

Unwrapped from flesh
his bone condenses water from our air.
Swallowing our stale mouth
we drink fresh
from his clean cold cup.



The temple smells:
not blood or incense
but the astringent
of clear empty time,
a bellchamber
babbling your downy voice
across our concrete dusk
until we see the unthinkable
fire lines.
The stars, mapped.

Panicked, we all come at you.
You unravel,
drag your tender guts across the dirt
and we want of course
some sweet simple answer
from your graveled mouth.

halfway up the sky your face
blossoms a skin of lamplight.



Whose pool now?
Where does it send me
to lob in from the sun
or rise breaking the surface
screwing up its images: cloud
and the anxious damaged lives
hanging out at waterís edge.
What does it make me?

Angel woman mermaid
my two tentacle tails thrash,
reveal a numinous glitter
or a black chasm of sex.
My flame is dragged with feathers,
my arms sweat and ripple
to hold up all the pain.
What voice?
Who should I speak it to?

My hands ache,
stiffen at the knuckles
tired of the workcushion and pins,
the rattle of thrown bobbins,
the tiny making day after day
meticulously knotting into these lives
a god who cannot be unmade,
who canít be stopped from suffering
at our expense.

Bone.†††† Bell.†††† Lamp.
I question at the eyeholes.



This shortest dayís moves are all prose and relative clauses
between shackled curtains hanging back from cold glass
whose slow dusking enters the unlit room too soon
sidling over eaves and garden, over a wind-
fingered pond all surface, and the hard wintering husks.
One galah squawks up the air and pinks the light
to a smarter metre, one fish snouts up as a simple verse
of gold and gone, a distant folk-dance strikes its beat.
The fallen husk splits, a chalice for Sun-return.




The plotted loop seemed natural / weíd come and go like tides or the Perseid meteors
swoop past the planet the headlands / insert ourselves over their valleys and bays
our trajectory stirring the sluggish pots on their ashes / stirring the ashes to prophesy

Plot it again the loop we came by / to language one could not speak
Acrid plants skewed the nose / the mouth puckered as food reached for the throat
the tongue spoke its own volition / a hard denial they heard as tentative

They struggle to welcome / milk and honey curdle our squirling skin

Tides slip out and the bays lie shallow / Our landfall is final
Did no one tell us before the events / we were eager / we sang as we raised our wings
did anyone tell us someday the meteor strikes / buries for ever in its own crater

We burn in your air by our speed / the outcome of distance
Donít touch me yet / this is a passion your questioning hands must skirt
or take fire / and scar / thickened and useless as alien hands

What are my daughters to sing / between the blocks that rasp away your sky



Walking Away

We canít touch you
canít hear you through their walls

Do you dream
in your nightmare we
are strong††††††††††† could and will not
free you?
The walls do not shiver at our trumpet
We have walked around them
singing in our thin voices
the seventh time
Khaki with a gun leans on the parapet
watching this rabble of women
Whistles his wolf-teeth
Sees nothing to concern him

We watch our feet drag
walking away

††††††††††† *

Those who always look always
do not find††††††††††† Disappeared
In rumpled beds of earth
broken bone tethers the shredding flesh
Khaki picks his wolf-teeth
drapes his muscle casually at the gate

††††††††††† *

Where shall we place
stretched arms
a lovingly tacked cross?

Guilt stains through
our working dayís

The photos crack
the pins corrode
on the kitchen door

The casual wolf
The gates heavy

The razor wire intact
Within your niche
your cold pale eyes
are stone



Now youíve harried me
into the high far corner of my field
pulled the wings off my shoulders
pulled the buttons from my flies
hooded my brains out through my nose
in search of a monkey morsel

may your motherís entrails
spin from her crotch
at the end of a ropeís long jerk

may you find your child
cruciform over the rocks
between two busy ravens

Now youíve narrowed me
into the dead end of my kingdom
Iíll be standing
my arms this far apart
to measure your echoing life
as the days crawl in through my eyes




                Meeting at Night and Parting at Morning:
††† two lyrics by Robert Browning

At the sunlit desk
each morning she sweeps a hand
across the drift of nightfall:
moth dust and beetle shards
dropped from the lampís
excluding glass.
Each night the poet bounds
from boat and beach to meeting
and she parts from herself, two
walls of water and a damp emptiness
invite his miraculous passage.
At each morningís
parting he slides back to his oars
in his need for a world of men
and she meets her glimpsing face
kneaded in the lampís curved glass.
In her white shift of skin
at her dawnlit desk
she grits her new laid palm
on wingscale, chitin, world.




This morning thrusts its speculum
into your dreamís tender flesh
and withdraws without comment.

I wait to be delivered.
You take my hand and
dragged out
I dangle tearing at the shoulder joint.

You name me and I accede
trying to set up house in the gap
between this croak
and your dream of lyric.

††††††††††† *

Your night is up and down
jot and tackle
to bring words to a spell

Your early train noses
towards the workday†††††††††† cuts
reluctant through the stabling yards.
Bagged eyes drag real chunks of world
in through caffeine-polished glass,
drag and lift
fossicking for words that underpin
steel and concrete††††††††††† words tough
enough to spell my life.

One more train you pass begins to wake.
Headlights glow where tail-lights slept.
This end's contact rig erects.
It feels its power.
The rest still doze jellied in smog,
dull silver slugs too large
for the one ibis hanging out for railkill,
hunger cocked to scrutinize
your stalled journey.

††††††††††† *

However many camels and giraffes
parade their circus past the corner
where you sneak your smoko from the office

however long your evening sits
on homeís verandah watching
elephant moths stampede around the lamp

there are always camelopards somewhere
mammoths sometimes that will not
show themselves to sate your patient lust

always some neonates that glitch to fossil
once outside dreamís supple flesh
despite your spurts of milk and drug and art-magic.

Over your tracks the ibis turns his head
searching between the lines
for a better reading.


Some of these poems have appeared previously in journals and other publications, including Southerly (Aust) and The Age (Aust)


Bio: Aileen Kelly was brought up in England and studied English Literature at Cambridge University (MA Cantab). She has spent most of her adult life in Melbourne, is married and has four Australian children and a handful of grandchildren. She is an adult educator (Dip Cont Ed UNE) who has worked in return-to-study and personal development, and in in-service education for adult education tutors, for teachers and for health professionals. She now concentrates on the fields of literature and creative writing. One of her interests is in religious poetry, and other poetry that relates to the inner life, and she has run courses on poetry within programs of theological study.

She has run writing workshops and given invited readings all over the suburbs of Melbourne and country Victoria, and in England and Ireland. She was one of the presenters at this year's Country Festival of Writing in Shepparton.

Her first book of poems, Coming up for Light (Pariah Press 1994), was short-listed for the FAW-Anne Elder Award and the Victorian Premier's Award, and won the Mary Gilmore Award from the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. Since then she has been a judge for the Victorian Premier's Award and for the FAW, and she sponsors a youth poetry award for the FAW.

She was the winner of the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize for 1998 (Australian Centre, University of Melbourne) and the resulting two-month working trip to Ireland was also partly funded by a Victorian Arts Grant.

Her poetry has appeared in many significant Australian journals including The Age, The Australian, The Canberra Times, Eureka Street, LiNQ, Meanjin, Poetrix, Overland, Poetry Monash, Quadrant, Southerly and Westerly, and journals in the USA, UK and Ireland. Her work is represented in a number of high school texts, and in anthologies including: Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry ed. Les A. Murray (Collins Dove 1991), Chapters into Verse ed. Atwan & Wieder (OUP USA 1993), Divine Inspiration ed. Atwan et al (OUP USA 1998), Family Ties ed. Jennifer Strauss (OUP Australia 1998), Australian Verse: an Oxford Anthology ed. Leonard (OUP Australia 1998)

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