When a chapbook, or any book receives a second life it is an event worth celebrating. Slow to Burn by Collin Kelley being released by Seven Kitchens Press is especially noteworthy for many reasons. First among these in my mind is that after reading Slow to Burn, I cannot bring to mind any other out of print chapbook (and few currently in-print chabooks) as worthy of a second life.
You all know Collin and I have a lot of dealings together. I have published his poetry, reviewed his poetry, he has interviewed me, and I him. We have also played town crier for each others' successes. Some might think that means whatever I have to say is muted because it appears we have an on-going mutual admiration society. Well, so be it. The truth is I am deeply flattered by what Collin has had to say about my work and his support is greatly appreciated, but that in no way diminishes the power of his poetry and stunning language found within Slow to Burn.
In the recent past there has been a lot of talk of Slow to Burn's ability to connect with pop culture, so I am going to ignore that aspect of the book, although I will say one thing before moving on. If you are in your late 30's or early 40's (as I am) you cannot help but be reminded of your childhood and young adult life when reading this book.
No, what I want to concentrate on here is the absolute clarity of image Kelley seems so in tune with for the poems found in this collection. In the poem "Ian" Collin speaks to the rush of young love and the necessity of surreptitious activity. Speaking of a hastily written love note, he completes the underlying image with this lines:
Then you wrote me a note on scrap paper,
scribbled desire in the margins:
I've wanted to kiss you forever.
You would burn these words later like a spy.
In the poem "Duality" Kelley introduces the subject of suicide. Certainly suicide is often written about, and there are a lot of poets who do the topic justice, but I would be remiss if I did not mention how unique Collin's take on the subject is, how the poem finds a completely new direction, both horrific and strangely compassionate. With these lines, the poet creates a new dynamic:
No one understands this war,
the way it tastes, like copper pennies
in your mouth, like blood.
The precision of imagery continues throughout the book. No matter what shape the poems take, Kelley is able to ensure that they are crafted around the images he wants you to see and the way he wants you to see them. While we have all come to expect such exact and meticulous care in the chapbook form, there is a subtle difference here. Here, Collin is making certain you can connect these stories to your own, and in doing so he must (and does) successfully walk the thin line of universality and new language.
In the end it is Kelley's precise language which sells me. This book, for me, is a personal record of growth, and to read it is to read a biography of sorts. The stories in this book might always be compelling to hear, but the language Collin uses is what elevates them to being more than private anecdotes. He takes on his personal journey and makes it both (as Karen Head alluded in her introduction) accessible and complex. What is revealed to me, is there is nothing simple about navigating the years of our youth and that is as about as universal a theme one can have in contemporary poetry. Slow to Burn is a gift no matter where you can find it. Having found it here, I am compelled to offer my most sincere recommendation for both Collin's poetry and Seven Kitchens Press wonderful work.