76 pp., Sibling Rivalry Press
Collin Kelley’s latest collection, Render, is a masterful stroke of both political and socially relevant poems, where the poet uses his own life as a pop-culture touchstone for his generation’s most meaningful, shared experiences. Among the plethora of significant events hit upon in this book are: First love, parents, infidelity, nostalgia, the movies, sexual icons of puberty, post-puberty, and the inherent confusion which lies within. And while I would say most people will find something to love within these pages, this book speaks directly to anyone who is part of the generation born between the late 1960’s up through 1974. One poem after another breaks through the barrier of fuzzy memory and brings the reader immediately into the world of the poet. Each poem strengthens its grip upon the reader and will not let go. These poems will stay with you long after you have finished the book.
Collin Kelley is a genius when it comes to confession. He teases you with brilliant titles and amazing opening lines. Once he has you hooked, he delivers sucker punches and body blows like a prize fighter. What is amazing is even after you are dumbstruck by a series of poems, your first instinct will be to read another poem, and another.
Using the disillusion (and seeming dissolution) of the American Family, Collin Kelly presents a world so many of us from his generation know all too well. We are the Post Atomic Age children, born of parents who participated or did not participate in the counter-culture of the 1960’s. We are the first artificial, non-organic generation, and Kelley drives that point home by exposing the hidden narrative of his own family in some strange quiet crisis.
It’s difficult for me to choose any one poem to demonstrate the building of this narrative. I can tell you there are no weak poems here, no filler. Each and every poem is essential and I cannot imagine the book any other way than how Collin has constructed it. Each poem captures with exacting precision not only the poet’s memory, the thing he must share, but the details of the world at large, making each accessible in the best way possible. I do not mean accessible as in simple, because there will never be anything simple about Collin’s poetry. No, accessible in the way everyone can relate to the stories he tells, because we all have memories tied to the events Collin ties his memories to.
When Collin talks about his summer at the movies while his mother is having an affair, I immediately remember my adolescent movie experiences, but also the dysfunction of my own parents’ marriage. When he talks about the Bicentennial in his poem, “Freedom Train,” it’s his details which jar a thousand memories loose from my past, causing me to wonder why I have lost so many. When Collin talks about his early sexual encounters, especially with those boys who feel shame for their behavior, I am reminded of my own fumbled experiences early in my adolescence.
Collin Kelley succeeds with his poems because he is willing to face the truth of his past, confront the seeds which were sewn, resulting in the person he is today. He succeeds because he does this when so many of us are too afraid to do these things for ourselves. But even more so, Render is a tremendous book because it does not condemn in its confession. It lays out the reality of the world without trying to make anyone feel guilty for their past. It allows us to take from it and only wants us to share.