Friday, January 23, 2015

Inheritance - Kerry-Lee Powell (Biblioasis)

Today's book of poetry:
Inheritance.  Kerry-Lee Powell.  Biblioasis.  Windsor, Ontario.  2014.

Kerry-Lee Powell is Winner of the 2013 Boston Review Fiction Contest and the 2013 Malahat Review Far Horizons Award.

Damn it all to hell if she isn't the best thing since sliced bread.

Inheritance could be the best book of poems I've read since my own father died.  Inheritance starts as an elegy to a dead father.  It doesn't stop there.

If this book doesn't show up on every "best of" list, every award nomination list, there is nothing I can do about it - but it should.

These harrowing poems could only venture forth out of a deep and abiding love for truth,  It is a scourging, searing swat of emotional intensity.

The Last of the Hitlers

The storm tore a pier off Long Island Sound,
unearthed a row of oaks and a Mafioso corpse
from the grounds of the Federal Reserve.

New York at dusk is neo-classical,
all coloumns and wingless silhouettes
crowding the high windows.

Down here it's sewage and hazard warnings,
sirens shrieking like bereaved women
and the last of the Hitlers on his daily walk,

holding the frail vial of his body taut
because he's vowed to spare the world his blood
and let the ignominious line die out.

If he spills a drop the taint will spread,
infect the causeway and the flooded marsh.
Last of the Hitlers, last of the Patriarchs.

Although in this gloom he could be you or anyone,
a Canute who seeks to command
the engulfing waves with a stay of his hand,

while a fresh storm on the Atlantic gathers force.
Let the Greats smash
their pianos in resounding finales,

lash the air with salt and applause
for this lone man at the land's drowned end,
as if he was the last monster, the last god.


Powell is searching for all those lost souls caught adrift and sinking.

She looks around those corners and sheds light towards the all encompassing darkness as though she were an usherette, flashlight in hand, in an old theatre while Bela Lugosi lit up the black and white screen.


What isn't clear is how she keeps breathing
in the locked trunk of his car, mouth and nostrils

taped or how he steers the slack heap
of her body up the stairwell to the unlit

place he often dozes in while shady figures
on the screen steal off with other bundled shapes

in loosely strung narratives but where also he lies rapt
staring up through cracked plaster

to where his secret star throbs like an ache
in the temples, spelling out the nightly pattern

and pace of the recurring thoughts that spur him
to become at first a dimly felt presence

between streetlights and entrances
but every now and then a face, blurring amid

stunned winces and repeated blows in the unkempt
room that shifts in and out of focus,

ink spraying in all directions, because she
is a bird in a chimney

fingers smeared with soot, reaching for her one
chance for escape, when the grabbed fabric

drags behind her in that ordeal from the window
to the bathroom where he is a looming angel

to whom she falls in sudden worship, across slicked
tiles and into fragments in black plastic,

back in the trunk and again when the officials
dredging the canal look up to guess which high rail

he has leaned from, the unknown perpetrator
to see his own ill-defined silhouette in the water

and the weighted sack shatter that brief mirror.


Kerry-Lee Powell is fearless in the way fearless people can be -- her laser purpose would seem to be to illuminate that unseen moment.  There are human interactions we recognize only after the fact, if ever, if at all.

Powell sets her poems out to feed off of these moments, she mines the internal conflict, makes it public.


They called from the hospital to say
this time you were really dying.
I was fifteen, late home from the movies,
mouth bruised from kissing.

I'd seen so many deaths on the screen,
with knives and guns, capes and fangs.
Death didn't drain off into an armchair
as monotonous as your laboured rasp.

Twice I stood by you, shifting from one
leg to the other, my kindnesses stolen
from soaps, from stars with skin like milk,
their breasts over the flattened soldiers.

At the hospital I couldn't pretend
I wanted to lean into you as the others leaned
to heave their grief out into kisses. I backed off,
tried to look like a loved one, a human.

It's no wonder that your face
visits my face in the mirror the least often.
My neglected grandfather, I would like you to have seen
that string of teenage suck-marks around my neck.

Your blood, my first romance.


Pity the dead, pray over the dying.

Kerry-Lee Powell uses her personal history like a spring board.  Watch as she jack-knives into your thoughts.

These poems stay with you.  The jack-knife in this case isn't the dive.  Powell actually cuts into you, leaves a mark.

Kerry-Lee Powell

Born in Montreal, Kerry-Lee Powell has lived in Australia, Antigua, and The United Kingdom, where she studied Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cardiff University and directed a literature promotion agency. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies throughout the United Kingdom and North America, including The Spectator, The Boston Review, and The Virago Writing Women series. In 2013, she won The Boston Review fiction contest, The Malahat Review’s Far Horizons Award for short fiction, and the Alfred G. Bailey manuscript prize. A chapbook entitled “The Wreckage” has recently been published in England by Grey Suit Editions. A novel and short fiction collection are forthcoming from HarperCollins. Inheritance is her first book.


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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