Caribou Run. Richard Kelly Kemick. Icehouse Poetry. Gooselane Editions. Fredericton, New Brunswick. 2016.
Caribou Run is one of those books that the more you read the smarter you feel. Richard Kelly Kemick is 106 years old and has apparently spent every minute of that time studying biology, Latin, animal husbandry in the wild, philosophy and so on. Kemick has also apparently learned the languages of wolf and caribou as well.
Caribou Run is a bursting wonder of a thing, a mash-up of encyclopedic voracity, beautiful reason and a poetic joie de vivre.
The Love Poem as Caribou
It's hard to imagine. As doves, yes,
or even vultures. But there's nothing of a ballad
in the hard weight of antlers. You can't cut
into an ode, stripping its skin to bones cabled
with muscle, or search its creased face for something
you can almost explain. And a sonnet has never
made me see myself inadequate beneath
the bright light of evolution's long apprenticeship,
acutely aware of the many failings of my own form.
But maybe it's in how a love poem will cross
a body of water without being about to see
the other side. Or maybe it's in the deep prints
left in the drifts, that speak of how hard
it must have been to move on from here.
Kemick's Caribou Run is ostensibly about the Porcupine caribou herd of the western Arctic and it is one beauty of a beast, obsessively and compulsively full to the brim, there is no limit to Kemick's poetic diligence. His poem about the hurricane of mosquitoes turning the sky dark will haunt me forever.
We get to know the details of the multi-chambered stomach, a sad calving ground littered with calamity and the silent cows that follow. But let's be clear, Kemick's caribou are not the miracle, the joy and wonder in Caribou Run is in the observations, not the observed.
A Thunderstorm Seven Kilometres
West of Old Crow, Yukon
Rising,the cumulonimbus swells against the stratosphere's hard shell,
spilling itself into a flattened sprawl: a cartoon piano hovering over
the freshwater flats. With increasing surface area, a negative charge colludes
with the earth's own magnetism, grafting the ground positive.
This is what most people never realize: lightning comes from below as
much as from above.
The negative sky, reacting to the positive soil, cascades step-leaders:
electric tendrils of fifty metres, unravelling for attachment, stretching
for a circuit. The ground, in slower resurrection,
grows forth splinters of light:
positive streamers, ribboning up
in search of their own electric awakening.
Once a step-leader stitches a thread of plasma
with a positive-streamer
electricity ruptures from the thick sky. It is the only time
the atmosphere touches earth.
But the flash seen, the blue-white burn of lunar ice,
is the ground channelling energy
upwards, striking the cloud
into homeostasis. The channel,
in the shape of God's basilic vein, burns six times
hotter than the sun, boiling the sky to explode
a shock wave that rips the air apart,
inflicts internal bruising on birds.
This meteorological movement, this visual presence of an
internal transfer, can, perhaps, be likened to the unexplainable
of motherhood, which has within it something of a storm's great movement,
its patient pursuit of the horizon.
Richard Kelly Kemick reminds us of Aristotle's eternal question "do animals die or stop living?", Well, try and anthropomorphize that. Kemick does.
The office reading this morning was spirited. Last night was Halloween and as luck would have it our head-tech, Milo, brought a set of costume antlers into the office today. He insisted on wearing them all through this morning's read.
Today's book of poetry thinks that Caribou Run can run with the big boys, the big gals, it doesn't get much better than this when you're reading a book of poems. Kemick had me rethinking certainties and looking back with awe. Reason this crisp, rendered with beauty, doesn't come along all that often. Richard Kelly Kemick flat out impressed us off our feet.
Upon the Autumn Equinox,
the Tundra Takes Inventory
Moss shimmering frost, streams clinking ice.
Puzzle pieces of slush around a boulder
that's rounded like a beached whale, the defenselessness
of a weight that can't contain itself. Catkins
passed over, crimson against brambled earth.
Muskox hair blown southwest from Banks Island,
and raven feathers, iridescent with twilight.
Sockets of ground squirrel holes, corkscrewed
beneath the sedge. A tensile horizon
and starlight rolls in like an optometrist's lens.
A woodpecker's hollow well. A fox paw.
A dryas trying to hold bloom, as the Beaufort
breeze undresses its petals, erasing itself into sky.
The tall grass bends with wind, brushed
like the swath of your hair in the breath
the door made as you closed it behind you.
Today's book of poetry isn't much of a nature buff although I've spent my time in the woods and the wilds. I am a Canadian and I do identify with our big, beautiful country, I can rejoice in nature and am touched when a poet brings me closer to it.
Today's book of poetry may stumble onto a more intelligent book of poetry sometime soon but it is unlikely. Kemick is bursting out of the gate and onto the scene all prodigy like and fully formed. If books of poems were NHL goals Kemick would be having a Gretzky season.
Richard Kelly Kemick
Richard Kelly Kemick’s poetry, prose, and criticism have been published in magazines and journals across Canada and the United States, including the Fiddlehead, the New Quarterly, and Tin House (Open Bar).
He has won the poetry prizes of both Grain magazine and Echolocation. He lives in Calgary.
"You hear notes of McKay, Steffler, and Purdy's Baffin Island poems in this extraordinary first collection, which is marked throughout by a pulsing, joyful intelligence. Richard Kelly Kemick delivers us onto the great lone land with the precision and beauty of his lines. The book is breathtaking."
- Time Lilburn, author of Assinboia
"Caribou Run honours its titles subject by its sheer depth of research and by its willingness to explore the relationship between man and nature from numerous angles. Wisecracking, earnest, and charmingly obsessive, Kemick introduces himself here as a poet who believes in something larger than his own self, and so is a poet to watch."
- Nich Thran, author of Mayor Snow
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