An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Cinnamon Press
Ty Meiron
Glan yr Afon
Blaenau Ffestiniog
LL41 3SU
ISBN 978 1 905614 20 2

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This page last updated: 14th December 2007.

Christopher Kelen is an Australian poet residing in Macao, where he works at the University's English Department. Although he has published a number of collections in his home country, he makes his UK debut with DREDGING THE DELTA, a collection that largely takes the Portuguese island colony for its theme.

The poems are interspersed with his busy drawings, and it is exciting to see word and image work together in a symbiosis that creates more than the sum of its parts.

Macao comes across as a Babel, perhaps a symbol for our overpopulated times. And at times the poetry is spot on, as in MIDDAY OF THE YEARS' LONG MIDDLE when it describes a wind

	too limp to turn
	the barbers' poles
But in some ways the most memorable parts are the most questionable. RUA DA PORTA, HOLY THURSDAY was jarringly yuck for this perhaps too prudish reviewer:
	everywhere shaved but the top of the head…

	o corpulent with lust
	for your arousal and disgust

	sit on my knee
	and let me be Santa
In THE I CHING'S LOST HEXAGRAMS Kelen muses on the fate of the poet, ending with an inferior riff on famous Séamus Heaney's DIGGING:
	the screen is my scroll
	inkstone and paper
	these are my field
	no choice but to plough
The latter poem is in the tradition of the self-pitying, ever-wandering bohemian poet
	words have made me nobody
	and destitute to boot 
But this is an old gripe, and frankly it's difficult — from where I'm writing — to feel sorry for a man who seems to spend his life bumming about in the sunshine watching the world go by. Swap places?

To be more serious, this does point to a real complaint about the collection. It may be an odd thing to say in a culture that so values 'voice', but it seems to me that Christopher Kelen the personality gets too much in the way of these poems. At times I wanted to beg to be allowed see Macao for myself. And I begged, too, for a change of pace. The languid, semi-conscious lines are no doubt appropriate for the subject matter, but the edges blur and the mind wanders and the odd tightening up would do no harm. All that said, this is a readable collection on an interesting theme, from a poet with an undeniable reputation.

reviewer: Ailbhe Darcy.