Claire Kelly’s Ur-Moth (Frog Hollow Press, 2014).
Claire Kelly published the poem “First Hot Day” in The Puritan Issue 31.
Two things I’ve learned from looking back at this poem: 1) I’m rather slow and 2) my subconscious is smarter than I am.
Rundown: this poem came out of my thesis, Taking the Same Route, which gradually morphed into my upcoming book, Maunder (Palimpsest Press, Spring 2017) and which for a number of years (until October 2015) I believed was simply about walking.
I had moved from my home town, Ajax, Ontario, to Fredericton, NB to attend UNB. I got a loud, drippy apartment across from the late-night pita restaurant. I got lost going to the mall to buy rubber boots. I was petrified of literary theory and the ease with which my fellow students understood and used it. I got lost on campus. I fell in adult love. I got lost (twice) coming home from the grocery store located on the street my lover lived on. I attempted to fit in as well as I could. I got lost, a lot. So I decided to write poems about walking around my new town in order to not get lost as often, to force myself out of my own head by reflecting not just on reflecting, but on the physical and observational act that walking also is. It wasn’t until I was at parties trying to describe my thesis to people that I noticed that my reason for choosing walking poetry was odd, even pedestrian (sorry). And I had flashbacks to the time in undergrad where I haphazardly chose to do an essay on the economic impact of first-world policies on Indonesia because I like orangutans. Other people had these great ideas and philosophies behind their choices, and I was just trying to make a mental map of where I was.
“First Hot Day” is a walk that happened. I think I wrote it in early June, 2011. Most of it is true. There was an abandoned pacifier. My shorts were super dug-out-of-the-bottom-drawer wrinkly, and I had wincingly pale legs. The flowers were startling after my first maritime winter. Our neighbour archaically suntanned in the parking lot. A cat was adorable. However, the poem has a through line. I just didn’t know what it was, and because people seemed to like it, I truthfully didn’t reflect much on what that line might be until now. In finding the meaning running down the spine of the poem, I feel more like I wrote the poem today. It was a draft, and, without changing a word, the poem is finished in a way it just plain wasn’t before.
In finding the meaning running down the spine of the poem, I feel more like I wrote the poem today.
I’m pretty sure now that the through-line is an attempt to find connection with a place that is becoming home, finding it, and being unsure about what that means. The first half of the poem has images that are alienating: the otherworldly mouth-stopper, the pristine flowers, and the speaker’s legs seemingly dug out of the earth where the flowers dance. The girl on the chair, at first, seems to belong with the flowers: they’re prima donnas and she’s a lounging ballerina. But then she is, like the speaker, just making due. Then, that peachy cat flops like the speaker’s her owner, open to being pet or, disturbingly, to being kicked. That’s the poem’s core: that to belong somewhere is to be open with those who belong there as well, to be open to the possibility of being scratched under the chin or being socked in it. That belonging can be frightening, but is almost always dreadfully necessary.
And now looking back, when it comes to the whole thesis, I’m beginning to think my answer of “Walking around Freddy” was not entirely true. Some of the poems, maybe my favourite ones, are probably about what it means to craft a home for oneself. I sidestepped (I will stop punning) what I was scared of: not being lost, but being home. Of course, my subconscious got there years before I did.
(The puns in this piece are dedicated to Micah O’Donnell, a Frederictonian who made us feel at home and who loves puns.)
Claire Kelly’s first poetry chapbook, Ur-Moth, was published by Frog Hollow Press in 2014. Her first book, Maunder, will be available from Palimpsest Press in Spring 2017. Recently, one of her poems came in second place in Prairie Fire’s Bliss Carman Poetry Contest and another poem honourably mentioned in the CV2 Young Buck Competition. She currently calls Edmonton home.