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Headliner Spotlight: Kevin McLellan

New Hampshire-raised poet and video artist Kevin McLellan’s complex and moving collection SKY. POND. MOUTH. is the winner of our Granite State Poetry Prize and our first published collection on Yas Press. I usually share a video of a poet reading one poem, but the videos I found of McLellan reading were pretty low fidelity, so I thought I’d just talk about the book. 

SKY. POND. MOUTH. is formally diverse and psychologically rich while also having a striking starkness and sense of solitude—qualities that are not at all contradictory if you’re familiar with New Hampshire, where the more bustling suburban realm of southeastern New England begins to fade into a landscape that’s both grander and lonelier, a landscape Charles Simic refused to leave—so he told one interviewer, at least—because he feared he'd miss a certain tree on his property too much. 

Many such trees dot McLellan’s poetic landscape, whether in the form of a geranium on a kitchen table, “two red tulips/ beheaded in a loft,” a “bedroom floor/ open to the outside/ light,” a blue vehicle parked outside the speaker’s workplace, a crumpled piece of paper at a subway station, “the condensation/ on the inside frozen to the window,” or, as it happens, an actual tree, seen in the reflection of the glass cover of a pie plate. These stray images hit eerily hard, laden as they are with subterranean significance; they ground the reader in a world where, as Alexandria Peary observes in her introduction, the self is not solid—it is the speaker, it is the people and things the speaker sees. It’s permeable, it’s divided, it stares at its reflection and stares back as the reflection. Even language starts to deconstruct itself, with one poem laden with crossed-out lines, a couple others explicitly imitating Gertrude Stein. 

What may initially seem to be a terse or icy tone quickly reveals an exquisite sensitivity, an almost stunned excess of feeling instead of a lack. “I am/ so obvious,” McLellan confesses at one point, “I don’t know how/ to be delicate or subtle.” Of course, that’s a huge strength of the collection. At times in these poems, the fact that things are still beautiful, in spite of it all, feels almost scandalous. How could the world do this do us, in the midst of all this pain? Life is uncertain, and the winter is cold—but that’s the point of the winter. And if you grow up in this part of the country, you know that if it isn’t winter, it will be soon enough. Is everything going to be okay? Maybe, but McLellan isn’t so interested in that question. All you’re going to get is how it feels. And it feels true.

Kevin McLellan will read on Saturday, April 13, at the 7 PM reading in the Dimond Library's Courtyard Reading Room. Check our Schedule page for more info about the Festival's offerings, and the Featured Poets page for a full bio.


—Matthew Mallory Dinaro