Montreal author Kaie Kellough follows up his debut novel, Accordéon (a finalist for the 2017 Amazon.ca First Novel Award), with a third book of poetry that is similarly polyphonic, situating angst and ancestry over a palimpsest of the city and suburbs. In 10 long poems, Kellough takes us from the Amazon rainforest, where there are “infinite inputs and outputs. / exponential root strata. riotous snakes. quarter-inch jacks & heads,” to the suburbs of Calgary, where the speaker in the poem is “the only / boy who did not dream of sex with the stanley cup, but of suicide.”
Many of these poems are constructed through assemblage. In “high school fever,” news stories of police brutality toward racialized people are braided with the first-person experience of smoking hash while listening to music, “the singer’s patois” allowing the speaker to access his past and reach up to the ozone layer in a vision both transcendent and heartbreaking. In “bow” and “essequibo,” the path of the poem is forged by superimposing passages on mapped images of the eponymous rivers.
Magnetic Equator brims with influence and relation, sparking dialogue with books such as Omeros by Derek Walcott and A Map to the Door of No Return by Dionne Brand, both acknowledged influences. Ultimately, Kellough engages with the larger historical experience of diaspora writers and exiles, among whom identity’s hyphen is a “divining rod.”
Kellough’s strategies with source texts also create a dynamism of form, shifting from sentence fragments to litany within a single poem. The evolving forms teach us how to read them as we proceed, their reflexivity guided by an associative chain of sound and rhythm. They leave us with a strong aural resonance that conveys resilience through the sheer fact of sound. Most of all, the “i” that reappears throughout reminds us of composite histories, where we are always “between, among, / within, beneath, atop.” The negotiation of one’s position in relation to people, forces, and flows emphasizes the construction of the self out of a polyphony of voices – it reveals the false binary between self and collective.
Magnetic Equator informs as it enchants with its rare combination of documentary poetics and confessional voice.