A review of
by Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Ever since the Cynical Century rendered the words God and love ironic until further notice, fewer contemporary poems test the faint boundaries separating Plato’s four madnesses—those of lovers, poets, religious ecstatics, and genuine psychotics. It’s just too much work to suspend the belief that the carnal, the aesthetic, the insane, and (especially) the divine are definitively distinct. William Blake, John Clare, and Christopher Smart were lunatic poets in their time (and maybe for all time), and didn’t bother to recognize those boundaries. Neither does Brigit Pegeen Kelly. I imagine she might have been tossed into Bedlam in the seventeenth century, but our understanding of exuberance is more nuanced now. (Today she resides in Illinois in relative safety.) The religious is still perceived as categorically distinct from the avant-garde to those reading by yesterday’s rules—but the result is that it’s now become radical to eschew qualities historically associated with the avant-garde. It’s radical to write nonironically about God. And so we have Kelly, drowning us in blood-tinged honey, radicalizing the love poem into the twenty-first century.
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