A review of Creature by Rosalee Kiely

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

by Rosalee Kiely
Ginninderra Press
ISBN: 9781760416775, 64pp, $20, Jan 2019

Rosalee Kiely is a journalist with degrees in arts and science as well as honours in Australian literature, she has previously written for Melbourne Review of Books. Creature is her first book of poetry published by Ginninderra Press, one of the few publishers who keep poetry alive.
The poems in this collection cover many areas from the personal to the general, from the subjective to the concrete; they linger through very effective image making. Kiely poetry is clever and accessible and her ideas flow in sensory experiences. The writing is confident in range and depth. The poems are rich in veiled feelings, sometimes coloured by banalities and others tainted with pain and nostalgia. The poet arranges words into poems that appear to have a life of their own … words that turn into a being, a creature, like in “Ferry”:

when to stop
begins seam

A trout belly

at sea
the membrane
of horizon

split water
from air
less certain

than a

shark embryo
heartbeats in a
backlit egg



and ignorant:
and nothing else.

Creature starts with a few straightforward poems, but as the reader enters into the depth of the book the poems become increasingly well crafted and more profound in meaning. It is as if the writer grew as she wrote the book. This does not mean that those few early poems are not loaded with beauty and value, they are evocative and an have excellent rhythm like “Halifax”:

When I lived with strangers
we left tomato
on the floor for a month

the harbor smoked on cold
days we crossed sheets of ice
to the supermarket

we took tequila with lemon in
salty plastic cups that eased
nothing so much as

when I lived with you

snow fell for the orange night
I pulled my bones
across the wind-hauled street

you spun me to pop songs
in the Pacific-themed nightclub

soles felt earth through
ruptured snow and always
you said stay close.

The reader will encounter a faint sensuality in Creature. It is interesting to note how water, the sea and rivers provide strong images. Kiely excels when writing very vivid descriptions like in “Snow Fruit”:

Wonder, season’s snow
fledged in cool-box of air
warms into the tall earth
molten in plant feet, falling

drops and veins from the
named and unnamed hills
calling down to meet water
droplets of all the mountains

by fast rivers a drain
incises the ground to a lake
falls by dam and
a dam

the click of an oarlock
in hill-deep tunnels
inland to straight cuts
green as Eden on a bone.

Wonder, the river
blasted by thumbs against
every gravity, winces
an allocation

into its own valley, ghost-worn
by relentless spring
explosions, droplet rally
en masse to sea. Or the scour

ends in fruit. Rub an apple
on your sleeve.
Bite. Ahead everything
is decided

but there, in snow
do not underestimate a tunnel
weir, turbine, station, switch.
The mystery is what they cannot hold.

In some of the poems the reader will find words that speak of sadness, of a broken relationship, of a past, words that are subtle, as rose petals flying in the wind, like “After All”.

the stars are mapped in the sky these several years
the summer countryside yellow
solace makes me wonder, the gummed-up eaves
will rinse their steel rainwater
beauty is the thing that hooks the guts
I was afraid hundreds of times like a bone

that will not sing, except —

flooding it down the highway, saying nothing
the claim of his hand

his hand, his hand.

Some of the poems have a narrative vein, but it is a fractured narrative the fracture is very slim, as thin as a cut on a crystal glass. The domestic, the mundane, the minutia, the familiar, all is transformed into poetry. Kiely observes life, she ponders, she reflects and she writes. I suspect that the poet sometimes writes and edits perhaps too quickly, some poems could be improve by utilizing synonyms or other figures of speech, like in “I Would Send This In Your Gentle Time”, a beautiful poem with a weak line like: ‘remembering their mother I remember.’

Creature is alive, the poet brings to reality places embedded with fondness, sometimes with fear others exuding peace and solitude. “Glacier” is one of those poems:

go into the fern and moss
gathered, undilute
green in the rain out of town
and go past it.

go until the moonish flat
is marked by falls
veining the valley in rain

toward the glacier
slumped in its sleep-gouged
chamber, creature shrink
of retreat, fluttering

go where the melt menaces
grey water, bearing threat
bearing redemption.

There are poems that are closed doors and locked gates, inviting the reader to search for the key that will release their meaning. Broken relationships, industrial issues, fish that get fat … the reader tiptoes on the edge of a forest, a forest where the leaves are pages, pages with words, words that mesmerize the one who dares to enter the forest where creature inhabit. Read at your own risk, but you wont be disappointed.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello, is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has written four books of poetry, three novels and a play. She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.