has a new look

Go to the new

Review of Collin Kelley's Better To Travel - by D. Herrle


Better To Travel

by Collin Kelley

ISBN  0595284094

Published by iUniverse  © 2003




I am seldom invested in poetry books.  I usually must imbibe poetry in small does, lest I lose interest.  All in all, I prefer prose work.  But Kelley's BETTER TO TRAVEL is one of the rare works that sidestepped that preference.


The title itself implies movement, flux, action from somewhere to somewhere.  And BTT substantiates this implication consistently throughout.  The back cover reveals the book's premise: a physical flight from a moribund relationship.  But the destination is more vaguely identified: "sights unseen" (the title of the book's closing piece).


But the flight from heartache is also mental and spiritual, of course.  And gradually the reader finds that the flight *from* heartache was not wholly accurate---for the heartache is a fellow passenger on the plane, a haunting mate on London streets, a taunting vision in troubled dreams.  The narrator's European trip seems a half-real vacation with a ghost: a reluctant self-exile ("Consider me exiled, expatriate, excommunicated.") from the lost love that he cannot ungrasp.


Kelley is not specific about *who* this lost love is.  The flashbacks and lucid imaginations emanate a more essential power and presence rather than a meaty person.  The narrator focuses on both real and fantastic shared moments: "How quickly I am in that place that is nowhere at all".  He has fled to a dreamscape, a healing purgatory.  And he admits this, even to his former love: "Your presence more spectre than spatial."


The book also mentions timely world events and issues that serve as a chronological backdrop for the narrator's journey.  By book's end he returns to America, but sees that he is still in a foreign land---for he must relearn language and behavior and even love.


The craft itself can be initially mistaken by folks tired of diary-type works as yet more typical "confessional" poetry.  But by the first poem's conclusion, I was relieved and invested. For the rest of BTT I felt as if I was a second set of the narrator's eyes---and a second wounded heart.


Kelley's style is nimble, clever, and injects very notable lines without setting us up for them.  They are felt like snowflakes suddenly dropped on noses.


Which brings me to an attempt to describe the book with a brief image that comes to my mind in its regard:


BETTER TO TRAVEL is a snowglobe, just shaken, containing a cozy house locked to the world and those lost outside and a winter-forlorned but beautiful tree.  And between the tree and the locked, lighted house a lonely, outcast man is sprawled on his back in the snow, slowly and grievously making snow angels with his arms and legs.  Each time the man sweeps his limbs he becomes a bit younger---and the pain that drove him outside breathes out into the snow, freeing him.


I'm not sure why that image arose from my reading Kelley's book, but it serves as a mood indicator: be prepared for both pain and pleasantry, warmth and cold, death and rebirth.


Perhaps the image was planted by a part in my favorite piece:


"Here is the snow I never

saw this season and the

great house I run towards.

If I go indoors does it mean

I cannot cope?"






[back to top]  [home]

© 2003 SubtleTea Productions   All Rights Reserved