Chap Chat: Collin Kelley's After the Poison

The poems in Collin Kelley's After the Poison are aggressive, angry discussions of war: wars abroad, the big and small conflicts in the US, and wars we have within ourselves. Kelley writes about strife and fallout with confidence, and it's his clear voice that makes these poems gel. He laments wars waged for oil, the fallout from 9/11, human trafficking, and Hurricane Katrina, but his laments are not mere exercises in political outcry. A compassion underpins each poem, like the speaker's concern for the homeless seeking refuge at a San Francisco library in "Hurt:"

... I realize I could be
one of them, in my soaked coat and plastered hair.
The woman next to me, her mouth agape,
toothless and sucking air, watches
Johnny Cash singing Hurt.
Her hand quivers over the keyboard,
imitating Johnny's palsy piano shake
as June Carter cries on the stairs and
the woman will spend her allotted time
watching this over and over again, return
to the end of the line and watch again,
her face a slate, except when the music starts.

Pain abounds in these poems, but that is because Kelley wants us to see who is harmed by political and social recklessness. He writes in "Fatwa:" "Let me show you the other America, the fed up / America, the persecuted and the poor, left to die." The poet draws attention to injustice in a blatantly political way, reviving important protest poetry for readers who need it.

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