Aileen Kelly

On a recent plane trip from Wagga to Sydney, I was talking to an engineer who uses X-ray technology to examine the deep structure of aircraft after stress, to assess airworthiness. Complicated, fascinating, with considerable and direct bearing on passenger safety. By way of exchange, I read him parts of Aileen Kelly’s ‘Simple’, an impressive poem that, in three stanzas, X-rays the history of Christianity. One of the latter’s faultlines ‘racked / sweet fanatic poets between lambchrist / and tigerchrist’. Other stress fractures are ‘the dark arcades / where losers piss themselves / off the edge of memory’. My travelling companion had an immediate sense of Kelly’s fine metaphysics, which, as the back-page blurb glosses, finds ‘the numinous in the undeniably secular’.

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‘Some meteorites make it to the surface simply because they’re so small that they literally float to the ground. There are thousands of these interplanetary particles in the room you’re in now, stuck to your clothes, in your hair, everywhere.’ This startling piece of information introduces Aileen Kelly’s ‘Notes from the Planet’s Edge’ in her new book, City and Stranger (Five Islands Press, $16.95 pb, 88pp), whose cover features Russell Drysdale’s iconic image of Woman in a Landscape. This bushwoman, then, is stuck with interplanetary particles or, as Kelly puts it, ‘the invisible sift of space’. Drysdale’s woman is transformed from the Australian legend in the dirt-coloured smock, wearing those oddly impractical white shoes, into a figure framed by an immense and moving universe. We look for this in poetry – the breaking of frames, the pleasure of surprise and discovery, and the contest between language and experience.

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