Tim Kiely, Footprints

Tim Kiely, Footprints, (Amazon Kindle), 28pp, £2.05 (or available directly from @timkiely1)

Reviewed by Wynn Wheldon [Originally published in LP4, November 2014]

Still relatively young, Tim Kiely is already an accomplished poet. It is a rare pleasure to come upon a collection of formally disciplined verse. There is a curious paradox about the formal; its artifice makes it trustworthy. This, I think, is because the reader feels that he or she is being written for, that pains have been taken. Free verse is all too often mere self-expression; we live in an age in which we are encouraged to take feeling for fact or for deep rumination, hence much lazy poetry. Kiely’s is perhaps, at times, even too much the reverse, but there is also understandable pleasure to be taken from the exercise of one’s craft.  Formal verse suggests the pride and pains in the craft, and formality – again the paradox of the limitation – often turns up surprises.

I think the poet has read a lot of Auden, a lot (not that there’s that much) of Fenton, a lot of Eliot.  He’s obviously poetically literate.  Footprints includes a Shakespearian sonnet here (‘Venus de Milo Observed’), an accomplished villanelle there (‘Dance of the Hours’), and a stab at the concrete (‘To be Used in the Event of Travel’ – the figure being a mandala). There’s a sestina, and tetrameters, pentameters, even, indeed, free verse.  He follows, unapologetically, in the footprints – ‘the solid sense’ – of those that have preceded him.

There are plenty of questions in these poems. ‘Is that //All we can say?’ seems to wink at Eliot. ‘Where does a tree / Keep its pain?’  – has he read some Redgrove? ‘What would I give / to be this simply definitive?’ (Eliot again?) – and this is as it should be, a young poet full of curiosity.  But he is vividly aware, too, of the metaphorical nature of things, so that a poem like ‘Rose in September’, while being wholly about its subject is also wholly about mortality. Its epigraph (unidentified) is from Corinthians.

As well as great past poetry, Christianity – specifically Roman Catholicism – also informs and enriches these poems.  ‘Diptych’ is wonderful, a rare example of Catholic eroticism. It brings together precision of observation – sunlight leaves ‘Stitches of diamonds, dotting / Their way into my torpor of blankets’ – prayer, physical love – ‘my fingers have become salty with you’ – and the desire for virtue.

Kiely is very good indeed at intimacy.  Couples ‘roll apart like waves’ or are ‘helixed together’. There are suggestions of deep and tender friendships – ‘we were both held in the palm of hearing / And heard one another better for it.’  Even his observation of the Venus de Milo is a friend’s rather than a gawper’s or a critic’s: ‘You think you have caught her with her guard down / But you will only see what she allows’.

Dead old white poets, prayer, virtue – doesn’t sound very now, does it?   Well, all power to it, for the fact is that it is all rooted very much in the present, whether in the Costa in Holborn or the traffic gridlock of Old Brompton Road, and is distinctive – fresh, in fact – because it does bravely run against current orthodoxies. Footprints deserves wide exposure, and I would be surprised if Kiely’s next collection doesn’t appear between more substantial covers.

Reading Kiely sent me back to A.D. Hope, the great Australian poet, and I’d like to conclude with some lines of his, from a poem entitled ‘With Thee Conversing…’.  I’m not sure quite why they feel so appropriate, except that their near-rhymes, and their combination of the corporal and the transcendent, suggest the sort of thing Kiely may one day achieve.

Talking with you, I cease to care
Where the springs rise and where they flow;
The goal of my search is here
And here my everlasting Now.



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