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March 14, 2017 / barton smock

{review for Kelli Allen’s ~Imagine Not Drowning~ C&R Press, 2016}

Imagine Not Drowning
Kelli Allen
(C & R Press, 2016)

available here:


review by Barton Smock


Kelli Allen rescues nothing in her book ~Imagine Not Drowning~. Instead, she makes an acolyte of stillness. There is lightning, here, and there are glyph-obsessed waters. Allen says ‘we keep vigil for signifiers’ (from Ghosting), and it feels final, feels already saved. Why follow? What does a named creature understand? I can tell you Allen makes one feel a name is still being said somewhere in a book signed by its readers. The language in this collection goes where it’s called, some borderless upward, some nest made for mouth. This poet can on one hand etch ‘direction only makes us brave the first time’ (from Bravery, you said, is not what it used to be) while on the other tattooing ‘every night is a lifelong sentence about home’ (from Reformation). These are good hands to be in. As a poet, Allen knows the body as a map without a country. She outlines, yes, but knows one need not be dust and is a lover of those stomachs full of eaten chalk. Her disorientations are precise.

In the poem (We name the totems with every morning), Allen writes ‘…If I dive deep into the ocean / and find a camel, everything I know / will cease to matter’. I was wrong. She rescues that camel.


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