Poet and writer Tina Kelley captivated a full audience with a reading of her works at the Ethical Culture Society on Friday night
By Donald Pun
Amidst the mix of wonderful artwork that comprised the first-ever Eclectic Chaos 4-50 Art Show and Auction at the Ethical Culture Society this past weekend, a brief and beautiful pause occurred on Friday evening, in the form of a poetry reading by Tina Kelley.
Kelley is a well-known Maplewoodian—as both a Tuscan mom and former New York Times reporter and editor. Kelley was the founding editor of the now gone—though still fondly remembered—New York Times Local blog for Maplewood, South Orange and Millburn.
Kelley took the lectern of the Culture Society's main room a little after 8 p.m. on Friday, November 19, as the crowd gathered and pianist Shandon Campbell finished a stylish and thoughtful set. She was surrounded by artwork of all types—from brass rubbings to colorful paintings and sculpture, tile work and kinetic, robotic spider-like pieces on the floor.
We start together by inhaling together, the picturing, quickly,
how cherry trees hold their petals suspended above the ground.
—excerpted from "Instructions from the Choir Director"
The poet held the audience's attention easily with a conversational, inviting style and an even, clear reading voice. Kelley read poems from her first book, The Gospel of Galore, which was published in 2003 by Word Press and won a Washington State Book Award, along with more recent pieces from her second collection, Precise, which is currently a volume in search of a publisher.
The poems ranged widely and delightfully in subject matter, including a look back on what it was like being a daily reporter ("Man On The Street"), a memory of Route 287 before it became what it is today ("When Cars Took Over the New Highway"), poems about singing ("The Singing Cure" and "Instructions from the Choir Director"), and amusing, love-filled meditations on her children ("First Flight Just The Two of Us" and "Cat Sense").
"Towards the end [of the evening], I'm going to read two about my kids," Kelley stated at one point, looking out knowingly into the seated circle of listeners. "Because they have to be good. I told them if they were good I would read poems about them… so I'm saving them for last." Both Kelley's children were in attendance as were her husband, her mother and a crowded roomful of other Kelley fans and poetry lovers. And, yes, the children/muses were very well-behaved all night and did get their poems in the end.
You are the Friday night of a long
weekend, all potential. You're my
life son, jackknife in the gene pool.
—excerpted from "First Flight Just The Two of Us"
Though her work runs the gamut of topics, all of Kelley's poetry carries the common threads of seemingly effortless lyricism, a strong engagement with nature and the spirit, and a thoughtful, warm compassion for all those around her. Kelley's poems share flattering similarities with the poetry of Mary Oliver, James Wright, Ted Roethke and even Billy Collins. But, ultimately, her literary voice is one all her own.
"It has given me many moments of deep thought and reflection," said Hilding Lundquist, director of the 3rd Saturday Arts Night group that organized the art show, in reference to Kelley's work. "The poetry of Tina Kelley allows me to pause and think about some very deep things that have happened in my life, and connect to them."
By the end of the evening, it was apparent to all the members of the audience what he meant by that comment, having just shared a quiet, late autumn night of simple, poetic transcendence with Kelley and her deeply fulfilling words.
It included love's most crucial passage,
and you will have to listen to know.
I hear someone with my voice singing
in the alley. When we are very, very weary,
doesn't smiling wake us up a bit?
—excerpted from "The Singing Cure"
To learn more about, and read more of, Tina Kelley's poetry, as well as to purchase her book, The Gospel of Galore, click here to go to her blog (http://tinakelleypoetry.wordpress.com/).