Brigit Pegeen Kelly Critical Essays


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s poetry, steeped in a religious symbolism that is at times devout and at other times heretical, develops similar themes across her three collections: namely the beauty and brutality of a nature both Edenic and fallen (often portrayed through the figure of a doe), the separation of child from parent as a parallel to humanity’s separation from God, and life as inextricably linked to myth. Kelly’s meditative style and deliberateness of language, particularly her repetitions of words and phrases, produce a hypnotic effect that adds to the surrealistic quality of her poems. Each poem, with its methodical narrative and intersection of the real and the fantastic, becomes a breathtaking myth or parable that arises organically out of the speaker’s encounters with the world, rather than being imposed on the reader through overly obvious allusions and archetypes.

To the Place of Trumpets

Kelly’s first volume, To the Place of Trumpets, selected by James Merrill for publication in the Yale Series of Younger Poets, established many of the motifs that would continue to evolve throughout her poetry. The garden, fruit, child and parent, and the numinous all appear in her poem, “The Leaving,” which begins by announcing its occasion: “My father said I could not do it,/ but all night I picked the peaches./ . . ./ I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.” As in Robert Frost’s poem “After Apple-Picking,” the exhaustion caused by the hypnotically repetitive motion brings on a sort of revelation: “all night my hands/ twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors/ . . ./ the morning came,/ and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses/ just after it has been rung. . . .” The poem ends, literally and figuratively, with vision: the orchard’s pond “full of fish and eyes.”


Perhaps the best-known and best-loved of Kelly’s work is the title poem of Song, in which the Orphic head of a beloved pet goat, Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, beheaded by some boys as a cruel prank, continues to sing in the night, haunting them. The boys would wake to hear sounds that became “the low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call./ Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song/ Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.”

Deer often appear in Kelly’s poems, taking the form of a messenger from a transcendent plane. Equally often, these deer take on a sacrificial aspect, seeming to offer themselves in death in order to deliver the message, as in “Dead Doe,” where the speaker spies the animal’s carcass near the school bus stop where she is waiting with her young child: “the doe...

(The entire section is 1121 words.)