Tributary, Kevin McLellan


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The poems of Kevin McLellan’s highly accomplished first collection are haunting and elliptical but never oblique or encoded. Lightning flashes of insight, memory, elegy, and stern self-reckonings illuminate the horizons of these poems, which are unsettling and ecstatic by turns. These are the poems of ‘polysemy without mask’ that Paul Celan strove to write, and Kevin McLellan is a poet of singular promise.
—David Wojahn


Writing with a matrix of loss, Tributary begins where language is most labile and finds manifest reasons for praise. Here is a blueprint of what I can only call the partiality of human experience, where time and perception offer moments, never totalities, of individual purpose for existing. If it is true ‘that a you doesn’t / exist, and one hundred / and two times over / faith is lost’ (“Hands: A Tribute”), it is equally true that these poems pay homage to the nature of that secondary state, where faith is as often found. Locating the tribute inside of Tributary, this book is an impressive debut, and Kevin McLellan might well be a Heraclitus for the twenty-first century.
—Claudia Keelan



“the mind, my mind/is cut flowers: I lost/my body between/field and vases…”  


“When a lasting visitor/mirrors slowness/and up until now/darts across my red sky.”  


How to Survive a Plague

groundwater gushes the sidewalk / funnels
into the avenue / no / in reverse from here
blood follows the puckered sidewalk / licks up
contaminants / enters a recumbent body


chamber music + Verde Luz + emphatic
Ravel at St. John’s = to ponder once more
each passing day / if each passing
day without faith is recoverable


empty the saltwater from the bowl
holding the rose quartz cluster
and slowly pour new saltwater over
the crystals / now the almost-full bowl


composed of turquoise the subconscious
beach / the tide cleans makeshift
changing rooms for sleeping chambers
/ yes the color is believed to fend off tigers


a he-runner victoriously in turquoise shorts
but does he know turquoise is derived
from Old French for Turkish / to want
to bathe with him / no / to want more


the twinks ignore a mint tea sipping gay
as they wait for to-go macchiatos /
he is twice their age / he is used to them /
he can never get used to this


an i surfaces as if from out of silhouette
/ out of desire / out of sleep / out of routine
/ out of doubt / out of the ground / out
he says light light light light light light into light