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Kelvin Kellman: The Poet as a Cartographer

by Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera

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I first read Kelvin Kellman’s poetry in the now-defunct Cabildo Quarterly where his poems, “A Nigerian Christmas” and “Harmattan” were published. The poems detail the experiences that mark the seasons in their titles, respectively. They are easy to understand and by no means complex. In “A Nigerian Christmas” you easily recognise yourself in the poem amidst the myriad of Christmas activities it describes, re-enacting the festive season. The Christmas poem thus ends, “At home, guests in their hoards grace the parlour. Soon / zippy lips and clanging china are the only sounds in the / quiet. No retire nor surrender, till they eat their bellies taut.” The same behaviour in Kellman’s language appears in the poem “Harmattan” where he tries to recreate the dry, cold and harsh temperament of the season when he says, “Our lips succumb, slitting in chemistry to the dry, thin air. / Owing to the chill, mornings—for those daring enough to / leave the comfort of their duvet—are typified by languid movements.”

As a painter of words, poems which explore memory are often the best as they serve the poet a bursting image perfected by the past. Kellman’s poem “Picture Imperfect,” published in the third volume of Rigorous journal, paints a haunting memory of family history; of his father’s marriage, his grandmother’s loss of sight, and how photographs preserve images. He describes the camera’s character in the same vein of what fuels his artistry. He asks, “But / what are photographs save perfect captures constrained to moments?” Photography, like poetry, can preserve moments. But poetry moves the story beyond the moment; just as in the poem, Kellman converges the happy moments of his young father’s marriage to his bride, his grandmother going blind, and his (Kellman’s) birth a decade later.

Kellman does not shy away from social justice. In “Massacre,” he writes about the #EndSARS of October, 2020. Language is simply employed as a graphic lens to review the events which led to the protest, the days of the protest, and the tragedy of the protesters who were shot at. The tone underlying the poem is grief and a lamentation of helplessness: 

In lieu however, they besieged us with guns and bullets.

And that mantra, spewed out of their crooked tongues:

I will kill you and nothing will happen! . . .

Kellman writes about everything; his environment, social justice, festive seasons, and generally what happens around him. His works exist to show us that poetry can be expressed in simple ways. One of his strengths is his uniqueness, quite lacking in our time where most poems read monotonously.

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Michael Chiedoziem Chukwudera is a freelance journalist and essayist. Follow him on Twitter @ChukwuderaEdozi.