Poetry in Motion: The varying gaits of Claire Kelly's Maunder

June 8, 2017

"Take this angular threat, a man in heavy shoes" begins Claire Kelly's deeply personal reading of "Before the Dream in which She is Followed Begins", a poem from her latest collection,  Maunder (Palimpsest Press). The lines encompass the crux of this collection: thoughts on how and why people, especially women, walk, and what happens on those walks.

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Claire Kelly’s debut full-length collection of poems, Maunder (Palimpsest Press), looks at the many facets surrounding the physical and imaginative act of walking. The word “maunder” at once describes a mode of walking in a wandering and idle way and a mode of talking indistinctly or disconnectedly. The poems in her collection add another type of maundering, that of the imagination, and they contain in their lines the loveliness of doing nothing but experiencing the world and expressing whatever is sparked in the brain through those experiences. This act of writing what one sees and imagines based on a walk is in the best way at once too much and almost nothing. For as Rebecca Solnit writes in her non-fiction book Wanderlust, “Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is a bodily labour that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals.” So while each poem may not be specifically about walking, such as one where a character enters the belly of a whale, the act of walking has acted as a sparking moment, a moment of rhythm, or the simple space given over to the interior while the body moves seemingly of its own accord.

The act of walking can be complicated by the body one walks in. Claire’s poems often deal with that complication, whether through economics (whether one chooses to walk or is forced to by circumstance), through the female gendered body moving inside the gaze of others, or through describing the different types of gaits that make being a pedestrian more or less difficult, more or less impossible. In one series of poems, Claire looks at the specific movements that different words about walking describe: shuffle, swagger, promenade, lurch and reel, hobble, and strut. The English language seems to have as many words for walking as humans have different gaits. 


Claire K Goofing Around at THE CLAIRES

Claire at THE CLAIRES, a reading hosted by three Claires in Toronto.


Another aspect of the collection is the geographical location where the poems were written: Fredericton, NB. Maunder came out of Claire’s master’s thesis at the University of New Brunswick, which was inspired by the fact that the city had ripped out its train tracks to create walking paths (going from industrial to pastoral) and because she did not want to be constantly lost manoeuvring through a new city. A home is a place where you know the shortcuts and are unlikely to get lost. One aspect of Maunder is the desire to create home in a new location by creating shortcuts and desire paths.

The middle section of the book is organized seasonally to represent the feeling of a year walking the Fredericton streets. Some of the poems reference the works of great walkers, Frank O’Hara and Virginia Woolf, for example, and others reveal the history of the place where she walks: Oscar Wilde’s visit to Fredericton. A traipse through a city as old as Fredericton can be a type of haunting, shoes stepping where other shoe-clad feet have stepped. 

Watch Claire perform “Before the Dream in which She is Followed Begins” from Maunder at THE CLAIRES reading with Claire Caldwell ( Invasive Species, Wolsak & Wynn) and Claire Matthews at The Steady in Toronto.



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Thanks so much to Claire for sharing the ideas and stories behind  Maunder, available now from Palimpsest Press (and thanks too to Liz from Palimpsest for making the connection). For more Poetry in Motion, click here.


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