Karla Kelsey is an exciting voice in contemporary poetry. In many ways, her work reads as an extension of the Modernist tradition of feminist writers, who responded through poetic craft to the male philosophers of their particular historical moment. Like H.D.’s poetic revisions of Freud, Marianne Moore’s artistic deconstructions of William James, and Gertrude Stein’s artistic dialogue with Bergson, Kelsey destabilizes, through form and technique, the very foundations of the intellectual tradition we have inherited. What’s more, her work uses poetic craft to make observations about the nature of thought and affect that are rarely possible in the academic language that is typically the chosen vehicle for philosophy and theory.
With these ideas in mind, Of Certainty reads as an extension of earlier projects, such as Of Sphere and Forms, Knowledge, the Aviary, while at the same time deepening Kelsey’s engagement with poetry as a vehicle for philosophical inquiry. Here, the lyric tradition is brought to bear on lingering questions of consciousness, spectacle, and the self. “I had acted of my own accord or had I acted according to the Tyrant,” she writes in the opening lines. As the work unfolds, Kelsey offers us a revolution in poetic language, showing us the intellectual freedom inherent in poetic craft.