Cage of Lit Glass, chosen by Kimiko Hahn as winner of the 2018 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, forthcoming September 2019.
Charles Kell’s poems bring out the authentic in all of us. In Cage of Lit Glass he presents an unreal world, and yet these confines are not imaginary. The cages are also not stable: we learn that “[t]here is a phenomenon amongst / former prisoners where after release / they begin to reconstruct the very / dimensions of the cell they once / were housed in.” We learn that if you wish to read a poem, you may as well carve the lines on your wrist. By creating such poems, the reader is separated from their comfort zone, and this is a marvelous feat. After all, awareness is powerful poetic.
The cages in this book are more than metaphors: they are real. Yet when released from any one of them, one is not free: something imaginal remains, immovable, bending with the remover to remove. In the same way, the poems in this book are more than real. They will taunt you with their reticent truculence, enclose you within their translucent opacities long after you have done your time.
This beautiful, unsettling book is a riveting must-read. Cage of Lit Glass restlessly illuminates the injustices of our corruptive class-based society, where trauma, poverty, and incarceration are pernicious inextricable realities for far too many Americans. Kell fully participates in these vital daily struggles, as they are re-enacted with startling lyrical precision and hallucinatory surreality. These are not comfortable meditations considered from a distanced reserve. Instead they’re full of outrage, eroticism, and unpredictable passions. I love this book: its exquisite calibrations, its insistent excavations. Charles Kell is a writer to watch.