Sundress Reads: Review of Hallelujah Science

What if you were able to dance between reality and dreams, flicker in and out of shadows, and melt from life to death, in a mere moment? Kelli Stevens Kane’s debut poetry collection Hallelujah Science (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020) is a masterful lesson in transmutation and revelation. Hungry and electrifying, Kane’s poems burn with the wild energy of becoming and the haunting stillness of shadows. In a collection of lucid and piercing vignettes, the speaker floats outside of her own body, conducts an orchestra of the dead, and shakes the planet until a song is left standing. Reading these poems is a mind-altering experience, as previously closed doors are thrown open, finding yourself straddling the in-between spaces of thresholds: “No matter where I am, / I’m in the middle of something / in the middle / of something / lost.” Even the non-sequential numbers of Hallelujah Science’s poems tell us that we’re no longer in the realm of any linear narrative.

Kane revels in shadows and darkness, the supernatural and the spiritual. These poems haunt and tremble with otherworldly knowledge, as if we have been invited to lift the veil and experience how the reality of everyday life is intertwined with the extraordinary: “Of course everything revolves around me— / the moon, the stars, the grocery clerks. / Picture me higher than the clouds, / orchestrating lightning flashes.” There is a connective heartbeat thrumming throughout these poems, a pulsing and vital energy that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. In “(62),” the line “and I can’t seem to lie still” describes the experience of reading these poems, this relentless desire to remake yourself. Kane reminds us that we are made up of the same stuff as the universe, that we are of this world and part of its sacredness. The success of this collection lies in its ability to transform what is logical and ordinary into something that is both metaphysical and inexplicable.

Many of these poems have a nursery rhyme feel, their language deceptively simplistic and full of childhood whimsy. Kane notes that a majority of these poems were drafted in the 1990s, when she worked as a nursery schoolteacher. Directly inspired by her students, whose language “was the amniotic fluid in which these early poems grew,” this collection very much feels like we’ve stepped into a child’s beautiful and unspooling imagination. Kane’s poetry is wild, magical, and sustained through endless possibility. Throughout this collection, we let ourselves marvel at the world and each other. There is an earnest and shimmering innocence here in poems like “(84),” where the father’s magic trick ends in a burst of joy: “my father / juggles eggs / and one time / the ceiling caught one. / the yellow yolk / landed / laughing.” Hallelujah Science is whip-smart, delightful, and charming, inviting us to laugh and cry, to be unconstrained and bewildered, to cut ourselves on the sharp edges of these poems and knit ourselves back together with the tenderness of a mother.

Kane’s exploration of identity through Blackness and motherhood forms the dynamic undercurrent of this collection, as she delves into the ever unfolding and endlessly shimmering darkness. Here, Blackness is rich and generative and open, refusing to coalesce or constrain itself. In these poems, we are always already immersed in the process of discovery and unruly materialization: “it’s okay to close your eyes in the dark / there’s no such thing as too black / clouds go somewhere on a clear night / the moon, unseen, knew.” Domestic and wild, uncanny and unyielding, Hallelujah Science leans into life in all its messy and visceral beauty. Intimations of motherhood recur throughout the collection, yet they are complicated and unsettling at times: “I hunger for these dreams / I draw one in, and she curls up / pondering my stomach / tasting womb, deciding nothing.” Kane imagines many possibilities of mothering, nurturing, and sustaining one another, yet resists ebbing into total softness.  

Kane guides us to almost unbearable extremes, where you will feel like you are burning up or shivering alongside the speaker. This fever dream of a collection is grounded in the verdant, familiar world that we inhabit. In “(40),” the speaker lists all of the things they’ll miss when they die, including “the sound of any living creatures breathing” and “the dark green shape of ivy.” Kane offers us refuge in the most beautifully humdrum parts of our lives. In the last poem in Hallelujah Science, the speaker tells us: “I cut / a moment and watch it sprout a million minute petals / they pick me up / and carry me / back to the beginning / (once upon a time) / where there are no / sharp / things.” The ending brings us back to the beginning, reminding us of the importance of regeneration and embracing impossibilities. Haunting and revelatory, you will be immersed in this strange and lovely collection of poems. You’ll want to dwell in Kane’s world forever, where divisions between time and space, dream and reality, body and spirit all collapse, and where you can be both ordinary and full of phantasmal light. 

Hallelujah Science is available at Spuyten Duyvil

Abigail Renner is a junior at George Washington University studying English and American Studies. She is currently a writing consultant in her university writing center, where she loves unearthing writers’ voices and reading across a myriad of genres. She dreams of living on a farm, filling her shelves with romance novels, and laughing with friends over cups of peppermint tea.

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