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Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Brigit Pegeen Kelly was born in Palo Alto, California, in 1951.

Her first collection of poems, To The Place of Trumpets (1987), was selected by James Merrill for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Song (BOA Editions), which followed in 1995, was the 1994 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her third collection, The Orchard (2004), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry.

About her work, the poet Stephen Dobyns has said, "Brigit Pegeen Kelly is one of the very best poets now writing in the United States. In fact, there is no one who is any better. Not only are her poems brilliantly made, but they also give great pleasure. Rarely are those two qualities seen together in one poet."

Kelly was the 2008 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. Her other honors include a "Discovery"/The Nation Award, the Cecil Hemley Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest, and a Whiting Writers Award, as well as fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois State Council on the Arts, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts.

Her work has also appeared in several volumes of the Pushcart Prize Anthology and several volumes of The Best American Poetry.

She has taught at the University of California at Irvine, Purdue University, Warren Wilson College, and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, as well as numerous writers' conferences in the United States and Ireland. In 2002 the University of Illinois awarded her both humanities and campus-wide awards for excellence in teaching. She died in October 2016.


Selected Bibliography

Poems: Song and the Orchard (Carcanet Press Ltd, 2008)
The Orchard (BOA Editions, 2004)
Song (BOA Editions, 1995)
To The Place of Trumpets (Yale University Press, 1987)

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Photo credit: Brian Palmer

By This Poet

6

The Leaving

My father said I could not do it,
but all night I picked the peaches.
The orchard was still, the canals ran steadily.
I was a girl then, my chest its own walled garden.
How many ladders to gather an orchard?
I had only one and a long patience with lit hands
and the looking of the stars which moved right through me
the way the water moved through the canals with a voice
that seemed to speak of this moonless gathering
and those who had gathered before me.
I put the peaches in the pond's cold water,
all night up the ladder and down, all night my hands
twisting fruit as if I were entering a thousand doors,
all night my back a straight road to the sky.
And then out of its own goodness, out
of the far fields of the stars, the morning came,
and inside me was the stillness a bell possesses
just after it has been rung, before the metal
begins to long again for the clapper's stroke.
The light came over the orchard.
The canals were silver and then were not.
and the pond was--I could see as I laid
the last peach in the water--full of fish and eyes.

The Visitation

God sends his tasks 
and one does 
them or not, but the sky 
delivers its gifts 
at the appointed 
times: With spit and sigh, 
with that improbable 
burst of flame, the balloon 
comes over
the cornfield, bringing 
another country 
with it, bringing 
from a long way off 
those colors that are at first 
the low sound
of a horn, but soon 
are many horns, and clocks, 
and bells, and clappers 
and your heart 
rising to the silence 
in all of them, a silence 
so complete that 
the heads of the corn 
bow back before it 
and the dog flees in terror 
down the road 
and you alone are left 
gazing up
at three solemn visitors
swinging
in a golden cage
beneath that unbelievable chorus of red
and white, swinging
so close you cannot move
or speak, so close
the road grows wet with light,
as when the sun flares,
after an evening storm
and you become weightless, falling
back in the air
before the giant oak 
that with a fiery burst 
the balloon
just clears.

The Satyr's Heart


Now I rest my head on the satyr's carved chest,
The hollow where the heart would have been, if sandstone
Had a heart, if a headless goat man could have a heart.
His neck rises to a dull point, points upward
To something long gone, elusive, and at his feet
The small flowers swarm, earnest and sweet, a clamor
Of white, a clamor of blue, and black the sweating soil
They breed in...If I sit without moving, how quickly
Things change, birds turning tricks in the trees,
Colorless birds and those with color, the wind fingering
The twigs, and the furred creatures doing whatever
Furred creatures do. So, and so.  There is the smell of fruit
And the smell of wet coins. There is the sound of a bird
Crying, and the sound of water that does not move...
If I pick the dead iris?  If I wave it above me
Like a flag, a blazoned flag?  My fanfare? Little fare
with which I buy my way, making things brave? The way
Now I bend over and with my foot turn up a stone,
And there they are: the armies of pale creatures who
Without cease or doubt sew the sweet sad earth.

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