Terry Kennedy's Bangalore Blue
Terry Kennedy's Bangalore Blue is a fine collection of poems that explore romantic relationships, the introspective realms of the soul, and spiritual and religious themes. I was initially compelled by the cover image, an oil painting by Alfredo de Batue ("Woman with Snake," 1990), of a voluptuous woman without pubic hair—a wonderful detail—and poised akin to Christ on the cross. Complete with wistful expression and the defined arc of the ribcage, the allusion is unmistakable. Too, there is the snake: A harkening to the Fall? Even being crucified for her earthly desires? Or, did the author choose this illustration to represent herself and her fall from the Catholic Church, with which she freely admits having issues. This beautiful and sensual painting has a softness and acceptance of both the joys and sorrows of this world, just as Kennedy's poems in this collection do.
Upon reading the first few poems in Bangalore Blue, I immediately noted the love theme. In general, I'm not a fan of such poems and collections, mainly because of the difficultly (near impossibility) of creating fresh images that strike the reader in a new way. What one more often ends up with are the same old images that say little about the poet's personal experience or the experience of love in and of itself. What I like about Kennedy's poems, though, are the practical recurring images. It's not the repetition of navel kisses, sleepless nights, stars, idealistic dreams, and the like; instead, it is the yellow quilt that creeps into different poems. Kennedy's descriptions of the everyday things, so crisp and just so, that place the reader directly in the bed with the lovers in the poems.
In "Yellow Quilt": secret bed / with the bright quilt, / yellow as sunflowers
In "4:40AM": All alone on the yellow quilt / that was our nest / for years
In "The Quilt": The quilt cried out in ecstasy / when we lay on her yellow fluff
By now the reader feels as though she, too, owns this quilt and the evolution of the relationship described.
Tangled in the limbs of these sometimes sensual, sometimes sweet, and sometimes sad love poems are images of God—or a god: something more than what we know of in this life. Kennedy shows a tension in her relationship with this entity, and that's OK. What's striking and noteworthy is not the specifics of what she believes, but rather the depths of her belief. Her spirituality.
God, forgive my fury—
But since I cannot let you go
entirely into her heart,
I will kill myself
and take your heart with me
while it still belongs to me only.
On its own this passage can be interpreted in a number of legitimate ways. The same is true when one considers the passage in full context of the poem, "Suicide Note." Sometimes the point is made much more bluntly, however. In the second part of "Boston Boxes" Kennedy is not shy about pointing out how Jesus can fail us, seem absent from us, in our times of most desperate need. "She was too pure—like the May flowers I picked for her. Jesus, I knew, could not save me from the rapes…" And, in a wonderfully blasphemous way (at least in my mother's opinion, I'm sure), she says, "(If he was God, why didn't he just save himself?)."
My favorite poem in this collection is "The River." In this short piece, Kennedy paints a fluid picture of a "wild river" in its varied forms: careening through villages and lying low to allow children to frolic unabashed. The Gods appear, but "refuse" to do anything. (The repetition of the word "refuse" in this piece should not be overlooked.) It is the power of the Earth, of life, that is at work. As women are governed by the tides, by water, the speaker enters at the end of the poem. The "I" reflects: Herself as the creed and she the God not refusing the attempt to control.
Terry Kennedy's Bangalore Blue is largely an exploration of those emotions and beliefs in life that are untouchable, but that we experience with such vivid realism. Kennedy's gift is in her ability to turn these intangibles into palpable things. She is an interesting and inspiring voice.
Bangalore Blue, Terry Kennedy, Copyright 2005, A Split Shift Book, ISBN 0-9655547-3-2, 44 pages, $18.00.