Holden Sheppard's Reviews > Graffiti Lane

Graffiti Lane by Kelly Van Nelson
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it was amazing

For a debut collection of poetry, Kelly Van Nelson’s “Graffiti Lane” doesn’t shy away from confronting subject matter. This book is packed with heavy themes and raw, almost unfiltered poetry that speaks directly to the poet’s experience of violence, abuse and bullying. With the author’s introduction painting a picture of her own upbringing, I found myself deeply moved at how vulnerable sharing this collection must have been for her – no doubt it took a great deal of bravery; the same bravery with which she learned to stand up for herself in high school.

I found the shorter, more concisely-edited poems tended to be the most poignant: ‘Shattered’ twists a glass shard metaphor to clever effect; ‘Padlock’ is evocative and moving; and ‘Payback’ is cynical and exultant with its observation of revenge being “sweet when sugar-coated with alimony”.

Many of the longer poems are earnest (and occasionally, too earnest), and I felt some conformed too slavishly to their rhyme scheme when freestyle might have led to greater poetic impact. That said, some of these – like ‘Did He Know’ – are truly expressive, speaking to the poet's "stomach churning from famine, desperately craving the nourishing sound of the doorbell ringing". Van Nelson lays her vulnerabilities bare in this poem, a powerful piece about longing for answers from a father figure – answers that, we learn, will never come.

At 170 pages, this is long for a poetry collection, and I think the book might have had even greater impact if some poems had been pared back. The strongest poems in this collection are those where the poet is not afraid of putting herself in the centre of the metaphor: in ‘Red or Dead’, she compares herself to the liberation of a Banksy red balloon; while ‘Technophobia’ unpacks the author’s CV and traces her circular evolution from carefree child to corporate drone to existential crisis. Silver spoons are a repeated – and effective – motif throughout several poems; the author’s working class upbringing always informing her perspective, lingering in the corners of most poems, sometimes with nostalgia and sometimes with powerful, bitter resonance.

The piece I found most striking in Graffiti Lane was the excellent prose poem ‘Silver Lining’, a bleak meditation on grief and survival, of “no more casseroles left on my front step”. The writing here is brilliant and I could have happily read much more in this style. Van Nelson’s voice shines through more authentically here than anywhere else in this book, which makes sense, as this piece was previously published, and her first prose manuscript has picked up several accolades. Being a big reader of fiction as opposed to poetry, this prose poem really got me excited for what’s next for the author – I’m really looking forward to her debut novel as I suspect it will pack a similar punch to ‘Silver Lining’.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 18, 2019 – Shelved

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Kelly Van Nelson Thanks for the review Holden!

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