From David Gilbey, Australian Book Review, April 2007:
‘The Passion Paintings collects a writing life of poetry: some seventy pages of new poems, “Book Three”, grafted onto Kelly’s Mary Gilmore Award-winning first volume Coming Up For Light, and City and Stranger. It is a rich feast of concentrated flavours and conceptual challenges – a book with multiple layers of satisfaction . . . using crafty language to focus on relationships and meaningfulness. . . . The book is itself a brilliant triptych . . . the individual poems focusing on moments, conversations, and individuals whose lives and imaginings instantiate the intersection between secular and sacred in the contemporary world.’
From Catherine Phil MacCarthy, Poetry Ireland Review, Issue 91:
‘Kelly’s work increasingly reflects formal and informal verse shapes, and a high degree of experimentation with words, phrases and metre . . . Relationships, and connection or the absence of it, are a strong thematic preoccupation. Her investigation of women’s experience in her first book becomes increasingly in her second and third a passionate divagation on human existence . . . Another strand of her work probes the connection between language and life: ‘She’s camped well out in the subjunctives’ (‘Mood/ Tense’), or ‘Writer and reader shuffle masks / to act a three-door bedroom farce / set in each other’s mind’ (‘Personal grammar’). The sense of voice as physical and of the body as word is a central preoccupation from the beginning and an inherent source of playfulness.
Many of these poems are talky, quick-witted, passionate . . . [In ‘Cross country’] the juxtaposition of body with city and graffiti reflects Kelly’s obsession with both the space around her and language. Many of the poems here and later display her confidence in probing the connection between the body and the physical world we inhabit, and in the process evoke the textures of daily living . . . Kelly plays with perspective, and the outcome is a series of surreal images, strangely haunting . . .[In the title poem] the process of making is there from beginning to end, as well as the making of process . . . It is difficult to do justice to a collection whose virtuosity and scope is as ambitious and luminous as Kelly’s is.’
From Jen Webb, Review essay: Poetry in Australia and the John Leonard Press, http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct08/webb.htm, 2008:
‘Many of her pieces are as much story as poem, often the stories of a poetic persona with grown children and elderly, dying parents, who is facing the world in a now-aging woman’s body, and trying to deal with life. In ‘All down darkness’ she opens the poem with the brave assertion:
Darkness rises and I strike it down
Rises and I strike it
and of course, keeps striking – this is a battle none of us will win.
It confronts and reflects the small moments of an everyday life: nephews and nieces growing into adulthood, graffiti on a train, a spider weaving her web. There are wonderfully mirth-filled lines (read ‘My brother’s piano’, about Freud and his sister), along with poems that commemorate suffering and loss, domestic activity, familial encounters. All these poems seem to me to say ‘Pay attention!’ The middle section especially is sharp and often bitter, the rhythm tapped out, spat out, as in ‘This far’:
Hope is a change of ocean’s mind.
You find a place to head for sideways
if arm and leg still chord in to the spine:
a place where water creeps on an alien beach
the dune-grass peppered with unknown blossoms
you fall upon and count your cells like sand.’