Kelly (Cat Scratch Fever, 1991, etc.), long a poetic innovator, continues to prove himself equally prolific and adept at ``fictions.'' Incorporating neither character nor plot, these 24 cerebral pieces meditate on the lofty and the mundane. From the opening story, ``Rimbaud Back from Abyssinia,'' Kelly makes it clear to whom he speaks: an informed, literary reader who is familiar not only with Rimbaud's poetry but with his life. Many pieces show Kelly involved in a struggle to take the courtly concepts he's handled so well in his poetry and merge them with a thoroughly modern sensuality that incorporates schlock culture, the mystical, and the primitive. ``They call death the King of Terrors, and I'm telling you who his queen is. Sex is the Queen,'' he says in the work which gives the volume its title. Time and again, the writer/philosopher seeks to bond with nature: The adult crosses the wind's fence, last barrier between himself and the sea; the child leans out a window, desperate to learn how birds fly. Sex elicits nature metaphors as well; in ``Red Crow'' the narrator's tongue massages a loved one ``like a little wet animal looking for a nest.'' Kelly's erudite playfulness is easiest to see in ``The Red King,'' simply because this novella- length work permits each element more room to vie for attention. But far more interesting (i.e., accessible) is the volume's other long piece, ``In Irish America,'' which traces his ancestry and places Celtic symbology beside flaccid contemporary references, mercilessly contrasting the legendary warriors who thought they would soon ``die, drip of our wounds... and go to America'' with his own birth in the United States. An excellent sampling of Kelly's diversity and a must-read for his coterie of followers, this volume will win him few, if any, converts.
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