Maple Leaf Rag is a dynamic, jazz-infused riff on Canadian culture. With rhythm and edge, Kaie Kellough’s verbal soundscape explores belonging, dislocation and relocation, and national identity from a black Canadian perspective. This collection of poems is both written word and musical score-a dictated dub replete with references to African Canadian and African American culture (current and dated), Canadian history and politics, and characters ranging from dancers to piano players to boxers.
Maple Leaf Rag
Kaie Kellough spells out the 21st century inheritance of multiple movements: the engaged pedigree of dub poetry, the identity politics-infused lyric, and the advancement of a so-called “spoken word” that bends–synesthetically–back to the page in concrete form. It is our luck that Kellough’s remarkable book-length experiment in form and social criticism occurs on this terrain. And it is a challenge that Canada, the black diaspora, and all followers of progressive poetics must meet. “News that stays new”? Kellough’s verse is New School that will stay New School.
These classy poems spring into motion like a jazzy urban pop-up book with its own musical score. Their craftsmanship recalls an age when attention to detail was an artisan’s signature, imagery fully-awake and precise by smooth linguistic sleight-of-hand. How supplely Kellough’s poems reflect the contours of the cultural landscapes they inhabit will be well borne out by time. Read these poems aloud–or better yet, go hear Kaie read them.
…a rollicking guided tour of an “other” Canada, a black diasporic, jazzy-bluesy rumination on notions of place and identity in this 21st century. Whether commenting on encounters of racism in Calgary schoolyards or delivering brief lessons on the secret history of Canadian Blacks in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, or ruminating on farther-flung locales like Harlem, New Orleans and the U.K., Kellough’s poems remain rooted in personal experience, with a voice that’s sometimes acerbic, often ironic, occasionally angry, but always compassionate, a voice which carries a high level of commitment to the craft of the poet.
How does a self-described “word-sound systemizer” convey the syncopations of his “bop inflected vox” onto a printed page? Montrealer Kaie Kellough’s second collection, true to its title Maple Leaf Rag after the Scott Joplin composition, does just that and then some.
Through his embrace of far-ranging poetic modalities and styles, a wealth of African Canadian and African American historical references, and dazzlingly original experiments in conjuring sound and music from and upon the static page, Kaie Kellough succeeds in creating a poetry collection that indeed functions as “both written word and musical score,” both diagram of Africa’s recent influence on literary and auditory culture in the Americas and portal to what a further hybridized, border-resistant artistic and political future very likely resembles.
Kaie Kellough, a well traveled dub poet now living in Montreal, writes of the people everyone writes of when talking about Blacks and their fight for equality: Martin Luther King and Malcom X. Not to knock these men but it does get tiring when everyone mentions their names as if no other Black heroes and heroines exist. So, when Kellough writes of rarely mentioned Black heroes alongside never mentioned Black heroines you begin to see how special his collection is.