Selected by Carla Harryman for the 2016 Essay Press Prize, Of Sphere will be released November 1st and will premiere at a reading and conversation about new work with Jen Bervin and Celina Su at McNally Jackson Books on October 23rd.
A lyric meditation on affect, relationality, and environment, Of Sphere conjures a self and world that both bloom and fall apart. Given this continually unfastening attempt to make a cosmos—to equip, adorn, dress, ornament—what, this essayist wonders, is it to know, and love, and be? In constellation with the experimental prose of writers such as Hélène Cixous, Clarice Lispector, and H.D., the book investigates ways a woman, aware she’s always becoming gendered, might resist sealing into a character according to cultural norms. The book is built of imaginative, lyric prose interlayered with poetic fragments and is followed by a section of micro-essays framed as notes.
"Through her challenge to dug-in patriarchal logics, Kelsey choreographs a contemporary vision that follows in the experimental tradition of earlier modern feminist essays, including Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas, H.D.'s Tribute to Freud, and Hélène Cixous' "The Laugh of the Medusa." Kelsey brings an urgency to this tradition through her attention to the destructive human impact on the earth, ecological crisis, and her vision of another way to inhabit the world." —Carla Harryman
"Karla Kelsey's Of Sphere buzzes with worlds. Moving between prose and verse, from gas station to grove, from the lyric to the analytic, Kelsey leads us into a sensory place where light and motes and windows shimmer, where gardens and art and you and I are something more, or less. Who are these people? Who is that child? Where did that thought slip? Kelsey asks: "What happens when landscape erodes beyond recognition, its name a ribbon of text embedded in my skin?" Then a book appears within the book, where the scholar-poet turns to speak to us more directly. A turned lens now tumbles the library into focus. Of Sphere swarms and then disperses—clouds, then clarifies. Kelsey's dreamy yet lucid lines tie the porch to pastoral, the chain link fence to the links of time, the daily to the diaphanous. Here, omnipotence of thought is the norm. In Kelsey's Of Sphere, the things we see and the things we know, the people and places of all our worlds (material, ethereal, and historical) stream through one another boundlessly and glowing, the way they do." —Catherine Taylor
"To say that Kelsey’s luminous new book contains intricately layered poems might sound like a truism until you realize that such poems (hyper-considered and taut, yet dazzlingly expansive) aim to exceed their bounds in more ways than one. Kelsey posits that looking inward is but a way of looking out, or is it the other way around? Of Sphere renders the question mute. All points on a sphere are equidistant from the center. This strikes me as particularly radical in regard to the notes accompanying—but never elucidating—the poems. Inquisitive essays in themselves, they provide, like the poems they refuse to reduce, “a lyric instruction for counteracting forces that pull multiplicity into a unified image.” Herein find the glorious chaosmos." —Monica de la Torre