Coalescence between the audio and visual: Kaie Kellough’s Maple Leaf Rag

Kaie Kellough, Maple Leaf Rag. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2010


Poets spend time questioning the truth of the words we say and read, inhabiting a fine liminal space within the synaesthesia of imagination. Kaie Kellough’s mindscape is occupied by a marginal Babylon. His newest book of poetry, Maple Leaf Rag, weaves in and out of the liminal void. In it, he mimics jazz-dub stylistic sounds. His poetry often deals with dysfunction and corruption in opposition to an identity. Most hear the word ‘Babylon’ and think either ancient Mesopotamia or Rastafari culture. Kellough acts outside of both senses of the word, but acknowledges and exercises its value as cultural currency.

For example, in “Babylon’s B-side,” he writes: “Babylon bloats / bondsmen, boats’ bellies / big business / backslappers / babel baiting babbits / bloats bankrupt Brahmins.” About his use of Babylon, Kellough says “the aim was to lift a concept out of its cultural niche and ‘remix’ it in my own secular, Canadian way.” He reinforces Babylon as a symbol of corruption, like the capitalism of big business through the linguistic echo of the ”babel-baiting babbits.” The theme of Babylon and its Rasta connotations are also apparent in “Kaie Kellough meets the Québecois reggae vampirates.” He works to distance himself from the often homophobic, misogynistic stereotypes that come from Rastafarianism.

The literal musical score of the poem “sound system # 1” is a revelation for Kellough’s audience. He illustrates the techniques of syncopation and rhythm in his spoken word pieces and provides a theoretical coalescence between the audio and visual of his work: “You don’t have to say the word you just have to make the sound.” Kellough’s language acts implicitly, denouncing the rules that regulate, and sometimes corrupt communication. Rebellion against the oppression of this linguistic Babylon is shown in poems such as “-isery” and “flux.” Kellough’s primacy of gesture disregards the formal conventions of the written language and orthography. He allows the poem to go where it must on the page in order to convey itself, much like the way Kellough adopts the term Babylon so that he can be himself.

Kellough proclaims in “sound system#2” that “I is to re”’ and ”if I re / cite I re-wind / rewire” his own, and Canada’s past, present, and future. Kellough projects his work across post-colonial Canada but is also greatly aware of its neo-colonial realities. With eloquent placement, he saves the poem “I.B.” for last: “I walk upright and thought / before the idea of Eden spread its foliage and flowered into word / I named the word…stretched my skin across the void…my name / is creation. I am. First.” Kellough quotes from Steve Collis, “history is the interuptor, the breaker of syntax and speech.” His remix of cultural exchange is liberating. This poet creates himself and stands up to the linguistic Babylon that tries to break, and oppress, his syntax and speech. Primacy.


jesse chase is a conceptual artist. his music and writings range from hip hop and folk songs to painted poetry and research explorations of linguistic babylon. he is from cornwall, ontario.


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