At times emotionally quiet and reflective and at other times overtly challenging, Shepherd’s poems rely on the reader’s familiarity and interest in how sleep, city, and nature hold magic.
The poems in Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird are a cartography and a geography of Edmonton. The poems, which shift between short, individual lyric pieces and found text, emulate a black-billed magpie’s nest with the subject-matter and also physically, with the words and lines. The poems generate the theme of home (the bird’s nest, the city), and not feeling at home; sleeping, and the inability to sleep. The magpie (the insomnia bird) is the protagonist and the muse, the thread that connects everything to everything else in this work.
As such, Shepherd’s poems move across the surface at speed, like Edmonton’s NAIT train, and dive like magpies after the occasional tasty image or crumb of detail. The city, as it spreads out across the Prairies, can do nothing to prevent urban sprawl, and grows taller with each new high-rise building and office tower and sinks deeper into the ground, which is memory!
The city with purple fingers and black feathers
is bending branches outside the window.
In the photosensitivity of morning,
The city is an open window that can’t hear itself think.
While Shepherd’s poems are at times critical of Edmonton’s automobile culture and urban sprawl, his tone remains ironic rather than moralizing and he is consistent in his use of dark humour to avoid being didactic. With such guidance the poems effectively disclose what is not seen, what is repressed, what lies behind the scenes in the city he shares with magpies.
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