Kelly Grovier (b. 1968) grew up in America and was educated at the University of California, Los Angeles. He came to study at Oxford University after winning a British Marshall scholarship, and now teaches English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University in Wales. His first collection of poetry, A Lens in the Palm, was published by Carcanet in 2008, and his literary biography of Newgate Prison, The Gaol, followed in the same year; it was later serialised as Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4.
Grovier's work is fascinated with philosophy and painting -- with the way physical details and metaphysical ideas interact in the world. This blurring of boundaries can be felt in poems which take us from well-known works of art or philosophical propositions to more deeply personal canvases and intimate theories. In 'The Consolation of Philosophy', observers of snow become part of that interconnectedness by seeing "the snow in the context of the mind / in the context of the mountain / which imagines a distant blossoming / of eyes". The philosophical movements of the poems in this reading are always grounded in precise observation, which was described by Planet magazine as "thrilling precision in the language and description"; the "Tiny abseiler" of 'A spider in Trinity College chapel', for example, becomes a point of meditation through which a stained glass window grows an uncanny closeness to a spiderweb, and time a closeness to silk.
This is not work grasping after certainties, but rather one that embraces a state in which questions can be welcomed, rooms can be lost and what is thought fixed can be re-examined. In 'Rain, Steam, and Speed', Turner's famous painting becomes a measure of the mind's hazy acclimatization in the world; 'were those angels scumbling / in the water?' he asks, 'was that water?' 'The stars' presents an audience with lovers under a starred sky, and admits this to be an image of "the unknown / knowing the unknowable"; 'Tens and eight' draws power from the attempt to re-shape a memory of a fatal accident, so as to be able to say "I saw it coming", and from the emotional weight of the fact that, while that re-shaping can be considered, it is ultimately impossible to achieve.
Reviewing A Lens in the Palm, the Times Literary Supplement drew attention to Grovier's use of tercets, describing it as "a form particularly suited to the deft enjambment, witty shifts in meaning and ironic highlighting" in his work; similarly, the poet's performance in this reading is attuned to these characteristics, bringing them to life for an audience. It is a reading that shows the aptness of Grovier's own description, in 'Table Saw', of "the way a poet separates from prose, / / syllable and sound, emptiness / from ink".
His recording was made for the Poetry Archive on 21 January 2008 at The Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Kelly Grovier's Favourite Poetry Sayings:
"The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully"
- Wallace Stevens