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If Not These Things

If Not These Things

By Kenneth ChamleePublisher: Kelsey BooksISBN: 978-1-63980-158-9Genre: PoetryPrice: $23.00 Paperback
Available from: Kelsey Books 

Like the spiraling wire that secures a composition notebook, If Not These Things turns poems of wonder, close attention, humor and appraised experience over and over like the day-to-day pages of our lives.

Kenneth Chamlee is a 2022 Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet for the North Carolina Poetry Society. His poems have appeared in The North Carolina Literary Review, Tar River Poetry, Cold Mountain Review, Pinesong, and many other journals, including several editions of Kakalak: An Anthology of Carolina Poets. He has two contest-winning chapbooks, Absolute Faith (ByLine Press) and Logic of the Lost (Longleaf Press), and has done residencies with the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Hambidge Center. Ken has received three Pushcart Prize nominations and been a finalist for both the James Applewhite Poetry Prize and the Rash Award in Poetry. An Emeritus Professor of English at Brevard College, NC, Ken was the first director of the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference, held annually in Brevard. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and teaches for the Great Smokies Writing Program of UNC-Asheville. Learn more at www.kennethchamlee.com.


Kenneth Chamlee’s If Not These Things offers a clear and tender eye for unexpected correspondences which rise, like whales in suburban lawns, from the quotidian.  The poems begin with a vision of the jet stream dipping “down like a gourd, ladling away summer” and go on to find and make meaning in the singular, familiar moments which define every life:  sounds of a mysterious animal giving birth in the attic, an elusive pinata, a walk with the dog, the strange dreams which haunt a couple denied children. “And if not these things”, the poet asks, “then what / is one day in all / your life?”  What indeed?

Catherine Carter, author of Larvae of the Nearest Star and The Swamp Monster at Home, and winner of the James Applewhite Poetry Prize

All the best poems possess precision and rhythm, what Borges called “algebra and fire.” Kenneth Chamlee’s work embodies some of the most precise and detailed sentences that I’ve read, in poems of constant discovery and nuance. You can feel the poet’s mind here, flying over this book’s landscape like the shadow of a flock of birds. Words are like atoms, the more pressure you put them under the more radioactive they become. “Ideas are as fragile as atmospheres,” Chamlee writes, “breathe mineral words, burn carbon’s heat with each start.” These poems hide their labor and assimilate into the reader, and while the power of these poems may be invisible, every reader that encounters them will “drift forward, without knowing why” to the next poem, their minds flecked with images that they cannot forget.

Keith Flynn, author of The Skin of Meaning and editor of The Asheville Poetry Review

In his wonderful new collection, If Not These Things, Kenneth Chamlee asks the enormous questions, chief among them: What is like, and what is the human cost, to tread on this mysterious earth? Indeed, so many of these marvelous poems are rooted in the natural world – a world capricious with dreams, imminent danger, and wild epiphanies. Nothing escapes the poet’s soulful gaze, from the infinitesimal to the grand. In an early poem in the volume, the speaker elegantly inquires: “Can any poem endure / like an ambered ant’s / clear vesture?” Chamlee then goes on, poem after memorable poem, to answer unequivocally, resoundingly, Yes. Read this fine book for its wisdom, its unswerving candor, for the enduring imagistic liturgy it distills.

Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina Poet Laureate (2012-14) and author of Light at the Seam