Ishmael Mask

US List Price: $16.95

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Also available as e-book.

Ishmael Mask

US List Price: $16.95

Buy Now

Also available as e-book.

About the Book

In Ishmael Mask, Charles Kell reminds us that identity is precarious. Kell’s collection is a collage of the journeys and interior lives of various wanderers—from Ishmael, the son of Hagar, to Melville’s Ishmael, and from Pierre of The Ambiguities to Pierre Guyotat. Each poem strips back the mask and beckons us to witness humanity in its barest forms. Captain Ahab’s leg, Ishmael’s arm, and Pierre’s severed head serve as invitations to consider hunger and hope. The inspirations behind these poems—the Bible, Heraclitus, Melville, Guyotat, Tomaž Šalamun—are transformed by Kell, conjuring dreamscapes both dazzling and haunting.

Ishmael Mask masterfully allows a glimpse into the human experience of feeling lost—even when right at home, even in our own bodies.


Praise for Ishmael Mask

Impossible reflection, dear readers, is where love and art intersect, where Charles Kell’s mix of narrative and absurdist poems live their lives in words both “deeply felt” and “unfeeling.” But this presents a “false dichotomy,” reminding us “that one can draw / loss, draw frost without anyone knowing.” When reading Charles Kell’s “sensualist” poems I encounter a poet willing to allow all aspects of self to become “unmoored,” even unmasked.
Colorado Review

In attempting to archive the unknowable self, the speaker of Kell’s Ishmael Mask wanders through a complex poetic landscape. Those who accompany him are not only his readers, but the many writers and artists whose words and ideas resonate throughout collection. Ishmael Mask explores obsession, passion, and absurdity, leading us to the edge of the abyss. When we arrive, rather than falling, we revel.
Valparaiso Poetry Review

The poet must have a Nietzschean ambition to see beyond the mirror, beyond the absurd mask of consciousness. Ishmael Mask speaks to this primitive damage, the inescapable futility underlying life and depicted by literary fiction. Consider “The Green Hat” sequence, a masterpiece of metaphysical anxiety. The flickering periphery is a warning, and yet here are the poverties of memory, addiction, and imprisonment, recanted by Charles Kell in Melvillian drag. And yet, these obsessions—like Pierre’s—under Kell’s skillful pressure, offer surprising musical comforts. Tender, gothic, and wonderfully catastrophic, Kell’s exhilarating poems flicker with both omen and mystery. Their dangers are sexy, lyrically precise, and elegiac. Their disquietude will leave you breathless.
—Miguel Murphy

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Charles Kell has poetry and fiction in the New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Kestrel, Columbia Journal, The Pinch, and elsewhere. He is Assistant Professor of English at Community College of Rhode Island’s Flanagan campus and associate editor of The Ocean State Review. He recently completed a PhD at the University of Rhode Island with a dissertation on experimental writing, […]

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