Broken English – Or, Why I Suddenly Have a Burning Literary Crush on Kaie Kellough


Photo by Terence Byrnes, courtesy of


Kaie Kellough is a bilingual, Montreal-based poet, educator and spoken word artist whose work has been highly acclaimed in cultural and literary circles.  Words tossed around regarding him and his work include “rhythm personified”*, “dynamic…jazz-infused”*, and “socially conscious”*.

His first book of poetry Lettricity is a lyrical exploration of Montreal, and like Watchmen‘s Rorschach, he has seen the city’s true face. His words evoke hyperreal visions of life in the city, interspersed with historic and literary references and pulsing with inflections of jazz and energy – hence, the ‘lettricity’ of the title.

Perhaps by virtue of being fluent in both French and English, Kellough says that as a young, angry poet he swore that he would “break the English language”. This ambitious admission came during an interview with Stefan Christoff promoting his new book Maple Leaf Rag. Of course, English being the Frankenstein’s monster that it is, Kellough says he found breaking it a lot easier said than done.

“Trying to break a language is like trying to knock out the wind by swinging at it – you can’t do it. It’s just not possible,” he says.

“It’s too supple and it will wrap itself around every attempt that you try, and it will in a sense co-opt every attempt to destroy it. You can’t break a language.”

But you can seduce it, and this is what Kellough does. He teases out meaning from coyly opaque phrases and obscure references and word arrangements. However, he toys not just with words but also the sound* of words,  displaying a mastery of wordcraft more evident in his performance poetry.

Stretching out syllables and hammering together consonants – such as in this* anagrammatic performance of dedicationtoatannation – Kellough can bring about a whole new meaning to a word, or make a simple sentence feel far greater than the sum of its parts.

“The interest for me lies in the fact that the page is a silent, static medium. So nothing moves, no sound is made aside from the whiff of air when you flip it,” he says.

“But how do you make a silent, static medium resonate with a sense of movement, and sound of a performance? That’s very difficult to do but my aim is to try and make language the performer, so the language must be the thing that performs.”

And there you have it. This is the same person who can turn the sentence “doyoureadme” into a mesmerizing, head-bobbing, quasi-musical experience, sans instruments.

Even his website bio is a lyrical chocolate bar:

né in the way out west, kaie kellough has been based in montréal since ‘98. he is a bilingual author, editor, educator, & general word-sound systemizer. his bop-inflected vox & text syncopate canada’s solitudes. kaie has dubbed & inked his way from c to c, b.c. to q.c., n.s. to the u.s.

Read it out loud. Go ahead, try it. 🙂

His latest book, Maple Leaf Rag, is available here and here. I’m going with the latter, for now.