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Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism

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Spotlight on Galway Kinnell [Sep. 17th, 2005|04:02 pm]
Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism


Galway Kinnell was born in 1927, in Providence, Rhode Island. To date, he's published eleven books of poetry, with Selected Poems winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and New Selected Poems a finalist for the National Book Award. He asserts the work of Poe and Dickinson moved him as a youth to his love of poetry.

Galway Kinnell moved from his rather homogenous hometown culture to travel extensively in Europe and the Middle East, and even went to Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship. In the end, the Civil Rights Movement in the US drew him back, and on his return he joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), where his work got him arrested, an experience he recalls in his novel-length poem The Book of Nightmares. This piece was also influenced by his thoughts on the Vietnam War, against which he was an active protestor.

Beyond the social element in his poetry, nature imagery and spiritual reflections mark his work. "The Fundamental Project of Technology" deals with all three of those elements, and Kinnell often uses simple and brutal images in expressing anger at humanity's destructiveness. His despair is best summarised in the line: "Nobody would write poetry if the world seemed perfect." But through the role of animals and children in his later work, beauty and hope make an appearance in turn.

Info paraphrased for concision from this Wikipedia article.


On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

Blackberry Eating

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry -- eating in late September.

How Could You Not?

     -- for Jane Kenyon

It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters;
small heaped cumuli blow across the sky; a shower
visible against the firs douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I learn you have died, I go
to the open door and look across at New Hampshire
and see that there, too, the sun is bright
and clouds are making their shadowy ways along the horizon;
and I think: How could it not have been today?
In another room, Keri Te Kanawa is singing
the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly,
as if in the past, to those who once sat
in the steel seat of the old mowing machine,
cheerful descendent of the scythe of the grim reaper,
and drew the cutter bars little
reciprocating triangles through the grass
to make the stalks lie down in sunshine.
Could you have walked in the dark early this morning
and found yourself grown completely tired
of the successes and failures of medicine,
of your year of pain and despair remitted briefly
now and then by hope that had that leaden taste?
Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it
and see that, now, it was not wrong to die
and that, on dying, you would leave
your beloved in a day like paradise?
Near sunrise did you loosen your hold a little?
How could you not already have felt blessed for good,
having these last days spoken your whole heart to him,
who spoke his whole heart to you, so that in the silence
he would not feel a single word was missing?
How could you not have slipped into a spell,
in full daylight, as he lay next to you,
with his arms around you, as they have been,
it must have seemed, all your life?
How could your cheek not press a moment to his cheek,
which presses itself to yours from now on?
How could you not rise and go, with all that light
at the window, those arms around you, and the sound,
coming or going, hard to say, of a single-engine
plane in the distance that no one else hears?

More poems by Galway Kinnell here.
More about Galway Kinnell here.