Being Galway Kinnell


What crazies we writers are, our heads full of language like buckets of minnows standing in the moonlight on a dock.
~ Hayden Carruth

My little dog, Rita, once again has me up before dawn.
The morning paper isn’t even here yet. I’m drinking
coffee and reading Galway Kinnell’s Collected Poems,
a tome of some 600 pages. Few employ language with
more precision and vitality than Kinnell. A poet who
artfully brings the reader into his poems.

The Pulitzer Prize winner’s writing is intensely resolute,
choosing words of unique suggestion and power:
On the dying of a beloved father — "At this moment, he
glints and shines, as if it will be only a small dislocation
for him to pass from this paradise into the next."

From his poem Middle of the Way — "I lie on earth the way
Flames lie on a woodpile, Or as an imprint, in sperm or egg,
of what is to be. I love the earth, and always In its darknesses
I am a stranger." One has to marvel at his mastery of the language,
the keenness of thought bringing such combinations of
words into being.

As a practice when reading poetry I underline what
I find fascinating, be it a line, sentence, or unusual word.
Poetry is about word choice. How about ephebic, empyrean,
cupreous, desquamations? (I keep the dictionary nearby.)
If asked by the reader why he used such picturesque words
I suspect Kinnell might have said, Because they are the right
words, exact words, what each poem demanded.

Kinnell also used a variety of other uncommon words in his
writing, no doubt to the consternation of the pedants of his time —
unfillableness, lichflowered, roadlessness. emblemhood.
I have no idea how he may have defended such usage. He might
have said the formulations add a touch of eye-catching exuberance.
Anyway, such an explanation would have satisfied me.

I lay the book aside, enough reading for now. I contemplate
the boundaries of my own writing, the limits of my ability,
my grasp of the language. I smile, consider ephebic, empyrean,
cupreous, desquamations, extravagant words that will never
find their way into my elementary little poems.

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Commentary of the poetry of Galway Kinnell.