R.I.P. Galway Kinnell

Saw Galway Kinnel read a couple times in the early-mid ’70s and he was a knockout. The NY times just did a piece on Dylan Thomas that highlighted the widespread effect his style of reading poems had. Kinnel (whose name is up there with Dylan Thomas as perfect for a poet) certainly benefited. Here he is reading the poem that floored my English profs and writing teachers at both Montana State and University of Montana: “The Bear”

He gushed charisma and spoke maybe two sentences to a sniveling undergrad like me after he shook my hand. His most powerful poems are highlighted in this obit. For a long time I was saddened by his near-silence in the ’70s and thought he should have stomped on the gas instead. But now I feel he knew he’d planted his voice in the landscape forever and spent his middle age and afterward in peace and reflection. Poets were not the media figures and, hell, warriors they had once been.

And finally, Kinnel was one idol who made me feel better about the compulsion to write poetry fading away inside me. I would never get further than a hole at the base of his mountain.

I recommend individual collections rather than anthologies. Start with Body Rags, move on to What a Kingdom It Was (I have not read the combined edition of this book and his second, Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock, which may be a superior package, but he did some revising of poems, a practice that I usually find does not help the art) and then pick up The Book of Nightmares. After that, follow your impulses.


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