Mourning for Galway Kinnell, poet & Vermont person.

Maybe it’s just because I’m stretched as thin as cheap stockings right now and prone to emotions, but I cried this morning hearing (again) about the passing of Galway Kinnell.

I learned to love his poems in college, by my professor who loves his poems. When I worked for the Dartmouth bookstore years ago, I sold books at a reading he gave at Dartmouth, sitting next to him as he signed new and wellworn copies. The reading he gave was equal parts wonderful and sad; he often lost his place while reading a poem, or seemed to drift away mid-thought. I witnessed the deteriorating mind of a poet whose poems have meant a lot to me.

His epic poem (note: I do not generally use the word epic so you know I mean it) “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World” has so much more of New York in it than Taylor Swift’s new song (that’s not saying a lot), and even more of New York in it than Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ song. He was compared to Walt Whitman after that poem, and I see why: it contains multitudes, big time.

As Daniel Lewis of the New York Times writes, “The poem is a 14-part work about Avenue C in Manhattan, a mother lode of inspiration for someone with Mr. Kinnell’s photographic eye and intuitive sense of other people’s lives. In these verses and on this street, Jews, blacks and Puerto Ricans walked in the spring sunlight, past the avenue’s mainstays at the time — the Downtown Talmud Torah, Blosztein’s Cutrate Bakery, Areceba Panataria Hispano, Nathan Kugler Chicken Store Fresh Killed Daily and others.”

I’ve experienced a renewed love of Kinnell since moving to Vermont, as I read his poems again, many of which are set in this state, such as “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 and squinched,
many-lettered, on-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

And then there’s this poem, which has always blown my mind. If someone had told me in college that you could write a poem with the word “is” used three times in a row and it would be a stunner, I would not have believe him/her.

Prayer

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

kinnell

Harriet Richardson, a Student Organizer at Pennsylvania’s Juniata College, Presses a Cloth to the Wounds of Galway Kinnell, Who Was Then Poet-In-Residence at Juiata, Selma, Alabama, 1965.

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“The Sun Inside” (yesterday’s poem) (mine).

The Sun Inside

Winter’s over, shake me out, wash me deep

for the first & final time, says the cheap

winter coat I bought for its greenness and for the love

of its fur I could see myself nesting inside

for so many months, my face a cold photograph

in a frame of fuzz, and the goat blood

on the pocket came out as if the whole ordeal

was just a bad dream I could return with free

shipping! That hairdresser was right, you know–

after the initial shock of loss, my hair grew back

faster than ever. And here I am with my cowboy boots

and my cowkid plaid & my broken wristwatch

in the first wet warm days of a Spring I thought

would stand me up like a hot bad date, & the ends

of my hair are light not from dye but from the sun inside.

Hanging with friends beneath lightbulbs (& other details).

Kenneth Koch! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me to read him before?! He makes me laugh! Here’s the only poem of his I knew of before the other night when I got really into reading him. It’s his perfect joke on William Carlos Williams:

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams

1
I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

2
We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

3
I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

4
Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

4-2-13_BerskonJohn Ashberry, Frank O’Hara, Patsy Southgate, Bill Berkson, Kenneth Koch., 1964 (photo by Mario Schifano)

 

In other news, I should not be allowed to use eBay. eBay is not a conversation. It’s not, You want this item? Cool! What do you like about it? Wanna think about buying it? eBay is YOU BOUGHT IT.  (I may have just bought two purses by accident. I definitely bought one by accident.) Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing. 

In other other news, it’s a good thing I have two bathtubs, because one of them is filled with 15 peeping baby chicks. Photos to follow. Kate suggested we dress them up and take pictures of them and give them names and personalities. Yeah….probably gonna do that.

So spring is here because of little yellow chicks, and also because of this beautiful, good-smelling, blooming hyacinth that I was given for my birthday. Otherwise, spring is still hibernating.

 

IMG_2047

 

Teacher in my mailbox (Ilya Kaminsky).

I went to San Diego State to study with Ilya Kaminsky, and I do not regret it one bit. Yesterday, the Academy of American Poets dropped off a new poem of his in my inbox. It made me glad and it made me miss school and I drank up the poem like a glass of fresh-pressed juice.

***

A Toast

 

To your voice, a mysterious virtue,

to the 53 bones of one foot, the four dimensions of breathing,

 

to pine, redwood, sworn-fern, peppermint,

to hyacinth and bluebell lily,

 

to the train conductor’s donkey on a rope,

to smells of lemons, a boy pissing splendidly against the trees.

 

Bless each thing on earth until it sickens,

until each ungovernable heart admits: “I confused myself

 

and yet I loved–and what I loved

I forgot, what I forgot brought glory to my travels,

 

to you I traveled as close as I dared, Lord.”

 

Read this poem it will take you 5 seconds (Eileen Myles)!

Just read this poem it will only take you 5 seconds to do so and hey who knows maybe you will really love it maybe you will be like OOOOOH-KAY, POEMS, I DIG! Or maybe you’ll want to send it to a loved one or a loathed one maybe it will make you think of summertime or of the word “jumpsuit” which is not a word we get to say that often but a good word nonetheless. With a poem you really never know what’s going to happen what little locked door in your bodymind is going to get opened maybe that’s why we all have bodies and minds (so they can be opened like doors like secret trapdoors).

 

THE BEACH

Economically, not
emotionally this
color is connected
to that color
the waves
break

they really
do.

I hold on,
I hold on to you

 

-Eileen Myles

 

“My Life as a Minister” (wedding poem) (mine).

My Life as a Minister

(for Kathryn & Andy)

 

To say “You may now kiss the bride”

is a treasure far beyond

most treasures I’ve known.

A treasure of love (my bests,

 

my only kind of treasures),

a treasure built of words (my tools),

a treasure said in public

in the presence of a trove

 

of dearest friends—

a treasure known by all, the words

learned early on, the script, that scripture,

holy words of matrimony, most of which

 

I banished from the ceremony. But not

those words, and not the kiss

which with light within me

I gave permission for.

 

You may now and you may always

and may you for all the days

kiss and kiss and kiss

the bride.

***

photobooth_420-X3

 

“The Dead Ones Can’t Sit Down” (poem) (mine).

The Dead Ones Can’t Sit Down

 

So much can reverse

between two people

 

Which loves the other more

which is taller

 

Which is more successful

which has longer hair

 

or better bedroom light

the better job or luck

 

But everyone older than I am

will retain that older glean until I die

 

Except those who die

like he did

 

at the age of twenty-four

fallen from a building

 

And now I’m twenty-seven

looking in at years to come

 

living in a house

sitting down on warm front porches

 

with friends that were his

first

 

mine second

mine last