This blog is about Buddhism but as regular readers know I occasionally veer off in other directions, one of which is poetry. I am an eclectic reader, and so my taste runs from e.e.cummings to Dylan Thomas to poets such as Galway Kinnell who passed away Wednesday at the age of 87.

galway_kinnellI met him once. I don’t remember what year but sometime during the 90s, at the Chateau Marmount, the place where John Belushi died. Kinnell was giving a poetry reading there and it was a rather bizarre afternoon. Before the poet himself got up to read, Jennifer Tilly read one of his poems. Now, I had always assumed that her dumb/dizzy persona was just an act, and I don’t want to say that it’s not, or that she is unfamiliar with poetry, but it was clear she was unfamiliar with Mr. Kinnell’s poetry. What she was doing there is anybody’s guess.  But she was fun to look at. In fact, all the Tilly girls were there and they were all dressed in black, and a bit rowdy as I recall.

Some writers cannot read aloud. They are either monotone or they possess a terrible speaking voice.  Kinnell’s voice was pleasant to listen to, middle-ranged, and his oral presentation engaging. I’d brought a copy of his Selected Poems with me, that he signed afterwards, and we had a brief conversation.

In an appreciation for The New Yorker, fellow poet C.K. Williams goes into more detail about Kinnell reading aloud, and offers these words about the man’s work,

there’s no one whose work has so often and with such consistency brought into the world a sense of wonder and exaltation, no one who so often discovered rich new harmonies of poetic language, no one who devised so many metaphors that resonate through so many levels of materiality and spirit, uniting the physical with the moral and passion with thought. In short, there’s no one whose work has elaborated so ample and comprehensive a vision of the lives we’ve lived.”

That is a summation hard to improve upon. I won’t try. As far as his life is concerned, read his obituary at the LA Times. You can also visit his website.

As for the poetry . . .


A black bear sits alone
in the twilight, nodding from side
to side, turning slowly around and around
on himself, scuffing the four-footed
circle into the earth. He sniffs the sweat
in the breeze, he understands
a creature, a death-creature,
watches from the fringe of the trees,
finally he understands
I am no longer here, he himself
from the fringe of the trees watches
a black bear
get up, eat a few flowers, trudge away,
all his fur glistening
in the rain.

And what glistening! Sancho Fergus,
my boychild, had such great shoulders,
when he was born his head
came out, the rest of him stuck. And he opened
his eyes: his head out there all alone
in the room, he squinted with pained,
barely unglued eyes at the ninth-month’s
blood splashing beneath him
on the floor. And almost
smiled, I thought, almost forgave it all in advance.

When he came wholly forth
I took him up in my hands and bent
over and smelled
the black, glistening fur
of his head, as empty space
must have bent
over the newborn planet
and smelled the grasslands and the ferns.

Galway Kinnell, “Lastness (part 2)” from Selected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Galway Kinnell.