I see Galway Kinnell has died, aged 87, from leukaemia.
He was one of the first poets I met outside my schooling who really spoke to me.
Socially-engaged, always, Kinnell was one of that great generation of American civil rights and anti-war activists, now passing. He and Adrienne Rich were two such, who profoundly affected what I wanted to write about and taught me what words (and silences) can do.
His poems explored psychological states and often focused on the restraining power of nature and society on the individual.
But like any great poet, it is the voice that ensnares you. His was large and humane, sonorous and explicit, and here it is in its glory, in one of my favourites of his poems.
I do hope he managed to go out flaming.
Another Night in the Ruins
BY GALWAY KINNELL
In the evening
haze darkening on the hills,
purple of the eternal,
a last bird crosses over,
‘flop flop,’ adoring
only the instant.
Nine years ago,
in a plane that rumbled all night
above the Atlantic,
I could see, lit up
by lightning bolts jumping out of it,
a thunderhead formed like the face
of my brother, looking down
lightning-flashed moments of the Atlantic.
He used to tell me,
“What good is the day?
On some hill of despair
you kindle can light the great sky—
though it’s true, of course, to make it burn
you have to throw yourself in …”
Wind tears itself hollow
in the eaves of these ruins, ghost-flute
that build out there in the dark:
into which night sweeps
our cast wings, our ink-spattered feathers.
I hear nothing. Only
the cow, the cow of such
down the bones.
Is that a
thrashes in the snow
for a grain. Finds
flames. Flaps. Crows.
bursting out of his brow.
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for us
as we go up in flames, our one work
to open ourselves, to be