"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mycroft's Poetry Corner ... Galway Kinnell (#1)

I will begin at the beginning, because to begin anywhere else would seem to me to be wanton post-modernism and I would have it known that Mycroft Webb (QMBC) will have no truck with that sort of feeble-mindedness.  

It was a particularly foul July evening, the type of evening that any Irishmen worth his salt will have become inured to from early childhood as a result of their frequent occurrence in high summer; the type of evening best viewed with disdain from one's favourite barstool, or in my case, favourite leather Gladstone armchair.     

I had just enjoyed a hearty supper of kedgeree and boiled eggs, all washed down with a pint of coffee and a unspecified number of Tunnocks' teacakes. It has always been a peccadillo of mine to enjoy what are considered (by lesser appetites) to be breakfast dishes after the evening Angelus has chimed. But I digress. 

I can't tell for sure whether is was the caffeine or the large tumbler of Laphroaig that I was drinking while ensconced in my favourite anthology of poetry but something unknown gave spark to the tinder of an idea, which in turn became a nascent flame that slowly started to crackle and roar into an inspired blaze with additional tumblers of whiskey. It was so simple, I was embarrassed for not having thought of it beforehand: Add a Poetry Corner to the QMBC website. Fucking Genius. 

However, little did I know then, that the question of who or what should be the subject of the first QMBC poetry corner was to become a considerable burden to me in the coming weeks. That evening I was reading W.H. Auden, marvelling as I always do at the wonderful complexity of his "Shield of Achilles" in much the same way I imagine that the peasants in the armed hordes besieging Troy would have admired the walls and edifices of that great city. "No, No, No, Mycroft", I thought. You know the kids today care not a jot for the Classics they want something sexier, something modern ... 

Enter Galway Kinnell, an American poet born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1927. He is still alive but is now retired; he is widely regarded as one of the most important American poets of the second half of the 20th Century.

More importantly though from a QMBC point of view, the man and his work have much to recommend him, as he handsomely combines images from modern-life and timeless natural imagery with wonderful lyricism. In his poem below, "Last Gods" he seems to gather all his poetic gifts and creates one of the few genuinely erotic poems out there. It is hard not to like a man who pays such homage to the female form in one poem while being more of a family man in "After Making Love, We Hear Footsteps" and never seeming to take himself too seriously as evidenced in his very funny poem "Oatmeal". Galway Abú!!

The Last Gods is shown below but the other poems mentioned are all available online, as always, the QMBC recommends that where available you seek out the poet's own readings of their poems as these are often far better than any third-party interpretations.  

Last Gods 
Galway Kinnell

She sits naked on a rock
a few yards out in the water.
He stands on the shore, 
also naked, picking blueberries.
She calls. He turns. She opens
her legs showing him her great beauty,
and smiles, a bow of lips
seeming to tie together 
the ends of the earth.
Splashing her image
to pieces, he wades out 
and stands before her, sunk
to the anklebones in leaf-mush 
and bottom-slime--the intimacy
of the visible world. 

He puts a berry in its shirt
of mist into her mouth. 
She swallows it. 
He puts in another. 
She swallows it.
Over the lake
two swallows whim, juke, jink,
and when one snatches
an insect they both whirl up
and exult. He is swollen
not with ichor but with blood.
She takes him and sucks him
more swollen. He kneels, opens
the dark, vertical smile
linking heaven with the underearth 
and licks her smoothest flesh more smooth. 

On top of the rock they join.
Somewhere a frog moans, a crow screams.
The hair of their bodies
startles up. They cry 
in the tongue of the last gods,
who refused to go,
chose death, and shuddered 
in joy and shattered in pieces, 
bequeathing their cries
into the human mouth. Now in the lake
two faces float, looking up
at a great maternal pine whose branches
open out in all directions 
explaining everything.


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