Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Poems by Galway Kinnell and Larry Leavis

Galway Kinnell is as free as verse might get, and it's a wonder that his poems contain so many memorable lines when considering that one might at first mistake him for prating rather than poeticizing. Kinnell does have a habit of elaborating longer than a detail requires, a habit he shares with novelist Russell Banks;word choice ceases to be a criteria for slicing beyond the phenomenological divide and capturing a sense of an experience, replaced with the conceit that an overspoken eloguence, of a sort, makes a culminating narrative more real. I see it as a stalling action, personally, and I often think that the overwriting is some hedge against death or, at least, a buffer against the fear that one has reached the end of their word rope. One might add, though, the same might be supposed of those writers who specialize in composing dozens of short lyrics at a time, continuously ,over the years. The dread that equates long silence with being finished, as well as the idea that if one isn't writing, one isn't a poet after all. It goes on, and one wishes we had editors who were more discerning , let us say demanding, when it came to putting together major collections of a poet's work. Still, in all that mass one finds fine works, and Kinnell , again, surprises you with poems that exactly right in length, tone, confession, and insight that doesn't conclude but properly defers a closing on the author's emotional conflation.

The difference is that his poems have a mood and a destination he seeks in his inclusion of every day things and events and his self-conscious interactions with them. All the choice ironies he writes in this poem, poem are fluid and presented with a rhythm that combines of someone recalling a recent set of experiences and sensing the arrangement of the details. It's not unlike watching someone unpack boxes in a room of empty shelves, arranging the books and bric a brac in positions that highlight priority of detail. --


SHEFFIELD GHAZAL 4: DRIVING WEST
A tractor-trailer carrying two dozen crushed automobiles overtakes a tractor-trailer carrying a dozen new.
Oil is a form of waiting.
The internal combustion engine converts the stasis of millennia into motion.
Cars howl on rain-wetted roads.
Airplanes rise through the downpour and throw us through the blue sky.
The idea of the airplane subverts earthly life.
Computers can deliver nuclear explosions to precisely anywhere on earth.
A lightning bolt is made entirely of error.
Erratic Mercurys and errant Cavaliers roam the highways.
A girl puts her head on a boy's shoulder; they are driving west.
The windshield wipers wipe, homesickness one way, wanderlust the other, back and forth.
This happened to your father and to you, Galway -- sick to stay, longing to come up against the ends of the earth, and climb over.




All speak of the contradictions of travel and the false hopes that lie in the speed and distance one can personally attain. As with his father, Kinnell finds he can not travel out of his own skin or his awareness of who he is and suggests that his attempts to out pace his demons merely fed their flame.

______________________

Normally I dislike poems that use poetry or the fact that the writer is a poet as their subject matter because it smacks of a chronic elitism that kills the urge to read poetry at all, but Larry Levis in the poem below attends to the task with humor and a willingness to let the air of out of the practitioner;s inflated sense of importance. He is of the mind that poems have to "hit the bricks", get road tested where people live and work. What makes his writing remarkable is his ability to be straight forward without being literal minded.


The Poem You Asked For
by Larry Levis
My poem would eat nothing.
I tried giving it water
but it said no,

worrying me.
Day after day,
I held it up to the llight,

turning it over,
but it only pressed its lips
more tightly together.

It grew sullen, like a toad
through with being teased.
I offered it money,

my clothes, my car with a full tank.
But the poem stared at the floor.
Finally I cupped it in

my hands, and carried it gently
out into the soft air, into the
evening traffic, wondering how

to end things between us.
For now it had begun breathing,
putting on more and

more hard rings of flesh.
And the poem demanded the food,
it drank up all the water,

beat me and took my money,
tore the faded clothes
off my back,

said Shit,
and walked slowly away,
slicking its hair down.

Said it was going
over to your place.



Poets often enough try to use idiomatic language with the intention of using the vernacular to suggest dimensions of significance only a select priesthood of poets can decipher, if only barely; too often all the reader gets is a lugubrious meandering in the mother tongue of something that cannot decide what it wants to be. I suspect many take themselves to be latter day Ashberys or keepers of the Language Poetry practical/critical attack, but this would a defensive reflex, I think, a wall around an ego that cannot concede that it's owner has written a body of poems that mistake being dense with density. Dense merely means impenetrable, which means nothing , ideas in this case, get or get out. Density is somewhat more of a compliment, implying, as I sense it, that there lies therein a series of perception and interestingly worded ideas that cling to solid images in a lean, subtle, nearly invisible way--intellection and detail find a perfect fit--that one can draw series of readings from the work, if not a final verdict. Leavis shows that it's possible to elude having to explain yourself and be suggetively vague to intent without sacrificing the illuminated surface of the poem.