A New Selected Poems

A New Selected Poems

4.5 2
by Galway Kinnell

View All Available Formats & Editions

That Silent Evening

I will go back to that silent evening when we lay together and talked in silent voices, while outside slow lumps of soft snow fell, hushing as they got near the ground, with a fire in the room, in which centuries of tree went up in continuous ghost-giving-up, without a crackle, into morning light.
Not until what hastens went slower did we


That Silent Evening

I will go back to that silent evening when we lay together and talked in silent voices, while outside slow lumps of soft snow fell, hushing as they got near the ground, with a fire in the room, in which centuries of tree went up in continuous ghost-giving-up, without a crackle, into morning light.
Not until what hastens went slower did we sleep.
When we got home we turned and looked back at our tracks twining out of the woods, where the branches we brushed against let fall puffs of sparkling snow, quickly, in silence, like stolen kisses, and where the scritch scritch scritch among the trees, which is the sound that dies inside the sparks from the wedge when the sledge hits it off center telling everything inside it is fire, jumped to a black branch, puffed up but without arms and so to our eyes lonesome, and yet also--how can we know this?--happy!
in shape of chickadee. Lying still in snow, not iron-willed, like railroad tracks, willing not to meet until heaven, but here and there treading slubby kissing stops, our tracks wobble across the snow their long scratch.
So many things that happen here are really little more, if even that, than a scratch, too. Words, in our mouths, are almost ready, already, to bandage the one whom the scritch scritch scritch, meaning if how when we might lose each other, scratches scratches scratches from this moment to that. Then I will go back to that silent evening, when the past just managed to overlap the future, if only by a trace, and the light doubles and casts through the dark a sparkling that heavens the earth.

Editorial Reviews

Galway Kinnell's first book of poems, What a Kingdom It Was, appeared in 1960, a satisfyingly exuberant collection that seemed driven by an intelligence as witty as it was feverish. Among other things, it featured Kinnell's epic paean to New York City's Lower East Side, "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World," a 14-section chaos of styles, voices, and images that contains the line "Bury me not Bunko damned Catholic I pray you in Egypt." Over the years, Kinnell voice has settled into more measured tones, but the raw athletic delight that fueled his first poetry remains. Kinnell's newest book, A New Selected Poems, presents us with that rare opportunity -- a chance to trace the maturation of a truly distinctive and illuminating voice in poetry.

When Kinnell broke onto the scene it was as a tremendously gifted observer. What a Kingdom It Was is full of poems that are the surreal journalism of a loving eye fixed on a mad corner of a twisted and gorgeous world. Take, for example, this excerpt from "The Avenue":

The garbage-disposal truck
Like a huge hunched animal
That sucks in garbage in the place
Where other animals evacuate it

In Kinnell's early poetry, things are always in the act of doing. It is a poetry of action, a poetry in which things actually happen. It is also a poetry of fantastic words. Like Seamus Heaney, with whom he is often compared, Kinnell is a great neologist. In one poem, we hear a "roofleak whucking into a pail." In a later poem, we learn that "scritch" is the sound a pen makes writing poetry.

Kinnell's second book, here represented by eight poems, was Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock. A sorrowful tone invades these poems, as it does in a great deal of Kinnell's work. But Kinnell's sorrow is one that never accepts itself. He never seems to dwell. Always the desolation and heartbreak of the poems is tinged with the possibility of redemption. The title poem of the book, one of the collection's finest, chronicles a dawn trip up Mount Monadnock to pick flowers. Kinnell writes,

The last memory I have
Is of a flower that cannot be touched,

Through the bloom of which, all day,
Fly crazed, missing bees.

This "flower that cannot be touched" is a mystical predicament that haunts his poems. Forgotten are the flowers that could be touched, and were, and picked. All that remains is the image of this unattainable bloom, which itself contains, "crazed, missing bees." And like all great poets Kinnell has a knack for the opaque line, the line that cannot be touched at first. The adjective "missing" in this line throws us when we read it, as it is not a use we are familiar with. We assume that there is something in the bloom that is missing bees. Only at a second or third reading does the meaning reveal itself, like something in nature.

The poem ends with a meditation on a single flower in a forest. "Its drift," muses the poet, "is to become nothing." It is clear that Kinnell might not make the most productive flower herder in the wood. He writes,

In its covertness it has a way
Of uttering itself in place of itself
Its blossoms claim to float in the Empyrean

The appeal to heaven breaks off.
The petals begin to fall, in self-forgiveness.
It is a flower. On this mountainside it is dying.

Never one to state directly what he intends to mean, Kinnell here turns the flower, the pursued object of the poem, again into the thing that cannot be had. The flower turns away from the herder, and dies, in self-forgiveness. One gets the sense that the poet was holding his breath, knowing he was wandering among sacred happenings.

A beautiful short poem in the third book here collected ruminates on the poet's lost loves, the "ashes of old volcanoes." Having traced a leisurely course over some old nostalgic ground, Kinnell comes to this,

And yet I can rejoice
that everything changes, that
we go from life
into life,

and enter ourselves
like the tadpole, its time come, tumbling toward the slime.

This is characteristic of a great deal of Kinnell's sentiment. He rarely skirts a sorrowful thought or memory, but rather he lunges at it, takes it in his arms, unfolds each corner of it, lays it bare before us, and then comes to an "and yet." Always there is a sense of hope that springs from an understanding taken from the pathos. Yet even this hope is seldom left to serve as an uncomplicated finale. Though this poem must be said to end on a redemptive note, its literal end is in a tumble toward the slime.

In the more recent poems in this collection, Kinnell's voice softens and simplifies. He has several wonderful poems in later books about his son Fergus, including the oft-anthologized "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps," a poem about how Fergus, wakened by the sound of his parents' lovemaking, would appear in the doorway and crawl into bed with them, propelled by "habit of memory"to the ground of his making,/sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,/this blessing love gives again into our arms."

It is a pleasure to have here collected a great body of life-spanning work and to be able to watch as Kinnell's distinctive voice slowly pares itself down, in self-forgiveness, its drift to become nothing.

—Jacob Silverstein

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kinnell's Selected of 1982 won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award; this new retrospective contains many of the same poems, along with ample selections from the three books that have appeared in the interim (the most recent was 1994's Imperfect Thirst). Kinnell's earliest efforts, in which the poet attempted a more formal, Yeats-inflected style, are omitted completely, but the book presents an adequate cull of Kinnell's ambitious work from the '60s and '70s, including selections from What a Kingdom It Was (1960), Body Rags (1968) and Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980) that differ from the '82 selection. Exploring ideas of consciousness and mortality, the deeply Romantic poems of this period typically develop in short, numbered sections full of dark imagery: "I have come to myself empty, the rope/ strung out behind me/ in the fall sun/ suddenly glorified with all my blood." Like his deep-image peers Robert Bly and James Wright, Kinnell often seeks transcendence through immersion in nature: "Across gull tracks/ And wind ripples in the sand/ The wind seethes. My footprints/ Slogging for the absolute/ Already begin vanishing." Kinnell's later work maintains a similar mode in lyrics composed of long, single stanzas. Elemental as ever, these poems forcefully evince Kinnell's longstanding themes of human extremity--birth, death, sex--but frequently veer into gender-based bathos and heavy-handed lust: "She takes him and talks/ him more swollen. He kneels, opens/ the dark, vertical smile/ linking heaven with the underneath." At this stage in the poet's career, readers might have been better served by a collected volume spanning his entire output, but this well-balanced retrospective provides an appropriate overview of Kinnell's achievements. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Boston Globe
Kinnell is a poet of the rarest ability, the kind who comes once or twice in a generation, who can flesh out music, raise the spirits and break the heart.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

From What a Kingdom It Was 1960

First Song

Then it was dusk in Illinois, the small boy After an afternoon of carting dung Hung on the rail fence, a sapped thing Weary to crying. Dark was growing tall And he began to hear the pond frogs all Calling on his ear with what seemed their joy.

Soon their sound was pleasant for a boy Listening in the smoky dusk and the nightfall Of Illinois, and from the fields two small Boys came bearing cornstalk violins And they rubbed the cornstalk bows with resins And the three sat there scraping of their joy.

It was now fine music the frogs and the boys Did in the towering Illinois twilight make And into dark in spite of a shoulder’s ache A boy’s hunched body loved out of a stalk The first song of his happiness, and the song woke His heart to the darkness and into the sadness of joy.

Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Galway Kinnell

Meet the Author

Galway Kinnell (1927 – 2014) was a former MacArthur Fellow and state poet of Vermont. In 1982 his Selected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. For many years he was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing at New York University, as well as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. For thirty-five years—from What A Kingdom It Was to The Book of Nightmares to Three Books—Galway Kinnell enriched American poetry, not only by his poems but also by his teaching and his powerful public readings.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

A New Selected Poems 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Galway Kinnell is one of the few truly masculine men writing poetry in America today. His connection to nature, to the natural world, to his own feelings, his sense of wonder and awe are all admirably expressed in his poetry. His fatherly experience and emotions, his role as lover of a woman, his dwelling on this glorious and muddy planet are given full fruition in this one volume which contains the best of his output over many years. He is unique among American poets and stands with the best of our contemporary male poets: C.K. Williams, Robert Hass, Amiri Baraka, Stephen Dunn, Philip Levine, James Wright.... He's among the poets of today who will be read and read again in years to come. Kinnell's poems do not sacrifice poetic clarity and guts for effete intellect and solipsistic experiment. These are poems of good craft, originality and accessibility.