Strong Is Your Hold


Here in paperback for the first time is the celebrated eleventh book of poems by Galway Kinnell. The book’s title derives from Walt Whitman’s “Last Invocation”: “Strong is your hold O mortal flesh, / Strong is your hold O love.” In this striking collection, Kinnell gives us poems of intermingling with the natural world, love poems and evocations of sexuality, poems about his father, his children, poet friends, poet heroes, and mythic figures. Included also is “When the Towers Fell,” his stunning requiem for ...
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Strong Is Your Hold

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Here in paperback for the first time is the celebrated eleventh book of poems by Galway Kinnell. The book’s title derives from Walt Whitman’s “Last Invocation”: “Strong is your hold O mortal flesh, / Strong is your hold O love.” In this striking collection, Kinnell gives us poems of intermingling with the natural world, love poems and evocations of sexuality, poems about his father, his children, poet friends, poet heroes, and mythic figures. Included also is “When the Towers Fell,” his stunning requiem for those who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. The collection also affords the singular experience of hearing the poet read his own work, with an extraordinary audio recording included on CD.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Longtime fans and new readers alike will find this collection a powerful addition to an important body of work." Publishers Weekly, Starred

"Kinnell delights in earth's crude beauty via elegantly playful odes to everything that slithers, wriggles, and writhes."—Hannah Tucker Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547053660
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/9/2008
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 364,967
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Galway Kinnell is a former MacArthur Fellow and has been 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. He is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. For thirty-five years--from WHAT A KINGDOM IT WAS to THE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES to THREEE BOOKS--Galway Kinnell has been enriching American poetry, not only by his poems but also by his teaching and his powerful public readings.
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Read an Excerpt

Everyone Was in Love

One day, when they were little, Maud and Fergus appeared in the doorway naked and mirthful, with a dozen long garter snakes draped over each of them like brand-new clothes.
Snake tails dangled down their backs, and snake foreparts in various lengths fell over their fronts. With heads raised and swaying, alert as cobras, the snakes writhed their dry skins upon each other, as snakes like doing in lovemaking, with the added novelty of caressing soft, smooth, moist human skin.
Maud and Fergus were deliciously pleased with themselves.
The snakes seemed to be tickled, too.
We were enchanted. Everyone was in love.
Then Maud drew down off Fergus’s shoulder, as off a tie rack, a peculiarly lumpy snake and told me to look inside.
Inside the double-hinged jaw, a frog’s green webbed hind feet were being drawn, like a diver’s, very slowly as if into deepest waters.
Perhaps thinking I might be considering rescue, Maud said, “Don’t. Frog is already elsewhere.”


Yesterday she took down from the attic an old lumpy tea-colored pillow–stained with drool, hair grease, night sweats, or what !
which many heads may have waked upon in the dark, and lain there motionless, eyes open, wondering at the strangeness within themselves– took it and ripped out the stitching at one end, making of it a sack.
Standing on a bench in the garden, she plunges a hand into the sack and lifts out a puffy fistful of feathers.
A few accidentally spill and drift, and tree swallows appear. She raises the hand holding the feathers straight up over her head, and stands like a god of seedtime about to scatter bits of plenitude, or like herself in a long-ago summer, by a pond, chumming for sunfish with bread crumbs.
When the breeze quickens she opens her fist and more of these fluffs near zero on the scale of materiality float free. One of the swallows now looping and whirling about her snatches at a feather, misses, twists round on itself, streaks back, snaps its beak shut on it, and flings itself across the field.
Another swallow seizes a feather and flies up, but, flapping and turning, loses it to a third swallow, who soars with it even higher and disappears.
After many tosses, misses, parries, catches, she ties off the pillow, ending for now the game they make of it when she’s there, the imperative to feather one’s nest, which has come down in the tree swallow from the Pliocene. She returns to the house, a slight lurch in her gait–not surprising, for she has been so long at play with these acrobatic, daredevil aerialists, she might momentarily have lost the trick of walking on earth.


I open my eyes to see how the night is progressing. The clock glows green, the light of the last-quarter moon shines up off the snow into our bedroom.
Her portion of our oceanic duvet lies completely flat. The words of the shepherd in Tristan, “Waste and empty, the sea,” come back to me.
Where can she be? Then in the furrow where the duvet overlaps her pillow, a small hank of brown hair shows itself, her marker that she’s here, asleep, somewhere down in the dark underneath. Now she rotates herself a quarter turn, from strewn all unfolded on her back to bunched in a Z on her side, with her back to me.
I squirm nearer, careful not to break into the immensity of her sleep, and lie there absorbing the astounding quantity of heat a slender body ovens up around itself.
Her slow, purring, sometimes snorish, perfectly intelligible sleeping sounds abruptly stop. A leg darts back and hooks my ankle with its foot and draws me closer. Immediately her sleeping sounds resume, telling me: “Come, press against me, yes, like that, put your right elbow on my hipbone, perfect, and your right hand at my breasts, yes, that’s it, now your left arm, which has become extra, stow it somewhere out of the way, good.
Entangled with each other so, unsleeping one, together we will outsleep the night.”

Copyright © 2006 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

I The Stone Table 3 Everyone Was in Love 5 It All Comes Back 6 Inés on Vacation 8 Dinner Party 9 Hide-and-Seek 1933 11 Conversation 12

II Ode and Elegy 17 Feathering 19 Burning the Brush Pile 21 Pulling a Nail 24 The Quick and the Dead 30

III When the Towers Fell 37

IV Middle Path 45 How Could She Not 47 The Scattering of Evan Jones’ Ashes 49 The 26th of December 51 Promissory Note 52

V Shelley 55 Sex 57 Insomniac 58 Field Notes 60 Walnut 62 Pure Balance 64 Why Regret? 65

Notes 68

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