Irene McKinney’s Unthinkable: Selected Poems, is a daring, vital and wholly original collection that brings poems from all her previous books back into print. The geography of these poems is rural, and she evokes that world brilliantly and totally unsentimentally in poem after poem and in a prose piece, “The Durrett Farm, West Virginia: A Map.” The emotional territory of McKinney’s poems is otherness and its many guises. Hermit-like, she invents both poems and someone to hear them, from the dark house of the body where “…the bud of the voice, has a chance.” It is Irene McKinney’s great skill that, as we read these poems, we too become “other,” wherever we think we belong, and so experience through them the uneasy, holy strangeness of our brief time on earth.
-- Maggie Anderson
Irene McKinney’s Unthinkable, represents three decades of direct, forceful, vernacular, work addressed to us, her readers and listeners, in tones of deep, honest intimacy. McKinney’s poems embody the rhythms of speech, not written discourse, and her themes are timeless: connection with the land, with seasons and animals, with people, with loss and grief and joy. Like Wislawa Symborska or Ruth Stone, McKinney is an independent spirit powered by clarity and compassion. Grounded in Appalachian history, geography, custom, her poems draw on a wide range of poetic and spiritual traditions and tell truths we immediately recognize as universal. McKinney, a major American poet, is represented here in the breadth and depth of her achievement. Unthinkable is a revelation.
-- Jayne Anne Phillips