Galway Kinnell,
Imperfect Thirst
(Houghton Mifflin, 1996)

Galway Kinnell is not adverse to climbing inside the mind of a mosquito, slipping into the skin of a snake, or crawling inside the body of a bear.

In fact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet finds it necessary to explore the natural world so intensely.

His is not a romanticized, pastoral version of nature. It's the real thing, held by the scruff of the neck and stared down until there is complete understanding.

In Walking Down the Stairs: Selections from Interviews, Kinnell explains why he is so drawn to writing about the authentic in nature.

"When stones come into a poem, they usually are actual stones. Part of poetry 's usefulness in the world is that it pays some of our huge, unpaid tribute to the things and creatures that share the earth with us."

Kinnell often speaks for those who don't have voices, whether it is a rock, a deer fly or a thief, listening to the rhythms of their languages. As Kinnell immerses himself in the experience of the creatures around him, that journey informs his own. His intense examinations yield two great truths: that we must die and that we are capable of tremendous love in the face of this knowledge.

This leads him to embrace a life lived fiercely and urgently, confronting mortality directly.

He calls for characters like the cellist in his twelfth book Imperfect Thirst. After a performance "her face shines with ... the teary radiance of one / who gives everything no matter what has been given."

He speaks of "an unfillable in us" in his poem "The Striped Snake and the Goldfinch," as he wonders at the realization of mortality: "Yet I know more than ever that here is the true place, / here where we sit together, out of the wind, / with a loaf of country bread, and tomatoes still warm / from the distant sun, and wine in glasses that are, / one for each of us, the upper bell of the glass / that will hold the last hour we have to live."

Always, even in his harshest visions, Kinnell finds some quality that brings light and solace and redemption.

[ by Daina Savage ]

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