"I've tried to carry my poetry as far as I could, to dwell on the ugly as fully, as far, and as long, as I could stomach it. Probably more than most poets I have included in my work the unpleasant because I think if you are ever going to find any kind of truth to poetry it has to be based on all of experience rather than on a narrow segment of cheerful events."
Here his young self reads 'The Bear'.
He does not consider himself a 'nature poet' though:
"I don't recognize the distinction between nature poetry and, what would be the other thing? Human civilization poetry? We are creatures of the earth who build our elaborate cities and beavers are creatures of the earth who build their elaborate lodges and canal operations and dams, just as we do…Poems about other creatures may have political and social implications for us."
The children intrude themselves into his most private moments: 'After Making Love, We Hear Footsteps'.
With this more meditative stance Kinnell remains ever compassionate and, like Keats long before him, focusses on the transience of things and how their passing impacts on his everyday existence. He recognises the importance of bearing witness and being seen to do so:
"It's the poet's job to figure out what's happening within oneself, to figure out the connection between the self and the world, and to get it down in words that have a certain shape, that have a chance of lasting."
The weight and wisdom of words well placed can make us feel connected to something within and beyond ourselves; to a greater society. Poetry's balm might even help us towards humility and understanding; our feelings and failings endorsed when the penny drop moments are articulated well for us; they connect us to the ground and to each other. Although more than ever it's a dog eat world I hope that we have moved beyond 'survival of the fittest'; it's not the strengths that bind us; it's the weaknesses; we recognise our vulnerabilities in others and love them for it.
Mmm, I need to step down from the pulpit and get back on topic: words and music as epitaphs...
It wouldn't be hard to imagine 'Promissory Note' as the world's favourite eulogy.
There is a heartbreaking urgency to these simple words, written for Galway Kinnell's wife Bobbie:
If I die before you
which is all but certain
then in the moment
before you will see me
become someone dead
in a transformation
as quick as a shooting star’s
I will cross over into you
and ask you to carry
not only your own memories
but mine too until you
too lie down and erase us
both together into oblivion.