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June 04, 1971 - Image 5

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Michigan Daily, 1971-06-04

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Friday June 4, 1971


Kinnell's Nightmares

Galway Kinnell, THE BOOK
Mifflin, $4.50, paper, $2.95.
Hard as the shock may be for
many professot s of English to
sustain, one of the great poems
in the language has just been
published. Undoubtedly, the fact
will fail to register with them
for another hundred years. The
poem is The B o o k of Night-
mares by Galway Kinnell.
The book has a specific vo-
cabulary, an exactitude of
speech which grips the things of
the earth, so different from the
kind of formalized language of,
technical interests in which
words tend to grip only each
other and the cold spaces of the
intellect. The language gives
testimony to spiritual concern
that is not merely voguish but
lived on the bones. Kinnell's is
the kind of writing Pound in-
sisted upon, writing that makes
it apparent that the man has
really seen the things he talks
* about:
. . . I watch, as he
must' have watched, a fly
tangled in mouth-glue, whin-
ing his wings,
concentrated wholly on
time, time, losing his w a y
'! worse
down the downward-winding
stairs, his wings
whining for life as he
in the gaze
from the spider's clasped
forebrains . . .
The sound of the verse is so
resonant and muscular, far from
t h e insipid mellifluousness or
sterile balance of so much verse
in English, latter day remnants
of the poornesses of the Eliza-
bethan and Neo-classical. In
this poem we have consonants
with bodies, vowels with energy,
and line-breaks whose unex-
pectedness maintains the poem's
It is all here - politics, pov-
erty, love between man and wo-

man, parent and child, the suf-
fering of the sick - all coher-
ing and suffused with a sad
and tender love of the world as
it is; so much more difficult
and deep than to love the world
for what it could be.
And at the center of it all is
Galway Kinnell's hunt to be-
come one with the Bear that is
the consciousness of death, and
the key to joy. It is a pursuit
evident throughout Kinnell's
work from the very beginning.
For instance, in "Another Night
in the Ruins" he had written:
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren't, after all,
from that bird which flies out
of its ashes,
that for a man
as he goes up in flames, his
one work
to open himself, to be
the flames?
I think that "The Bear," a poem
so totally experimental as op-
posed to intellective (and pret-
ty well recognized by now as an
immortal poem), was an impor-
tant signal, for what was form-
erly to some extent a kind of
"concern." The concern with
death, is now, in The Book of
Nightmares, a wholly embodied
and radiant experience. In this
poem we do not consider our
mortality; we live it.
Whereas most of us turn fur-
ther and further from our vis-
ion of dying, until we have shut
out the most of our lives in the
attempt to protect ourselves
from our own mortality, Kin-
nell has plunged into the vision
Todays writers - . .
Tarry Russ, a senior, has won
two Hopwood Awards in poetry
plus the Academy of American
Poets Award.
Mary Baron, also a Hopwood
winner, has had her poetry
published in The Southern Re-

of death and found himself in
the land of joy where every-
thing shines with a strangeness
and death is the agent of the
ceaseless change that mak-'s
things forever new and infin-
itely precious. It is no accident
that in both Eastern and West-
ern cultures the goddess of lave
and beauty is so often also the
goddess of death (as Freud
pointed out in "The Theme of
the Three Caskets"). As Kinnell
says, "Lastness is brightness"
and "The w a g e s of dying is
By the all-embracing flow of
his emotion, t h e masterful
handling of an often-complex
but clear syntax, and the organ-
ic intertwining of certain re-
peated images (e.g., the bear,
the hen, the dark of the moon,
the sagging beds, the Crone), he
creates a sequence wholly co-
hesive and alive, the vision of
existence and poem-as-world as
a field of relationships, an indi-
visible continuum of energy and
mystery intensely fascinating
and moving. The cosmic, th e
natural, and the personal be-
come inseparable, as in t h i s
beautiful passage about the
birth of his son:
When he came wholly forth
I took him up in my hands
and bent
over and smelled
the black, glistening fur
of his head, as empty space
must have bent
over the newborn planet
and smelled the grasslands
and the ferns,
In its lovingness and depth
the book invites comparison
with that other great sequence-
poem (also in ten parts), Ril-
ke's Duino Elegies, from which
Kinnell's epigraph is taken. In
fact, the epigraph tells w h at
Kinnell has done:
But this, though: death,
the whole of death -
to hold it also gently, and be
this is beyond description!


McCarthy's Aardvarks
And in the poem "Place of ian," some of his problems as a
Eugene McCarthy, O T H E K Promise." one of his best, he de- poet:
THINGS AND THE AARD- scribes winter dusk:
VARK, Doubleday, $8.00, My metaphors grow cold and
Whiteness alone, not light old
By MARY BARON holds back t h e punctual My enemies both young and
Eugene McCarthy is a pro- night . . . bold.
fessional politician and an am- Still, quiet, in this clearing I have left Act I, for involu-
ateur poet. In his first book of I stand, testing, in trust, tion
poems, Other Things and the the word, on a cold crust And Act II. There mired in
Aardvark, he does not often mix of water, complexity
the two. Few of the poems deal I cannot write Act III.
with his political career; most I admire the first two lines be-
are personal - love poems, cause they get a common obser- I am afraid that this is a fair
statement of the case. Mr. Mc-
Carthy's metaphors are not, us-
ually, very interesting. It often
seems that they do not quite fit
in the poems. In what is, on the
whole a very good poem, "On
" ' - The Death of Vernon Watkins,"
the poet is determined that we
get the irony of Watkin's dying
during a tennis match:
Poor fish who knew the sea
why did you dare the net?
Poor beast who knew b o t h
* 3 grass and thorn
why would you run on maca-
Within the poem these lines are
unnecessary, over-explicit and.
with the fish/net and beast/
by Boo shan, 15 macadam images, unintention-
ally comic. In his insistance on
poems to his family, poems on vation down neatly. quickly and the tennis court the poet neatly
favorite places. They read al- without fuss. The last four lines loses the poem.
most like a journal po e m s I like because they have an ele- The few poems which do im-
written along the way. ment of surprise. They transfer pinge on the political or social
In the best of the poems Mr. us from landscape to theology are, I think, the worst in the
* McCarthy can get something and back; they are unexpected, book. Mr. McCarthy has no gift
down briefly and perfectly in but I think effective. This is for allegory. He uses it as a meat
the simplest language. He opens metaphor used well, Aristotle's way of reporting something af-
a poem to Robert Lowell, for ex- "leap of the mind." It is excit- ter the fact and making certain
ample, with the lines: ing, it saves this poem, and it that we .c a n tell the players
happens, unfortunately, ye r y without a score-card. Poems,
Poet of purity and parsimony, seldom in this book. such as the title poem, which
using one sense at -a t i me, Mr. McCarthy laments, in attempt general statement en-
sparingly. "Lament of an Aging Politic-, unciated by the poet disguised

as Everyman, are failures. "the
Aardvark," for example, be-
I am alone
in the land of the aardvarks,
I am walking west
all the aardvarks are going
These aardvarks are marching
to eat termites which nave
grown fat on "the dead wood
of the tree of knowledge," a
diet which does little to expand
the consciousness:
Even if the aardvarks were
they could not see me.
I am wearing red and green.
Their world is empty of red
and green
and of pink and purple and
Roman brown. Their eyes do
not narrow
in the light or widen in the
dark .
This poem, and others in the
book, is set up with the sim-
plicity of an old movie; the good
guys wear colors, the aardvarks
wear black; you wore blue, the
Germans wore gray. Unlike an
old movie, however, nothing ev-
er happens. The poem contin-
ues describing the noxious hab-
its of the aardvarks and ends
with an explanation, rather be-

by Edward Weston, 1930
,atedly, of the poet's presence in
the land of the aardvarks:
I am looking for you.
What someone else is doing in
a land in which the poet de-
clares "I am alone" and what
someone worth looking f o r is
doing among the aardvarks, is
never explained. This is a case
in which the poet evidently
"cannot write Act III".
To turn devils advocate at the
end, I would like to point out
that the problems in the poems
are almost always a matter of
technique and not of talent. Mr.
McCarthy is not a bad poet, I
think he is simply not a very
practiced one. He has been busy
elsewhere. bless him. He has a
good many potential poems in
this book, four that I think are
really good, and one, "The
Snails of St. Paul de Vence"
that is superb. Not bad for an
Photos. .
Today's photos were selected
from T h e Picture History of
Photography by Peter Pollack
(Abramns, $25..00). Arranged ac-
cording to technological period
and individual artist, this re-
vised volume represents a rich
panorama of photographic his-

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