A New Selected Poems

Galway Kinnell, Author
Galway Kinnell, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $25 (176p) ISBN 978-0-618-02187-1
Paperback - 194 pages - 978-0-618-15445-6
Open Ebook - 192 pages - 978-0-547-52449-8
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-89652-9
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Kinnell's Selected of 1982 won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award; this new retrospective contains many of the same poems, along with ample selections from the three books that have appeared in the interim (the most recent was 1994's Imperfect Thirst). Kinnell's earliest efforts, in which the poet attempted a more formal, Yeats-inflected style, are omitted completely, but the book presents an adequate cull of Kinnell's ambitious work from the '60s and '70s, including selections from What a Kingdom It Was (1960), Body Rags (1968) and Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980) that differ from the '82 selection. Exploring ideas of consciousness and mortality, the deeply Romantic poems of this period typically develop in short, numbered sections full of dark imagery: ""I have come to myself empty, the rope/ strung out behind me/ in the fall sun/ suddenly glorified with all my blood."" Like his deep-image peers Robert Bly and James Wright, Kinnell often seeks transcendence through immersion in nature: ""Across gull tracks/ And wind ripples in the sand/ The wind seethes. My footprints/ Slogging for the absolute/ Already begin vanishing."" Kinnell's later work maintains a similar mode in lyrics composed of long, single stanzas. Elemental as ever, these poems forcefully evince Kinnell's longstanding themes of human extremity--birth, death, sex--but frequently veer into gender-based bathos and heavy-handed lust: ""She takes him and talks/ him more swollen. He kneels, opens/ the dark, vertical smile/ linking heaven with the underneath."" At this stage in the poet's career, readers might have been better served by a collected volume spanning his entire output, but this well-balanced retrospective provides an appropriate overview of Kinnell's achievements. (Apr.)
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