* remembering galway kinnell

Given this week’s news of Galway Kinnell’s passing, I find myself heading into Dia de los Muertos this weekend with him on my mind.

I had the pleasure of attending a reading he gave alongside Phil Levine in NYC. The two great poets chatted at their table before the reading. When the time came to start, Galway walked up to the mic and in his booming, majestic baritone gave a stellar reading of Phil’s poem “They Feed They Lion.” The room was collectively knocked out. Phil then walked up and replaced Galway at the podium, and said: “Gee, that was pretty good.”

They then proceeded to take turns, poem by poem, reading each other’s work. I remember how well the two voices complimented each other’s work, Phil adding some lyric subtlety to his reading of Galway’s “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of the Christ into the New World,” and Galway delivering the grit and grace behind Phil’s poems.

Grit and grace are two solid words to remember Galway Kinnell by, words exemplified in the meditation in the poem below.

* el maestro *
* el maestro *

The Man Splitting Wood in the Daybreak – Galway Kinnell

The man splitting wood in the daybreak
looks strong, as though, if one weakened,
one could turn to him and he would help.
Gus Newland was strong. When he split wood
he struck hard, flashing the bright steel
through the air so hard the hard maple
leapt apart, as it’s feared marriages will do
in countries reluctant to permit divorce,
and even willow, which, though stacked
to dry a full year, on being split
actually weeps—totem wood, therefore,
to the married-until-death—sunders
with many little lip-wetting gasp-noises.
But Gus is dead. We could turn to our fathers,
but they help us only by the unperplexed
looking-back of the numerals cut into headstones.
Or to our mothers, whose love, so devastated,
can’t, even in spring, break through the hard earth.
Our spouses weaken at the same rate we do.
We have to hold our children up to lean on them.
Everyone who could help goes or hasn’t arrived.
What about the man splitting wood in the daybreak,
who looked strong? That was years ago. That was me.

***

Happy stronging!

Jose

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* translation 3/3 on the friday influence

(from Proverbios y Cantares – Antonio Machado) *

XXXII.

Oh faith of meditation!

Oh faith after deep thought!

When a heart returns to earth,

the human cup overflows, and the sea swells.

***

This week, The Friday Influence presents the work of the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado.

I first ran across the above poem during my first trip to Powell’s in Portland two years ago.  I spied Machado’s Poesias Completas on the shelf and immediately flipped through to these lines.

I was moved by the tension between the mind and the senses implied in these lines.  I mean, that’s what it’s like to be overwhelmed, to be interrupted and taken from thought to body.  The sea swells!  I fell in love and took the book home with me.

I see in these lines the days when I am so focused on the page that to be taken away or distracted hurts – mainly it makes me fussy.  Phil Levine once said: when a poem comes, the phone can wait, the knock at the door can wait, it all can wait.  Ignore it.  I respect the necessity for that kind of attention.  I figure: it’s my poetry – if I don’t make time for it and give it the attention it deserves, who will?

I believe this is a shade of what Keats meant when he spoke of the poet as being “the most unpoetical of any thing in existence.”

***

I have enjoyed this three part stint of translating.  I guess four, if you count my riffing around with Goethe.

For this week’s post, I collaborated with Andrea Schreiber, a self-styled polyglot and linguist with a true love of language.  She is also my girlfriend.  Meaning, she puts up with me when I get fussy.  And she has seen Machado’s Spain, the roads he saw, the sea…  She helped steer my translations towards the spirit of the poems.  I thank her.

Here are a few more from Machado:

XXI.

Last night I dreamed that I saw

God and that I spoke with God;

and dreamed that God listened…

later I dreamed I had dreamed.

XXVIII.

Everyone has two

battles to fight:

in dreams, you wrestle with God;

awake, with the sea.

XLI.

It is common knowledge that cups

are used for drinking;

Sadly, it is unknown

what use we have for thirst.

XLIV.

Everything moves on, and everything stays;

it is our lot to move on,

move on making roads,

roads over the sea.

XLV.

To die…and fall like a drop

of ocean back to the ocean?

Or, be what I never could be:

a man, without shadow, without dreams,

a man that goes forward

without roads, without mirrors?

***

Happy forwarding!

J

* all poems translated by Jose Angel Araguz and Andrea Schreiber.  (word to your late night conversations!)