rereading with Galway Kinnell

One of my favorite things about a reading and writing life is exploring how meaning gathers around words and self when we first read something, and then dwelling on how that changes when we reread things. The shifts between a first read and a rereading – especially when the two experiences are years apart – can be as dramatic as the shifting between tectonic plates, or as subtle as a turn of light as the afternoon grows late.

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This train of thought naturally invites parallels with life, which is where this week’s poem, “Lost Loves” by Galway Kinnell, comes to mind. This poem invokes the idea of its title and then goes into unexpected specifics. First, Kinnell’s apt and inventive phrasing of “I lie baking / the deathward flesh in the sun” evokes a languishing sense of mortality. “Deathward” works both on a philosophical level as well as on an emotional one. The word makes one think about the biological functioning of the human body, about what is inevitable. The image of a door “banging in the wind” then leads to specific street names and poem titles which are, in this context, cast as lost loves.

The second section upends this somber dynamic by hitting different notes. Suddenly, the speaker is able to “rejoice”; suddenly there is change. When we get to the intense, primordial image at the end, life itself has shifted and is reread into something raw and hopeful. Love is not lost then, but recovered in the living.

Lost Loves – Galway Kinnell

I.

On ashes of old volcanoes
I lie baking
the deathward flesh in the sun.

I can hear
a door, far away,
banging in the wind:

Mole Street. Quai-aux-Fleurs. Françoise.
Greta. “After Lunch” by Po Chu-I.
“The Sunflower” by Blake.

II.

And yet I can rejoice
that everything changes, that
we go from life
into life,

and enter ourselves
quaking
like the tadpole, its time come, tumbling toward the slime.

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From Collected Poems

poetry feature: Adeeba Shahid Talukder

This week’s poetry feature comes from the work of Adeeba Shahid Talukder whose chapbook What Is Not Beautiful is out now from Glass Poetry Press. Talukder’s work was featured here once before in 2012 and I continue to be floored by her consistently engaging lyric sensibility.

I actually had the opportunity to get an early read of What Is Not Beautiful and got to share my thoughts on it via the following blurb:

“In poems that weave the lyrical passions and strains of Urdu literary traditions with contemporary nerve and insight, What Is Not Beautiful by Adeeba Shahid Talukder presents a new and necessary voice. This collection invites the reader to follow meditations on family, self, womanhood, and culture rendered with the intimate urgency of the best lyric poetry. In the same way the speaker of one poem “[searches], again for beauty” only to find it “means something / else now,” the readers of Talukder’s poems will find the world around them cast in a new, vivid clarity.”

beautifulFor readers new to Talukder’s work, I would add that the poems of this collection live together in a rich atmosphere of perception. Perceptions of beauty, specifically, are engaged with to gain an idea of as well as to challenge their role in forging a sense of self. Yet, there is also lyric perception at work here, a way with the line that invites the reader into perceiving what is at stake for themselves.

The poem “Mirror” (below) is a good example of what I mean. Starting with an image of the sky “watching” herself in a river, the poem adapts its personification of the sky around a narrative imbued with human resonance. We are, in a way, seeing two narratives at once: the sky’s perception of her seemingly “heavy, wrinkled” self and the speaker’s indirect identification with these images and implied feelings. This braiding of image and emotion is an aspect of Talukder’s work that reads both as spontaneous and natural as well as a feat of craft and intuition. Furthermore, this braiding results in a voice, here and elsewhere in the collection, that is intimate and accessible, yet capable of reading into the nuances and depths of complex perceptions. Despite the narrative’s finality in the ending lines, the poem remains an open-ended experience for both speaker and reader.

Mirror – Adeeba Shahid Talukder

the sky watches the river,
finds herself
heavy, wrinkled.

the furrows in her
as the ship pulls in,

the light on the noses
of the wavelets,

the fitful wind —

each a particle
of her mind in flux.

the fog says: nothing is
as it seems. you

will never know
if you are beautiful.

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Copies of What Is Not Beautiful can be purchased from Glass Poetry Press.
Check out this interview with Talukder to learn more about this collection.

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adeebaAdeeba Shahid Talukder is a Pakistani-American poet and translator. She translates Urdu and Persian poetry, and cannot help but bring elements from these worlds to her own work in English. Her book Shahr-e-jaanaan: The City of the Beloved is a winner of the Kundiman Prize and is forthcoming through Tupelo Press. A Best of the Net finalist and a Pushcart nominee, Talukder’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in AnomalySolsticeMeridianGulf Coast,Washington Square, and PBS Frontline, and elsewhere. Talukder holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan and is a Poets House 2017 Emerging Poets Fellow.