In Memoriam: Galway Kinnell

Strong Is Your HoldPoet Galway Kinnell died last week, and so this weekend, I took Strong Is Your Hold, his last collection, off the shelf and read through it.

It’s beautiful: direct and yet tender, unflinching in the face of death, and very, very human, encompassing both the ugly and the transcendently lovely. He wrote a musical, welcoming free verse that is incredibly appealing.

If you’ve enjoyed the perennial favorite “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” or “The Bear,” I highly recommend you pick up Strong is Your Hold. Here’s a link to “Why Regret?,” the last poem in the collection, to give you a sense of its tone.

My favorite poems in the book were  the  tender poems about his first wife, Ines, and their children, as well as three elegies for his friends. I was struck by how easily I cried reading them; I love poetry, but it doesn’t often provoke me to tears. The volume also includes “When the Towers Fell,” a long poem about September 11th, which I think is the best poem I’ve read about the tragedy.

The New York Times’s obituary quotes Galway Kinnell on poetry: “To me,” he said, “poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”

The person best suited to write an elegy for Galway Kinnell is, of course, Galway Kinnell, but while we wait for someone else to try her hand, here are the lines from Walt Whitman from which Kinnell took his title:

Tenderly—be not impatient,
(Strong is your hold O mortal flesh
Strong is your hold O love.)