Last week, Philip Levine followed in the footsteps of such distinguished poets as Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost and Gwendolyn Brooks to win the coveted position of U.S. Poet Laureate.
Now you may be wondering why I'm posting a Galway Kinnell poem instead of a Levine work. Well, in this phenomenal interview with the Paris Review, Levine was quizzed in-depth about the role of "influence," about the push and pull of loving other people's work, and learning from it.
In the midst of that, Levine said this:
"I don’t think Galway Kinnell influenced me, but what’s more important, he inspired me. When I read his great poem “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World,” I said, My God, this is how good the poetry of my generation can be. I can remember exactly where I was when I first read it, on the second floor of the library in an armchair holding The Hudson Review and shivering with excitement."
"Shivering with excitement," I thought to myself. To google we go! Thusly I read "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World," which is as terrific as I'd hoped, painting a closer picture of New York City than seems possible. But I will not lie to you, dear reader. It's long. Not "Iliad" long, but definitely "Goblin Market" long.
But it's worth it. With Levine, I share the sensation of "how the hell does he do that?" I read all of Kinnell's poems available online and each of them is stunning, approachable and beautiful, bringing poetry down from its celestial yet untouchable resting place to its roots as an enlargement of everyday life.
So I choose "Daybreak" for you. Read it, and read it again, and then tell me what you think.
On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.
"Daybreak," by Galway Kinnell from A New Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin).