I remember as well as one can after 43 years when Galway Kinnell gave a poetry reading at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I was stunned, not just by his reading, but more by the poetry. I went immediately to the Centicore Bookstore and bought what they had available at the time, I think Body Rags.
This collection affirms in my mind that he wrote some of the finest verse during the last half of the 20th Century. In “The Bear” he reveals the unity of all being even as he vividly and grimly describes the awfulness of the way of tracking and killing a bear from the inside out.
In “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight” he bares the tender love of a father who sees hope and mortality in the growth of a child.
He writes passionate love poems that feel the bones beneath his lover’s face. He weaves himself into nature and nature into his flesh. And his language is real, unadorned eloquence:
“In the human heart
There sleeps a green worm
That has spun the heart about itself,
And that shall dream itself black wings
One day to break free into the black sky.”
“In the forest I discover a flower.
The invisible life of the thing
Goes up in flames that are invisible,
Like cellophane burning in the sunlight.
It burns up. Its drift is to be nothing.”
If you only read one collection by Kinnell, this is a great one. But I guarantee it will leave you want to read more.