To accommodate his frailty at the age of 83, the stage was set up so that he could remain seated, but, completely ill at ease in the seat, Kinnell stood up for his hour and ten minute presentation. He was amazing. The focus of his presentation was the poetry in his life from the Depression era to today. He interspersed poems with commentary. Much to everyone's dismay, he didn't read a single poem of his own!
Kinnell has one of those voices just made for recitation! He clearly believes that poetry should be spoken rather than read.
He started off by telling us of his youth in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The accent of his neighbors couldn't be called lilting, and, it wasn't until he read Poe's "Annabelle Lee" that he realized that language could be seen as music.
Kinnell amazed his audience by stating he memorized many poems and could recite them at will. (I believe the number he told us was 40 poems.)
He told of protesting the war in Vietnam during a time when poetry and activism went hand-in-hand. He mentioned poets now gone, but not forgotten, such as William Carlos Williams, to whom he read poems aloud.
We were held spellbound while Kinnell read poem after poem. Due to a lack of time, he skipped many that he had brought along. One of these was Robert Frost's "Home Burial," which he branded as "one of the great poems of the language."
One poem I found delightful, and completely relevant to present day America, is Muriel Rukeyser's, "St. Roach."
For that I never knew you, I only learned to dread you,The following, also from the Dodge Festival, but the day before I arrived, is Kinnell reading one of his own poems:
for that I never touched you, they told me you are filth,
they showed me by every action to despise your kind;
for that I saw my people making war on you,
I could not tell you apart, one from another,
for that in childhood I lived in places clear of you,
for that all the people I knew met you by
crushing you, stamping you to death, they poured boiling
water on you, they flushed you down,
for that I could not tell one from another
only that you were dark, fast on your feet, and slender.
Not like me.
For that I did not know your poems
And that I do not know any of your sayings
And that I cannot speak or read your language
And that I do not sing your songs
And that I do not teach our children
to eat your food
or know your poems
or sing your songs
But that we say you are filthing our food
But that we know you not at all.
Yesterday I looked at one of you for the first time.
You were lighter that the others in color, that was
neither good nor bad.
I was really looking for the first time.
You seemed troubled and witty.
Today I touched one of you for the first time.
You were startled, you ran, you fled away
Fast as a dancer, light, strange, and lovely to the touch.
I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.
This week's Poetry Friday Round-Up is being held at A Wrung Sponge. Do stop by!