Thursday, October 30, 2014

Galway Kinnell, the Great American Poet, Is Dead at 87

Galway Kinnell died Tuesday, October 28, at his home in Sheffield, Vermont. He was 87 years old. Galway was our greatest living American poet, and among the greatest we have ever had. He was deeply influenced by the likes of Walt Whitman, Rainer Maria Rilke, and William Butler Yeats. Like Whitman, he had "a mouth for words"--his work is immersed in the sensual, what you can taste and eat and smell and touch and hear. He was deeply tuned to the musicality of language. At the same time, Kinnell's work is deeply mystical and religious. Galway Kinnell always had a sense of human mortality, that we are here for just a while. And his poetry displayed deep compassion for the suffering of human beings (and really, all of creation).

Galway as a younger man

Photo from, by Richard Brown

Some of my favorite of Galway's poems include: "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps; "Wait"; "The Still Time"; "The Last Hiding Place of Snow"; and so many more. I will paste some of these below.

 Wait  (Galway Kinnell)
 Wait, for now.
 Distrust everything, if you have to.
 But trust the hours. Haven't they
 carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Don't go too early.
You're tired. But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.#

The Still Time
by Galway Kinnell

I know there is still time -
time for the hands
to open, for the bones of them
to be filled
by those failed harvests of want,
the bread imagined of the days of not having.

Now that the fear
has been rummaged down to its husk,
and the wind blowing
the flesh away translates itself
into flesh and the flesh
gives itself in its reveries to the wind.

I remember those summer nights
when I was young and empty,
when I lay through the darkness
wanting, wanting,
I would have nothing if anything I wanted -
that total craving
that hollows the heart out irreversibly.

So it surprises me now to hear
the steps of my life following me -
so much of it gone
it returns, everything that drove me crazy
comes back, blessing the misery
of each step it took me into the world;
as though a prayer had ended
and the bit of changed air
between the palms goes free
to become the glitter
on some common thing that inexplicably shines.

And the old voice,
which once made its broken-off, choked, parrot-incoherences,
speaks again,
this time on the palatum cordis
this time saying there is time, still time,
for one who can groan
to sing,
for one who can sing to be healed.#

Galway Kinnell - After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run - as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears - in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small
he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder
about the mental capacity of baseball players -
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across his little, startling muscled body -
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.#

Two selections from a poem by Galway Kinnell, maybe our greatest poet, writing about his mother in the poem "The Last Hiding Place of Snow":

Once in a while, passing the place,
I have imagined I heard
my old mother calling, thinking out loud her
mother-love toward me, over those many miles
from where her bones lie,
five years
in earth now, with my father's thirty-years' bones.

I have always felt
anointed by her love, its light
like sunlight
falling through broken panes
onto the floor
of a deserted house: we may go, it remains,
telling of goodness of being, of permanence.

So lighted I have believed
I could wander anywhere,
among any foulness, any contagions,
I could climb through the entire empty world
and find my way back and learn to be happy.

[later in the same poem]:

Even now when I wake at night
in some room far from everyone,
the darkness sometimes
lightens a little, and then,
because of nothing,
in spite of nothing,
in an imaginary daybreak, I see her,
and for that moment I am still her son
and I am in the holy land
and twice in the holy land, remembered
within her, and remembered in the memory
her old body slowly executes into the earth.

Here is what the New York Times said about him:
[New York Times story on Galway Kinnell]

“Galway Kinnell cares about everything,” the poet and novelist James Dickey once observed. Over the years he lent passionate support to the antiwar movement, to freedom of expression in repressive countries, to environmental causes and civil rights. In 1963 he went to work for the Congress of Racial Equality, helping to register black voters in Louisiana — an effort that got him thrown in jail, with a pimp and a car thief for cellmates.

Through it all, he held that it was the job of poets to bear witness. “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.”

Two Wendell Berry Poems to Honor Professor Bob Jaynes

To honor the late Bob Jaynes, Lakeland professor of psychology since 1971, here are two poems by one of his favorite poets, Wendell Berry:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

                by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head.
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Karen Casey Singing a Bluesy Song in Irish--"Buile Mo Chroi," The Beat of My Heart

This is an unbelievable, sexy version of a song in Irish and English by the great singer Karan Casey--who I've seen a couple times perform at Cain Park, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. The song talks about the "Buile Mo Chroi" and the "Cuisle Mo Chroi"--the "beat of my heart" and the "pulse of my heart." Approximate pronunciation is /BULL-uh muh KHREE/ and /KUSH-luh muh KHREE/

New Poem--About My Grandson Colin

Love Is in My Grandson’s Heart

Linda reads the book on grandmothers to four-year-old Colin.
It begins with names for grandmother from many different languages:
Oma, Maimeó , Babushka, Nonna, Abuela, Grand-mère, MeMaw . . .

And ends with the Grandma in the story telling her grandson,
Who looked a lot like Colin,
“I know you love me. I can see the love in your eyes.”

Colin reacted oddly, closing his eyes tight,

Then putting his right hand over his heart, saying,

“No, it’s not my eyes—it’s in my heart.”

[Bob Coughlin / October 22, 2014]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Notre Dame Classmates. Salzburg-Innsbruck Program, 1967-68.

I was a Notre Dame student from 1966 to 1970. I spent my Sophomore year in Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria. For a working-class boy from Euclid, this was close to a miracle. There were 36 of us in this program, and many of my classmates have had extraordinary careers and lives. From left in the black and white photo, you can see Jim O'Connell, now a very famous and much honored physician to the homeless in the Boston area. To his right, Brian Wilson, a pediatrician in Hilo, Hawaii. Then Al Issenman, a professor at Northwestern. Bob Wingerson, from the Detroit area left of Al. Then Charlie Schaffer (not sure what he's doing); then Tim Berry, a successful journalist and now a business owner in the Pacific Northwest; Jim Peters and Colm Gage next; then Steve Tapscott, professor at MIT, distinguished poet and translator; me next; Leo Lensing, distinguished professor of German and our class's valedictorian; Paddy Laflin; and on the right, Dick Riehle, well-known character actor (probably been in a hundred movies and many tv sitcoms). Tim Berry posted both of these photos on Facebook.
The Notre Dame boys of the Schmelzergasse Pension. Innsbruck, Austria. I'm fourth from right. 1967.

Notre Damers. Maybe Schloss Klessheim, outside Salzburg. I'm front left, pointing. 1967.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To Judge Grendell and the Geauga Park Board--It Ain't Over till It's Over

Site of the October 12, 2014 Meeting

Citizens are really fired up and angry about the way Judge Timothy Grendell has manipulated the Geauga Park system and its governing board. Grendell fired the entire previous board as well as the former acclaimed director Tom Curtin (after they canned Tom Curtin, the Delaware County Preservation Parks system quickly grabbed him up!). The new board, totally inexperienced in parks and park management, fired long-time employees, without cause (in Ohio, if you don't have union protection, you can be fired at will, no reason given). The new board has pulled many shenanigans, some of questionable legality. They rewrote the by-laws, adding a laundry list of "recreational" activities allowed in the park. These included gas and oil drilling (and possibly fracking), gun ranges, timbering, ATV and snowmobiling on trails meant for horses or walking, as well as more traditional park recreational activities. This laundry list has seen been rescinded--the board was essentially forced to do that by the public uproar and protests. The board then replaced that ridiculous by-law language with a generic statement that seems to allow anything not illegal--so much for improvements!
Timothy Grendell

I imagine Judge Grendell and the new board thought that the protest would peter out, that people would just give up and stop coming to protest events and board meetings.

That has not happened.

This past Sunday, about 130 people were shoe-horned into the log cabin on Chardon Square in a meeting of those opposed to Judge Grendell and the direction of the new board. Many brilliant speakers addressed the audience. Chardon and Geauga County is full of well-educated people who believe in democracy, who won't stand for the autocracy and dictatorship of Judge Grendell. Some people who spoke included Jim Mueller of Russell Township, John Augustin, a former board member, Kathryn Hanratty, and others. People enjoyed cider, donuts, and local apples, bought protest shirts, and enjoyed socializing with their friends and neighbors in the crowd. Some of the smartest and bravest people in Geauga County were there. I noticed Deb Reiter, Kathy Flora, Kathleen O'Neill Webb, Rick Webb, Ron Wiech, Catherine and Elbert Whitright, and many more.

After Sunday's meeting, at Big Creek Park.

Linda makes her beliefs clear!

Last night's monthly Geauga Parks board meeting was called off at the last legally possible time, a little over 24 hours before it was scheduled. Undaunted by this, 90 to 100 people still came to protest, many wearing their "Preserve, Conserve, Protect Geauga Parks" shirts, and many holding up signs. For a rainy Tuesday evening, even after the official meeting was cancelled, that is an astonishing show of force, of will, of principle.

Judge Grendell, these folks are not going to be quiet; they are not going away. They will fight to save the Geauga Park system! It ain't over till it's over!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fall Walk Along Big Creek--Girdled Road Reservation

Spectacular Orange Fungus

Milkweed and blue aster

View of Big Creek

Small falls along Big Creek

Linda by the falls

Tulip poplar across Big Creek

Fruit of Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Francis of Assisi--A Person Our Era Needs (Feast Day October 4th)

Francis of Assisi lived in a small town in Italy 800 years ago. Yet he is the Saint (a word that simply means "holy") for our era.

Image from Wikipedia

Francis was born in 1181 or 1182 in Assisi, a town in the Umbria/Perugia region of Italy, and was named "Giovanni" ("John" in English) and given the nickname "Francesco" ("Frenchie"/"the Frenchman") as an infant. His father was Pietro di Bernardone and his mother was Pica de Bourlemont. Francis's father was a fairly wealthy silk merchant, and Francis began his life bathed in privilege.

There is a wonderful hagiography of Francis. I'm sure it's hard to find out if these stories are historically accurate, but they certainly get at the spirit of the man. One story has him selling his father's silks in the marketplace and being approached by a beggar. At first Francis shrinks from the man, but eventually chases after him, giving away everything in his pockets. In the story, he is berated by his father for this.

Francis participated in a local war when he was around 20, was captured and held prisoner for a year. In the years after that captivity he had a religious conversion, culminating in a vision at the chapel of San Damiano, outside Assisi. Here is the story, as seen in Wikipedia (and found in all biographies of the man):

[in the chapel of San Damino} . . . the Icon of Christ Crucified said to him, "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins." He took this to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying, and so he sold some cloth from his father's store to assist the priest there for this purpose.
His father, Pietro, highly indignant, attempted to change his mind, first with threats and then with beatings. In the midst of legal proceedings before the Bishop of Assisi, Francis renounced his father and his patrimony, laying aside even the garments he had received from him in front of the public. For the next couple of months he lived as a beggar in the region of Assisi. Returning to the countryside around the town for two years, he embraced the life of a penitent, during which he restored several ruined chapels in the countryside around Assisi, among them the Porziuncola, the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels just outside the town, which later became his favorite abode.

Francis took the vision literally--to literally repair falling-down churches. But the task eventually took on a metaphoric turn--renewing the Catholic Christian Church. I believe that the reason our current pope, Francis, took the name, was in that spirit--the church needs radical renewal, change, reformation.
St. Francis devoted his life to serving the poor and living in utmost simplicity. He has become the patron saint of nature, the patron of the Earth's environment. His charism, his holiness, his mission is exactly what is needed in our precarious age, when the poor are being trampled, when complexity and luxury and the rich are having their greatest moment in the sun, and when the earth is in terrible danger from the forces of wealth. Francis is the saint for our time.

Francis of Assisi is considered one of the earliest poets to write in Italian (in his case, the Umbrian dialect of Italian) rather than in Latin. You might say he was the first vulgar poet (in the sense that "vulgar" means the language of the people). He was like Italy's Walt Whitman! Here is his great poem, which has been translated and modified a thousand times, even made into modern movies and pop songs. Below is Francis' "Canticle/Song of the Sun."

English Translation of "Canticle of the Sun"
Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

My wife and I had three daughters, greatest gifts of our lives. I thought if we ever had a son, he would be named Giovanni Francesco, John Francis--after the great saint, and after my grandfather John Francis FitzPatrick. That never happened, so I have taken that as my secret name.
One of my favorite biographies of St. Francis is by G.K Chesterton; there's another fascinating one by Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek. There are movies by Fellini and Zeffirelli (Brother Sun, Sister Moon). Dozens of books; dozens of classical and popular tunes and songs. St. Francis has spoken to artists for 800 years! 
He still speaks to me.
Image from Wikipedia