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015 Kirby, David.  “On the Borderline.”  Review of Strong Is Your Hold by Galway Kinnell. 

        The New York Times Book Review, November 26, 2006, 20.


Kirby says Walt Whitman is the right patron for Kinnell, because their poetry consists of long, loose, looping lines, as does the poetry of several contemporary poets: Alan Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Gerald Stern, and Philip Levine.  These poets use long floppy lines “to lasso” their subjects with a charm that is part of their appeal.  In contrast, John Ashbery, W. S. Merwin, Mark Strand, and Gary Snyder write a tighter, gnomic line like those of Emily Dickinson.  Kinnell is also like Whitman in his broad democratic approach to subjects of every age and every continent.  In this collection, his first book in over a decade, he treats two principal subjects, life and death.  Kinnell shows these realms separated by a thin, almost invisible border.  In one poem he is welcomed to a banquet table by a circle of dead friends.  The poet wishes he could join them in death, but he awakes from this dream determined to write what he must before his work is finished.  He calls himself a “transrealmic” poet, alive but constantly facing death (Kinnell will be 80 in 2007), fascinated with questions he poses to the recently deceased such as poet Jane Kenyon  [Did she get it all said to her poet husband before she died?].  Kirby finds the most appealing of Kinnell’s poems in this collection the half-dozen or so that are addressed to his wife, preparing to say goodbye if one dies before the other. Getting older for Kinnell is full of moments when we walk the line between this world and the next. The mortal love celebrated here in these poems has bound two people for almost all of their lifetimes.  Kinnell’s poetry is one of those pleasures we will find to enrich our own lives.


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