Thursday, March 24, 2016

Diversion: Eighth Collection of Poems from Leland Kinsey, GALVANIZED

Poetry month will arrive in a few more days, and with it, on April 8, the publication of the eighth collection of poems from Vermont writer Leland Kinsey. Nearly 400 pages thick, the volume is a treasure of rural life -- of place, and of family, as well as the traditional trades of farming and "going to the woods" for trees, lumber, solitude, and consolation. GALVANIZED speaks to the energy and nearly alchemical process of refining experience into story, and story into poem, as Lee continues to do.

The collection is a "New and Selected Poems," fronted with a baker's dozen of poems that haven't seen the press before. They are not all "just hatched" ... but maybe they have lain on the desk long enough to detach their sharp edges from this poet's heart, so that he can allow us to enter his grief for his sister Helen, for instance, in "Transit of Venus." These newly revealed tales-in-lines are also a bit looser in form and sound, a bit more clearly the stories themselves that press toward the light. Kinsey's kneading, pressing, and forming of the narratives engage us in the sharp turning points, the sudden awareness of a son who echoes one's own childhood, a longing for long-passed times and family members, a connection between what was then and what stands strongly now: as "Work and Song" announces, "substrate, intrusions, and bedrock / redolant with song."

Of equal and lasting delight are Kinsey's selections from his seven earlier books, and I felt as though I were milling in a crowd of old friends, marveling at how their early appearances had lingered in their lined faces full of character and choice. From the Barton, Vermont, poet's first book, Northern Almanac, I found the memorable and still shocking (in the sense that a young man is shocked by his first exposure to the grit and glory of sexuality) long poem "Fair Days." From Not One Man's Work is the poem "Galvanized," with an ending that satisfies me all over again, describing the "niter," the unpalatable residue from boiling maple sap for a season:
When young we tried it ourselves
dared each other to like it.
It had the sour and bitter taste
of the metals that make the world,
and, if attention was paid,
left for a second on the tongue
a thin sweet coating.
Here is also one of my favorites, "Fireflies," one of the many poems drenched heart-deep with Kinsey's emotions and connections to his father and his upbringing. (This is unquestionably a man's world for this poet, in a good sense, the way that Maxine Kumin's poems were and are always a woman's.) "My father's face glistens / in the milk house doorway / the first hot night in June."

I paged eagerly into the section from In the Rain Shadow, poems that follow this quintessential rural Vermont poet on a once-in-a-lifetime visit to a cousin working in Tanzania, where people call out "Kinsey!" and don't expect Leland to reply! I love the ties of one working landscape to another, half a world away, as with "In the Rain Shadow of Mount Meru," where the first stanza opens with "Young camels' groaning calls / carry to their mothers" and then nips toward "The least of the camels produce more milk / than an average cross-bred cow." Each new experience is lapped over the earlier ones, building a fresh sense of both the distant location and the meaning of home.

Three-quarters through, the collection crescendoes into poems from The Immigrant's Contract, a book I share with people who find poetry confusing in general -- but who may find themselves deeply connected to Kinsey's portrait of the landscape of the Nullhegan River's surroundings, where "the immigrant" logger proclaims: "Took years to cut this region over once. / This river drove us both ways, / into and out of life, and, shining dark-like, / just kept coming." And at last there are poems from the sweet and intense exploration of the wildlands remaining among us, Winter Ready, which Kinsey gave to us in 2014, spilling out "bottle gentian, asters, nettles" as well as "Moose paths, vole and lemming runs" -- the varied and specific abundance of the places best explored alone, a little bit lost, aching with both grief and beauty.

GALVANIZED captures why we live in the vulnerable places of the world, tasting and savoring and exploring. It captures the root word "love" in "loveliness," without speaking those names, but instead showing us through story, memory, and vivid complexity. Let this book simmer and thus perfume the days and evenings ahead. With Leland Kinsey, Green Writers Press of Brattleboro, Vermont, has brought us this fine and treasured gift.

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