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Galway Kinnell: A Magical Coincidence

Half my life ago, I was swept by a fierce wind; it rose up, and I was gone. Nothing prepared me for such violence: I broke oaths, wrecked all edifices of a middle class woman’s life: marriage, home, plans for success in the precious material world. I would relinquish all but my child to inhabit a psyche foreign and fraught, making myself independent yet passionately vulnerable, choosing to focus on my interior self. Beauty, Eros, Poetry were making their way through me with powerful indifference.

I would not have survived without a circle of artists and wisdom-seekers whose recognition of my peculiar longings served to inspire and encourage me. Among those was a nationally known poet, whose poems elated me, striking the transformational note all great art achieves. I discovered him through his book, The Book of Nightmares, and later I would show up at any and all readings that were close enough for me to attend. His voice had a bardic resonance that made the words fly off the page. His name: Galway Kinnell. He died this year and his death catapulted me back to those early years of struggle and passion when I began writing poems and plays.

One afternoon, with little money, few literary prospects and a sense that my writing was never to meet its promise, I sauntered into the George Sand bookstore on Melrose Ave. In those years, (the 1980’s) there were, thankfully, many literary, independently-owned bookstores, places of refuge that made the bibliophile and the writer feel at home. On this particular afternoon, I glanced Kinnell’s newest book, Mortal Acts, Mortal Words, which was propped up on a Plexiglas stand. As I picked it up, a constant barrage of questions, assailing me since early morning, still darted through my mind. How was I to proceed with my life? My art? How would I be able to continue to support myself and my child? Who would ever want to read my work? Thinking so, I opened the book to the poem, “Wait”. I read it and afterwards wept, grateful in that moment, that the Mysterious was alive and well within and without me. Of course I bought the book. And through the years read and reread all the marvelous poems within. In fact, it was such a well-worn treasure, that by the time I brought it with me to a poetry reading that Kinnell was giving at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, it was tattered and coffee stained. After the reading was over, I eagerly brought my copy up for Galway to sign; and when he looked at the decrepit state of my book, worn through because of its constant use, he smiled broadly, autographed the page, then asked for my home address. A week later I received a brand new copy!

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