Poetry News

Galway Kinnell Unlocks One Writer's Poetry About Fatherhood

By Harriet Staff

For Slate, Kyle Fleming-Rosko wrestles with new fatherhood and his sense that writing about his infant son would only end up reminiscent of a Hallmark card. "Then my professor Dorianne Laux recommended a poet named Galway Kinnell," writes Fleming-Rosco. More:

...She promised that Kinnell would be the key that unlocked my writing about fatherhood. Leafing through his books the same day in the university library, I was instantly transported to the fatherhood-poetry fantasyland I’d imagined while my son was still in utero. Every image, every sentiment, every line break was perfectly placed in a way that neither betrayed nor cheapened the experience of being a father.

It seemed as though my sense that what my writing needed was the emotional distance I’d yet to acquire was wrong. Kinnell’s poems couldn’t have been less emotionally distant. In books like The Book of Nightmares and Mortal Acts, Mortal Words, he addresses fatherhood and its attendant emotions very directly. One poem, titled “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight,” explicitly begins with Kinnell lifting his daughter Maud from her crib:

You scream, waking from a nightmare.


When I sleepwalk

into your room, and pick you up,

and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me


as if clinging could save us.

The rules that he breaks! Naming his daughter, a thing I assumed you should never do in a poem! Giving the word hard its own short line after such a long line! Writing so directly about such a tender moment as lifting a child from her crib as you rescue her from a nightmare! And yet, Kinnell doesn’t sound cheesy at all... 

Find the full piece at Slate.

Originally Published: June 15th, 2018