Friday, November 7, 2014

I Wish I'd Written This

Blackberry Eating
By Galway Kinnell (1927-2014)

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.

It seemed fitting to pay tribute to Galway Kinnell, as a leading American poet who died very recently aged 87. The only problem was that, not being American, although I knew the name I was largely unfamiliar with his work. He was one of those I always meant to catch up with some day.

Well, now I have finally begun my catch-up and have discovered the beauty and importance of his poetry — which no doubt many of you who are reading this already knew. (Feel free to educate me further in your comments!)

He is quoted as saying, "I think if you are ever going to find any kind of truth to poetry it has to be based on all of experience rather than on a narrow segment of cheerful events." I would agree with that; nevertheless this light-hearted celebration of the ordinary, and certainly the cheerful, is the one I could most wish to have written myself.

I like blackberries too! (I grew up with them. But in the climate where I now live, they are only a fond memory.) I also like the way he makes them a metaphor for the appreciation of words and the way we poets love to savour the juicy words on our tongues. 

Sorry if this poem is already so well-known that using it here seems like stating the obvious. Again, not being American, I don't know which are his most-read favourites; but with such a noted poet it would probably be hard to find anything that was completely new to you.

The Wikipedia article is a bit sparse, as are some other online sources. The eulogies are the fullest and most interesting accounts I found of his life and work. The link on his name, above, is to the New York Times article. There is perhaps an even better, more detailed one in The Scotsman.

Give yourselves a treat and listen to him reading and talking about some of his poems here — where I discovered him to be a perfectly lovely man with a very endearing way about him and a good reading voice into the bargain. You'll need to scroll down to the bottom of the page. Please persevere if the third poem seems to be little more than a list — it will soon get more dramatic.

As always, you can find more of his poems at PoemHunter. There's a very full list of books by and about him on Amazon.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. I enjoyed his poem so much. Wish I'd written it too. But I must confess, I'm not familiar with his work, though American. I must catch up with him. Good write as always.

  2. No, he is not well-known in the USA--at least not often quoted like a Wendell Berry or Walt Whitman. And this poem is so delicious, I must have more!
    "...the ripest berries
    fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
    as words sometimes do ..."
    This may be the sweetest bridge in metaphor I have read for a while. I grew up with blackberries too. I noticed lately that they are on grocery store shelves. I can hardly imagine eating them without joining the birds in the brambles.

  3. Rosemary, what a delightful offering this morning! I am not familiar with him either, but I LOVE his blackberry poem and the segue into poetry writing, with his juicy choice of words. He does sound like an endearing man. Thanks for another wonderful share. I live in a town full of blackberry bushes and always vow to stock my freezer each fall and never do - the bears beat me to them. In the shops, a TEENSY basket of blackberries is six dollars, so I need to be quicker getting to the bushes. Maybe next year.

  4. Enjoyed very much the poem, the video with G. Kinell reading some of his poem, adored his little talk around the particular poem, his soft sense of humor - what gentle yet strong soul...~ thanks for the introduction to new name for me Rosemary :)

  5. Well, I don't feel quite so ignorant after learning that his work is not so well-known in the States as I had imagined. Thank you all. It seems he was a major poet all the same, whose poetry is well worth seeking out even now ... or especially now.

    1. PS Where blackberries do grow in Australia, they are now considered a noxious weed and must be eradicated. You never see them in the shops, except in the form of (imported) jams.

    2. Tragic about the blackberries. If I could find one I would plant one. Hippies are cultivating acres of dope I don't understand why the Lismore Council gets so excited about blackberry and camphor laurel trees.
      Like this poem. Thanks. Will check out more of his work.

  6. Of course.. (being an ignorant Swede) I had never heard of him.. I loved how he likens the words with blackberries.. like those little one-syllable lumps becoming a complexity of glorious blackberry gems..

  7. Thanks for this post. I hadn't heard of him but I already have two of his collections coming from the library. I always enjoying reading poets that are new to me.

  8. Rosemary, I am a great fan of Galway Kinnell. In fact, he came to read his poetry at the small press bookstore in my city. He was the most gracious of poets, really made individual contact with those he read to. When we purchased a book (which he signed) he did this in a most personal way. As far as this poem, I think it is one of his more well known ones. But I would not say Galway Kinnell is necessarily a widely known poet by the "masses" but I think that people who really study poetry outside of people who are big names would be familiar with him. I am one who was saddened by his death. Thank you for this tribute.

  9. Thank you so much! I had never heard of him-what a treat his words are~ Off to hear him read more! Thanks, again!


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