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JOHN KINSELLA - SUMMER 2002 FEATURE  

The Cortland Review

FEATURE

Sharon Olds
Best American Poetry on the Air: An interview and reading with American Poet Sharon Olds. David Lehman hosts this special audio program.

Dick Allen
A Day in the Life of Dick Allen: Lines, images, rhythms, and cross outs.

David Kennedy
Voiceprints (Part 2) - Poetry on CD and Cassette: David Kennedy continues to explore the magical relationship between poetry and voice.

John Kinsella
Extracts from Letters London to Perth-June/July 1993: Sobriety, logic, unbridled passion and lust, all in the latest chapter of John Kinsella's autobiographical series.

John Kinsella

John Kinsella is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, most recently, The Hunt and Other Poems 1980-1994 (Dufour, 1998). His work has appeared in Poetry and The Paris Review, among many others. As well, he is the editor of Salt. Currently, he teaches at Cambridge University in England.
John Kinsella Autobiography Series

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Extracts from Letters London to Perth—June/July 1993


13/6/1993

London

Dear __,

... I just can't help loving you obsessively. And when my feet stick out of bed at night and my window glows an angry orange-red, the passion surges and lifts me out of my body like fire... I try to talk to you when I know I should leave you in peace, I want to wrap myself around your warmth even when I'm burning, I want to feel your cold body when you are unwell and I am also cold. And your taste is constantly on my tongue. It flavours everything I eat and drink. It is the intoxicating taste of sobriety and logic, of unbridled passion and lust. I can leave you alone if you like, but you can never take these things from me. And yes, damn it, at the risk of irritating you, I wish I'd followed my heart and flown back from Melbourne for that one night. You see, just a glimpse of you smiling, in whatever situation, would have filled me to the brink. No clichés can cope with this. Instead I write poetry, to which I shall shortly retreat. Only poetry has taken me safely through the last few days. That wild, sober boat has had a strong headwind against it to prevent too much pace, and a firm unseen hand at the tiller. That has been you. Fact! And that's not reliance—you don't even have to know that you're doing it for it to happen ...

It strikes me that scientists have fascinating lives, if they want. I was very nearly an organic chemist... Walking past the University of London science block every day has got to me. I mean, just take half-a-dozen rooms, windows uncurtained and open to the street. 1. Clocks—chronometers and a coffee machine and piles of detective novels. 2. Bridges—frames, concrete and metal stress models, and a Playboy. 3. Plants—Cacti and strange plants from the Scottish Highlands all in the one room with brochures on travels from Greece. 4. More plants—cereals. Dried arrangements and heaps of rubbishy souvenirs of the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, etc. 6. Soil Testing—glassware (Corning, Pyrex) and a glass stirring rod in a stale coffee + Shakespeare + Dante + Horace (in Latin). Wow!

Well, peace be with you: Love as always,

p.s. sorry, the 5th curtain was closed. You can fax me letters c/o The Imperial Hotel, Woburn Place, Russell Square, London re The Royal Hotel, Room 1107. Write in French. L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E via Paris: [Pardon Madame] J'ai réservé (une) table; je m'appelle...

 

17/6/1993

London

Dear __,

... I met you in three different ways on three different dates. Which is the right one—all three, as I hope? I know it's not just one. I've made a slip at the back of my workbook in which I keep your cards. And a couple of photos. Absolute, entire, total. The wreckage of a few unfinished poems, the smell of my body thick in the room as I search my memory for every trace of you. It's like running flat out for hours and then feeling total satisfaction when you complete the task you have set yourself. I resist quoting Catullus (I'm translating him at the moment, in my own bizarre fashion). Ah, signifier! "I" altered by plangent or ripe atmosphere? The "I" must choose and mark with its signature. Yes, ripe! Rich and ripe, and the "I" is all in love with the liberty of union. The petrified landscape stretching and coming back to life. Old tissue that sand upon which it will leave the delicate prints of new life. Let us follow. No, the lightest breeze has left them free of our curiosity. That I lean across the balustrade... the ghost or echo of a name that will set itself deep in my brain to form its own fantastic ecology. The Colony of Libertatia...

Tonight the traffic is heavy but the wind is picking up & cleansing the streets. It breathes life into me. A brisk and brilliant electricity sparks between my flesh and thought. I tingle with the possibilities of our sex. To be vigorously gentle. A sweet suspension of dis-belief. Your flow & heat & scalloped effluvium all curlicue & spread & tongued apart as your lips & language spirals towards a pair of hands that Henry Moore would have died for ...

... Give me God, but give me a passionate God that saves with massive sweeps of its hands and destroys without sly words, wipes everything away with a guiltless flexing of the will.

Love...

 

18/6/1993

London

 

Dear __,

... You see, language is the automatic pilot of free will. Phugoid: "The phugoid theory deals with the longitudinal stability, and the form and equations of the flight of an aerodrone". It is interesting to note that phugé per Greek is of running away & not flying, of avoidance & not liberation in an azure sky. Organically grown, these cherries were strangely bitter until Mission realised that he was just misinterpreting the taste, misreading the text of the cherries. For he was convinced that his flesh was permanently poisoned ...

Love, of course, and more...

 

20/6/1993

London

 

Dear __,

Oh, I've found a letter. Voltaire to his niece—Madame Denis—which sparks me: (No 111):

"My dear, I have just got back tired, ill, annihilated. I have not slept for three nights, by my own fault. Tomorrow, dead or alive, I will stay with you. I love you, I will love you all my life. You are the haven of my soul, which is at the mercy of the tempests. In you is my repose and my only true happiness. I am afire to see your comedy with a desire more unbridled than yours to show it to me. Goodbye, my muse, goodbye. V"

The "comedy" here we'll take as a universal! But otherwise I'll borrow it for you. Hey, maybe you can let me know when you've got a couple of days free over the next few weeks. Please let me see you...

Love...

 

20/6/1993

London

 

Dear __,

Well, the first version of this was typed—a pretty uninspired way to use a picture card ... Now, to this picture. Apart from its obvious implications re ourselves (with a little role reversal here & there) this picture is relevant to me in that when I left Geraldton and came/went to Perth to attend university, I decorated my room with posters, books, and a fantastic stereo & heaps & heaps of papers. This was one of the first I set on my door along with a picture of Hendrix sort of fucking his guitar, a couple of small Italian still lifes, and a few choice quotes I'd dug out of Finnegans Wake. It was an affirmation I suppose. Strange though that I lost interest in it and indeed Klimt (and the rest of his bunch) from shortly after this period until I met you. Or maybe until I "got straight". Both, I suppose. Lots of "supposes". No, I like it because I can feel it now. That's it! But it makes my heart ache, but the only drowsy numbness I have is one evolving from listening to the sound of my own voice ... Actually, "feel it" is rather a strange expression—there is a familiar distance, a sense of co-conspiracy, but also a sense of "love as decoration" about it. Art for art's sake ...

I've finished the "Tiger Moth" poem. It balances out to 60 pages and goes through a variety of tones and forms. It is, above all else, a love poem. Now, this is the only poem I insist upon reading to you in person. It is a hybrid, sitting stylistically between the two main strands of my work. In other words, for me it is unique. Other than a few pieces that sit comfortably on their own and will appear in journals, this work, in its entirety, will not be offered for publication until/if we sit down & read & talk about it.

Spotting
No drug raving or placing cunning on
A pedestal, these drug professionals
Need toning down a bit. Here, compassion
Is the body dragging itself, nat-
urally: hep shots, blood they drain,
the uneasy...
Delicate progress charts. Mid-morning. The sun
Starts a Tiger Moth double-winged & shadowed
By its own path, raw & slow though still
Overstretching confidence, below will be
The mauve-grey ricochet of state and moebius
Freeway side-stepping the river...

"Starry Night"... I see these stars nightly, though they appear as will-o-the-wisps on my windowsill and invest the room with anti-worlds. Sometimes they fire the curtains & lunge forward, sweating, gasping, waiting for the fire alarm, waiting to make my exit ... I sometimes like to think you have sent them but other times I say, "No, she is closing herself off from me". And I grow confused and stare dumbly at the stars until their warm whisperings start to strum against my brain ... I've just been reading Voltaire's love letters to his niece and am disappointed with his constant words about his sickness. But he had only a short while to live & maybe it was a test of her endurance. When he died she sold his papers to Catherine of Russia ...

I've been working "a posteriori" through our/my love & am still confused. The effect on me is obvious, & the cause (your brilliance, beauty & sweetness) undeniable, but it is only part of the equation. Sometimes love needs a kind of logic to make it tenable in the world as-it-is. You know, on the phone today you said: "We might never get you back!" and I replied "You never know." Well, I could not endure this distance for too long—even as a friend it is too far ... I've been filled to the brink with you and need a refill! Do you avoid me? Please, let me love you in some way, any way. Just, at least partially, define it. Remember the Loire crossed by Joan of Arc in 1429. Together we are Joan [together]—Orleans will be saved from siege by us and the twists of language and context.

Love...

 

23/6/1993

London

Dear __,

I feel fantastic after speaking to you. No, for me, time nor distance nor anything, for that matter, will make you less than my raison d'ètre. Look, I'm so buzzy I can't even get the spacer to work properly! Now I can let my thoughts run wild. I've been trying to suppress them in the last few days but it's been impossible. When I leave London I'm going to send you a crate of books sea-mail so in a couple of months you will know how I've been trying to distract myself. Plus writing, of course, and reading our respective star charts, trying to fabricate some kind of cosmic inevitability out of our destinies.

Went to Sub-Voicive reading last night and heard one really awful reading—her vocab was limited to the word "ghosts" and "Elijah" which she informed the audience was a prophet from the Old Testament, much to the astonishment of all gathered. I mean, I'm sure any one of them could have told her that he was really a guy who lived in Freo and got busted every couple of months for cultivation. The other reader, a Dutch deconstructionist writer, was pretty interesting. Simon is going to invite him (and myself) to dinner later next week so we can have a yarn. Looking forward to it.

Well, I don't mind saying, I think I'm pretty fucking wonderful re my self-control over hanging out. Not a sip or a drag or a slip: I've developed a whole new set of survival mechanisms which I didn't even know I had. 2 years and then worth considering? Well, whether you meant it seriously or not, as a thing-in-itself, it's a pretty (yes, I like that word) interesting concept. No worries! Well, maybe a few. But I'll do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tonight much poetry is going to be written. I just spoke to Mum, and she said a letter had just come from Kevin Hart saying he'd just reviewed Full Fathom Five for the Age and thought it a super book. Wow, the person you love to distraction dispels your fears, makes you feel "loved", and somebody you respect as a critic says great things about your poetry. Now, there's a lesson in that somewhere for me I'm sure. But the most important thing to me with poetry since I met you is to share it with you. Any success I have, instead of drawing me away from you, brings me closer to you. And every success you have in your work makes me feel closer to you. Hey, and another thing, your words today spoke a thousand letters. They were Correspondences in the true Symbolist sense. Some of my little "methods" to con you into writing to me seem incredibly fragile now. Like thinking that if you knew you could write in French (which by all means do if you want) it might "make it worthwhile" for you, i.e. double as "homework". Fool I am! Your letters are written across my mind nightly ... And whenever I am thinking of you and my body stirs, I know that you have touched me with passionate words & gestures.

Guess what, I've got a new project in mind. Do you know Cathie Travers? Well, I don't, personally, but I've heard her perform her own work (and lots of Bach) over the years and think it interesting. I'm going to send her a copy of Syzygy to see if she'd been interested in setting it to music. Or, if not that, maybe I could write a libretto and she could put music to it.... What do you think?

Forever...

 

26/7/1993

London

Dear __,

You know, it's taken me up until now to realise that I've probably made a fundamental error in the way I "read" you. I talk about you protecting me from myself when it is more likely the other way around, i.e. you trying to protect yourself from me (or yourself). A case of retaining what you have and feel comfortable with, rather than "surrendering" it. Of course, I want nothing more than you to be "exactly" as you are—this is the person I'm in love with. I seek to take nothing from you, & in all my extremity, have really asked only the pleasure any voyeur would afford him/herself, i.e. to watch you in an environment of your own choosing. My interpretations have been self-centred— which is not really surprising considering both the flush of emotion that comes with realising you're in love and, similarly, the extreme conditions of life in general. I think a statement like "my raison d'ètre" is probably indicative of this—I mean it, but not in a possessive, consuming way. Distance makes for an unfortunate framework for such words. Well, I can assure you my love for you is unalterable, but I think the time has come for a little more "civilised" behaviour on my behalf towards your emotional and spiritual needs...

Look, as for the airport on Sunday, I don't mind if you don't come out—& I don't expect to see you any time during my stay if you've got other things on. This does not mean I would not like to—of course I would. I do love you dearly. But this is not a double-edged statement—I really mean what I say. And no, I won't continually ring you or send you flowers—you will receive no such intrusion from me unless you yourself instigate it.

Something really strange has happened to me in the last week—part of my arduously slow growing-up process, I dare say. Things are becoming clearer—probably something to do with the length of time I've been straight as well. But it's more than that—I've been writing myself towards this and my dreams/nightmares have set easily distinguishable/ definable patterns. And I've also listened closely to your voice when I've rung you, and it has not been hard to hear between the words. Though please remember, anytime you have a need for me I'll come—whatever the circumstances. History has proved me true to my word when I make such sweeping statements. You have given me new life—no, more than that; you have given me a life less hindered by the "fear" of "rejection" or disappointment—surely the greatest gift any person can give to another. As for myself, well, I don't suppose I've given you a lot, but I don't mind saying I think a few of the poems I've written for you hit the spot, in some sense at least.

Love, as always...

 

From Westminster Bridge: The Thames &:

bob & badmouth compatriots:
the prima facie distress
of canoes peeled by speedboats
& the vapours, crosses mere apparitions
on top of their spires, St Paul's
calling bells & imperfections
in the rhythms: ah, the tides
of faith! the brick & pewter
pebbled shores
almost polished, the edges
taken off & going easy
on the feet of scavengers,
who collect & should be thanked
as a grebe inspects the orbiting body
of an over-inflated balloon,
a sun destroying detritus,
the river's gravity
or a marginal star
sending out its last stream
of wavering light,
hoping for ascendance.

 

 

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