Beautiful Nightmares

May 20 2010

"The Book of Nightmares" by Galway Kinnell

"The Book of Nightmares" by Galway Kinnell

I love poetry, though I know very little about it. I read arguably more poetry than most during my childhood, thanks to my parents and my home-schooling, but poetry’s always been a mysterious, otherworldly thing. Not something I can analyze. Which fits poetry well, now that I think about it.

Such is the case with Galway Kinnell‘s The Book of Nightmares, which I finished reading a few days ago. It’s a themed collection of ten poems on the subjects of death and darkness (and many others, like all good poetry).

I loved it. The poems contained vivid imagery and strong emotion. That’s about all I want out of poetry.

Each poem is written from a first-person perspective and deals with dark themes: discouragement, depression, despair, fear. None of the poems offer easy answers, either; each dives deep into a set of feelings. By the end of the poem, nothing is resolved, though we are often on the other side of those feelings.

These are dense poems. Metaphor overlaps and points both backwards and forwards within each poem. While each one builds using some sort of through line, these are not stories; they are evocations of emotion, and thus harder to grasp and grok than most stories.

After finishing each poem, I felt short of breath. I even read only one poem a day, to maximize the impact of each one.

I found the experience well worth the effort.

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