On Leland Kinsey’s passing, and the real work of writing poetry

You know, with Leland Kinsey’s recent death, I want to say something in honor of the poet-as-laborer. Writing poetry is work, work just as much as  getting the homestead ready for winter or painting the house is work. It’s real work. It’s not what you do after work, in your down-time or, least of all, to relax or space. Poetry is something the world needs and hungers for as much as it needs oxygen and water. It’s not mind-candy. There is poetry that is like that. It dissolves on the tongue. There is nothing of substance to it, nothing to chew and digest. No fiber, no gristle, no bite. It’s all package and corn-syrup.

Leland was apparently a man who worked with his hands and muscles and his poetry was an expression of an Earth-based work-ethic, from what I gather. I picture him writing without washing all of the dirt off his hands or wiping all the oil off his fingers after chain-sawing. (Frost, another poet of the land, who I was aware of during his life, was a different sort of poet-laborer. He didn’t like farming even though he owned a farm. It’s just that he liked the work of farming more than hanging out in the ivory tower. He used the farm as a place to hide from academia.)

Nowadays, a phrase I find myself using a lot nowadays, we poets need to “get down”, we need to remember to write, not for the sake of writing, or to publish, or to impress each other but because we have the gift and we have an opportunity to say something that is true . . . to speak our truth, with courage, with Earth as our witness, proud of the work that we do that, if we don’t do it, won’t get done.

In my life (I’m 65), I can’t tell you how many times I hear of someone really amazing dying and I suddenly realize, now that they are gone, how important they were and I am left marveling at how I was barely aware of them!  And when I say I can’t tell you how many times, I mean it (!) and it happens more and more often, for obvious reasons. (A whole bunch of us are getting older, and I myself will sooner or later disappear.) Leland was someone that I wish I had known a lot more about. He was a true poet-laborer. I’m reading a book by Denise Levertov, a book of essays, The Poet in the world. That’s what Leland was – a poet in the world — a rare bird!


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