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Galway Kinnell—Vermonter

Posted by: Stuart Comstock-Gay on 11/12/2014

Since his passing in late October, much has been said about the poet Galway Kinnell. Even so, I cannot let his passing go by without adding a few thoughts of my own.

First, Galway was a humanitarian—and a man who could see the beauty in all things. I talk quite a bit about the importance of believing in something. Galway did. Galway was a member of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) in the 1960s. He worked on voter registration in Louisiana, and was arrested in the process. He believed in equality and fairness. He signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest.” He believed. He cared. 

Second, Galway was a Vermonter. His passion for this place we love was evident in his writing, and in his comments. My first Vermont Community Foundation annual meeting—in 2009—was in East Burke. The setting was spectacular, under a tent on a farm, with a spectacular view of the Northeast Kingdom. And even more—Galway honored us that day by reading some of his poems. That is when I realized his depth of love for this place—or more precisely, the Northeast Kingdom. It is certainly fitting that he served as Vermont’s poet laureate. 

Heartfelt condolences to his widow Bobbie Bristol, a woman whose caring and passion and love for Vermont is as deep as his.

Since his passing, I’ve been reading a number of his poems, and one in particular has stuck with me. It’s The Man Splitting Wood in the Daybreak. It begins like this…

The man splitting wood in the daybreak   

looks strong, as though, if one weakened,   

one could turn to him and he would help.   

And it closes:

What about the man splitting wood in the daybreak,   

who looked strong? That was years ago. That was me.

Thanks Galway, for being strong, for believing, and for being a friend, partner, and role model for so many.

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