Thomas Kinsella Kinsella, Thomas (Vol. 4) - Essay

Kinsella, Thomas (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kinsella, Thomas 1928–

Kinsella is an Irish poet, now living and teaching in America. John Montague called Kinsella "an intellectual troubador, his desire to sing increasingly crossed by a need to explain." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

Thomas Kinsella shares with his elders … a savage and nostalgic dismay at the present state of Ireland and of the world, with all that is implied for the subjective life in that dismay. But his work has been more closely assimilated than theirs to the new tendencies that he resists, and he resembles the younger urban poets of England and America the more by that token. I do not mean that this gifted poet lacks a voice of his own. Quite the contrary, he seems to me to have the most distinctive voice of his generation in Ireland, though it is also the most versatile and the most sensitive to 'outside' influences.

M. L. Rosenthal, in his The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II (copyright © 1967 by M. L. Rosenthal; reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc.), Oxford University Press, 1967, pp. 283-97.

[In Thomas] Kinsella's case the poem is totally immersed in a pre-existing vision of life, in an emotion generated through the ordeal of living. This is something entirely different from the pursuit of the subjective which … is nothing more than a conscious literary strategy. Kinsella is an immensely accomplished poet, in perfect control of his craft; but in reading him it is the impact of the experience in his poems that moves one rather than the technique of them, though it is, naturally, only through the technique that the experience becomes available….

Thomas Kinsella is one of Ireland's two or three most important poets, though his poetry is no more obviously Irish than that of Denis Devlin.

Marius Bewley, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1969 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXI, No. 4, Winter, 1968–69, pp. 723-25.

Taking risks within the boundaries of the prevailing conventional wisdom in poetry doesn't require a lot of courage. The wind really begins to blow cold when the poet sets off obstinately on his own path, away from easy fashionableness, ignoring all the pressures to conform, and devotes several years to writing the kind of verse he wants to, instead of what he is nudged or bullied into writing. It's no surprise that the recent work of the Irish poet, Thomas Kinsella … has not been eagerly received. New Poems 1973 … [is a] weird, and yet magnificently weird, [testimony] to a resolve to write directly out of a store of deeply personal material without worrying about the public reception. [It makes] odd and enthralling reading….

There is scarcely one tidy, rounded poem in the book; but whole passages inside poems stand out with an ornate, eccentric splendour.

Alan Brownjohn, in New Statesman, November 9, 1973, pp. 694-95.

The Irish poet Thomas Kinsella has loosened up since his stricter forms in 1968's "Nightwalker" collection. His title poem, "Notes from the Land of the Dead," is a group of autobiographical pieces, mostly in the graveyard tone….

I read this book twice, the title sequence three times. For some reason Mr. Kinsella's verses do not quiver like arrows in my brain. I want to be picked up and shaken! My head shoved under cold running brookwater. Ice creeping up my back and scalp. I want to watch a page fill with spiritual light as cold and passionate as the dawn. I prefer almost anything to pits, ectoplasm, hags, graves. I don't see how Kinsella can be so ballsy about murdered demonstrators, but fall into such literary vaporings about childhood.

Donald Newlove, in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; © 1974 by The Village Voice, Inc.), March 14, 1974, pp. 27-8.

"Notes From the Land of the Dead"—mere "notes." Ireland's best living poet has brooded himself to pieces. His passion survives in poetic piecing alone. The passionate, he says, "might find it maddening." But "passionate" is in quotation marks that squeeze the word to sand….

We have learned that poetry will put up with almost anything, except stale imagination. Lowell and Kinsella alike break the knees of thematic development; their poems fall on the world. Not long ago—above all in "Nightwalker," "A Country Walk," "Downstream," "The Shoals Returning"—Kinsella's bore the very passion they sought, like "bdellium, seeking the pearl in its own breast." But here among the dead, the Irish of whom he has finally despaired (apart from the public poem "Butcher's Dozen," he is no longer brilliantly angry), here among "a few/tentative tired endings over/and over," his poetry scatters "in a million droplets of/fright and loneliness …"….

The truth, however, is that Kinsella can hardly write a worthless poem. His style is an almost constant pleasure—meticulously bevelled crystal with a glinting edge. Let him break off, dismantle "let out/the offence simmering/weakly/as possible/within," let him even "dream," his tensions, his timing, his selectivity, are elegance itself: "the passion is in the putting together." The poems coalesce through the surface tension of their style alone, are "random,/persistent coherences." Moreover, his concentration ferrets, and even the poems reduced to "a few simplicities go/burrowing into their own depths." You may indeed "find it maddening," but the more you read the poems the more they impose themselves as passionately delicate constructs. You listen and seem to hear, from something falling, tiny silvery strings, plucked as if by the air itself.

Calvin Bedient, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 16, 1974, p. 7.