Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
Rainer Maria Rilke’s masterpiece, the Duino Elegies, opens with “Who, if I screamed out, would hear among the hierarchies/of angels?” This haunting and disturbing question begins one of the most influential poetic sequences from the first half of the twentieth century. At times soaring through spiritual heights, at others quietly observant of the earthiest facts, the ten Duino Elegies draw the reader or the listener into an intimate encounter with one of the most curious, questioning and original minds to ever write poetry.
New translations of Rilke’s work into English have appeared with increasing frequency over the last eighty years. Festival Poet Galway Kinnell is one of many poets of his generation whose sense of what a poem or poetic sequence could do was deeply affected by his reading of the Duino Elegies. His The Book of Nightmares, also a sequence of ten poems, is, at least in part, a response to Rilke’s earlier collection.
Like Rilke, Kinnell is capable of an interior soaring, a delving into the self that goes deeper than notions of self and other. Also like Rilke, he is willing to project himself out into the physical world, into animals, plants, even minerals, and sense our kinship with the nonhuman. For Kinnell, these explorations are not leading in opposite directions: Attention to the things of the earth is attention to the sacred, and we are sacred because we are part of the earth.
Wallace Stevens, commenting on the ancient epics, once wrote that the great poems of heaven and hell had been written, but what was missing was the great poem of the earth. It could be argued that both Rilke and Kinnell have tried to write it. It is no wonder that Kinnell would be drawn to translating Rilke, or that his translation of the The Essential Rilke (with Hannah Liebmann) has been widely praised for its capacity to capture both the earthiness of Rilke’s language and the power of his spiritual yearning.
So we are very excited that on Saturday, October 9, at the Dodge Poetry Festival, Galway Kinnell will read his translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies in its entirety. It will mark the first time he has read the entire sequence in performance, and offers the rare opportunity to hear one of the great poetic sequences read by one of our most influential poets.
This is only one of many special events at this year’s Festival. Take a few minutes to look over our Festival Program and read the Descriptions of Festival Events to learn more about the variety of Conversations and Festival Poet Readings we have planned for you.
If you haven’t purchased your Festival tickets yet, keep in mind that all events this year are taking place in performance venues that, unlike open-sided tents, have fixed seating capacities. If you want to guarantee a seat for the evening events, you should purchase your tickets in advance.
Return in the weeks ahead for updates on the 2010 Poetry Festival.