Kevin Goodan’s poetry has roots planted firmly in the earth, and leaves reaching towards the sky. Raised on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, Goodan worked at a slaughterhouse and fought forest fires before turning his focus on poetry. He finds the divine in raw moments of physical labor and violence, uncovers the numinous beneath the mundane, without ever slipping into sentimentality. Goodan treats all subjects, from pigeons and snowfalls to parents and lovers, with quiet restraint and respect, while still staring squarely at their contradictions and complexities.
Listen to Goodan read his poem “Near the Heart of Happening,” from his first book of poetry, In the Ghost-House Acquainted (2004). This poem hinges upon the word haboo, meaning “keep the story going,” which the speaker repeats to a mare struggling to give birth. When read aloud or silently, his short lines, subtle alliteration, and repetition drive the poem forward, creating a rhythmic experience for the reader that underscores Goodan’s attention to seasons and cycles.
Over the expanse of his poetry, Goodan intimately experiences birth, life, and death with animals. His most recent book, Upper Level Disturbances (2012), contains unflinching descriptions of his experiences in the slaughterhouse:
Gelid blood upon me, bone flecks, ingots of tallow
Stacked in the cold-room, sawdust fresh and bloodless
And fragrant in the chill beneath the halves of beasts
Goodan’s deep respect for animals is not at odds with his experience of slaughter, but rather inextricably linked to it, as shown in “For Llamas,” from his first book:
If you want to understand the beauty of llamas
you have to struggle with the dead.
You have to slip your arms beneath their ribs,
lock your hands together
and stagger with them
“I tend to believe that the interactions between a farmer and his animals are often more true and raw, more integral than relating to humans,” Goodan once explained in an interview.”The violence tends to be more visible, uncloaked, and yet, sometimes no less heartbreaking.”
Again and again, Goodan looks at violence and death’s intimate connection with coexistence and creation, as in this poem from Winter Tenor (2009):
…my god is not calmness
But a stand of birch
As I try to decide what is noun from verb
In the lark’s fluted throatings—
Breaking the skin
Of each word I write.
Here, the act of creation is not only energetic, but violent. The speaker looks for human language in birdsong and interacts viscerally with words, wrending them apart like animals in the slaughterhouse. In a few beautiful lines, Goodan reaches the confluence of all of his seemingly separate worlds: the divine, the natural, that of language and art, animals and humans, poet and reader.
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