Kinsella, Thomas

Ireland, (b. 1928)

A Technical Supplement
(excerpt)

  1.  
  2. IV
  3. The point, greatly enlarged
  4. pushed against the skin
  5. depressing an area of tissue.
  6. Rupture occurred: at first a separation
  7. at the intensest place among the cells
  8. then a deepening damage
  9. with nerve-strings fraying
  10. and snapping and writhing back.
  11. Blood welled up to fill the wound,
  12. bathing the point as it went deeper.
  13.  
  14. Persist.
  15. Beyond a certain depth
  16. it stands upright by itself
  17. and quivers with borrowed life.
  18.  
  19. Persist.
  20. And you may find
  21. the buried well. And take on
  22. the stillness of a root.
  23.  
  24. Quietus.
  25.  
  26. Or:
  27.  
  28.  
  29. V
  30. A blade licks out and acts
  31. with one tongue.
  32. Jets of blood respond
  33. in diverse tongues.
  34.  
  35. And promptly.
  36. A single sufficient cut
  37. and the body drops at once.
  38. No reserve. Inert.
  39.  
  40. If you would care to enter this grove of beasts:
  41.  
  42.  
  43. VI
  44. A veteran smiled and let us pass through
  45. to the dripping groves in Swift’s slaughterhouse,
  46. hot confusion and the scream-rasp of the saw.
  47. Huge horned fruit not quite dead
  48. —chained, hooked by one hock, stunned
  49. above a pool of steaming spiceblood.
  50.  
  51. Two elderly men in aprons waded back and forth
  52. with long knives they sharpened slowly and
  53. inserted, tapping cascades of black blood
  54. that collapsed before their faces onto the concrete.
  55. Another fallen beast landed, kicking,
  56. and was hooked by the ankle and hoisted into its place.
  57.  
  58. They come in behind a plank barrier on an upper level
  59. walking with erect tail to the stunning place …
  60. Later in the process they encounter
  61. a man who loosens the skin around their tails
  62. with deep cuts in unexpected directions;
  63. the tail springs back; the hide pulls down to the jaws.
  64.  
  65. With the sheep it was even clearer
  66. they were dangling alive, the blood trickling
  67. over nostrils and teeth. A flock of them waited their turn
  68. crowded into the furthest corner of the pen,
  69. some looking back over their shoulders
  70. at us, in our window.
  71.  
  72. Great bulks of pigs hung from dainty heels,
  73. the full sow-throats cut open the wrong way.
  74. Three negroes stood on a raised bench before them.
  75. One knifed the belly open upward to the tail
  76. until the knife and his hands disappeared
  77. in the fleshy vulva and broke some bone.
  78.  
  79. The next opened it downward to the throat,
  80. embraced the mass of entrails, lifted them out
  81. and dropped them in a chute. And so to one
  82. who excavated the skull through flaps of the face,
  83. hooked it onto the carcass and pushed all forward
  84. toward a frame of blue flames, the singeing machine.
  85.  
  86. At a certain point it is all merely meat,
  87. sections hung or stacked in a certain order.
  88. Downstairs a row of steel barrows
  89. holds the liquid heaps of organs.
  90. As each new piece drops, adding itself,
  91. the contents tremble throughout their mass.
  92.  
  93. In a clean room a white-coated worker
  94. positioned a ham, found a blood vessel with a forceps,
  95. clipped it to a tube of red chemical
  96. and pumped the piece full. It swelled immediately
  97. and saturated: tiny crimson jets
  98. poured from it everywhere. Transfused!
  99.  
  100.  
  101. VII
  102. Vital spatterings. Excess.
  103. Make the mind creep. Play-blood
  104. bursting everywhere out of
  105. big chopped dolls: the stuff breaking copiously
  106. out of a slow, horrified head.
  107.  
  108. Is it all right to do this?
  109. Is it an offence against justice
  110. when someone stumbles away helplessly
  111. and has to sit down
  112. until her sobbing stops?

© Thomas Kinsella. Collected Poems: 1996–1994. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1996).

Prologue
(an excerpt from the ‘Wormwood’ poem sequence)

  1.  
  2. Beloved,
  3. A little of what we have found…
  4. It is certain that maturity and peace are to be sought through ordeal after ordeal, and it seems that the search continues until we fail. We reach out after each new beginning, penetrating our context to know ourselves, and our knowledge increases until we recognise again (more profoundly each time) our pain, indignity and triviality. This bitter cup is offered, heaped with curses, and we must drink or die. And even though we drink we may also die, if every drop of bitterness—that rots the flesh—is not transmuted. (Certainly the individual plight is hideous, each torturing each, but we are guilty, seeing this, to believe that our common plight is only hideous. Believing so, we make it so: pigs in a slaughteryard that turn and savage each other in a common desperation and disorder.) Death, either way, is guilt and failure. But if we drink bitterness and can transmute it and continue, we resume in candour and doubt the only individual joy—the restored necessity to learn. Sensing a wider scope, a more penetrating harmony, we begin again in a higher innocence to grow toward the next ordeal.
  5. Love also, it seems, will continue until we fail: in the sensing of the wider scope, in the growth toward it, in the swallowing and absorption of bitterness, in the resumed innocence…

© Thomas Kinsella. Nightwalker and other poems. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1968).

About the Poet:

Thomas Kinsella, (b. 1928) is an Irish poet, translator, editor, and publisher. Known for his sensitive lyrics, many of Kinsella’s poems deal with primal aspects of the human experience, often in a primarily urban landscape and with topics of romantic love, death, rejuvenation and the imposition of existential order, all often incorporating a specifically Irish context. Another common theme has been a focus on war and political and social disruption in modern Ireland.

Kinsella attended University College in Dublin, initially studying physics and chemistry and finally receiving a degree in public administration. He then began serving in the Irish civil service in from 1946 until 1965. During that time he published several books of poetry with the help of Liam Miller, the founder of the Doleman Press

At Miller’s suggestion, Kinsella also began to the translate early Irish texts in the 1950s. His most significant work was The Táin, (1969), a version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge illustrated by Louis le Brocquy. and an anthology of Irish poetry An Duanaire: 1600-1900, Poems of the Dispossessed (1981).

After leaving the Irish civil service, Kinsella taught as a writer in residence at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale (1965–70) and then in 1970 he began teaching at Temple University in Philadelphia, all the while continuing to write and publish. Kinsella also founded his own publishing company, the Peppercanister Press, in Dublin in 1972, which allowed him to publish pamphlets and individual poems in limited editions without relying on submissions to journals or magazines. [DES-07/12]

Additional information:

  • Today, Kinsella’s The Peppercanister poetry sequences continued under the auspices of John F. Deane’s Dedalus Press, one of Ireland’s leading literary imprints, specializing in contemporary poetry from Ireland and poetry from around the world in English translation.

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