John Kinsella, "Swarm: The Sequel"

Poem published in John Kinsella's Poems 1980 - 1994 (Bloodaxe)


        As the fumes of three
        different blooms swirl
        about the mouth
        of the hive
        a bristling ball
        of bees rolls
        soprano & spitting
        static electricity
        into the first
        in weeks, the bio-
        thermostat moving
        from steely cold
        to full throttle
        in minutes.
        There is a delicate
        calm in our house.
        And for the first year
        out of three
        we do not read portents
        into this swarming.
        Even our child
        retains his confidence.
        It's okay he says,
        they just hover
        over the orange blossom
        & disperse.


There are many movements which are not synchronised with seasonal ones; there's a milieu in the air, and endless restratification, epistrata, conjunctions, "for the first year / out of three". In a memoir essay of childhood, Kinsella writes: "I've been making explosives. A friend wants to use them to demolish a beehive in a lightning-shattered tree down the road. I feel unsure. Later, I will add this incident to my reasons for becoming vegan. What I felt inside as he set the explosives that I'd manufactured. The swarm. The swarm symbolizes loss for me the communal drive against individuality, forced by crisis or need."

In 'Swarm: A Sequel', this loss has emptied out, or healed through release from an interior to a clear exterior, where it is immanent, and still, "delicate". The poem itself is clear & light, qualities found throughout Kinsella's work (in whatever style): rarely a simplistic clearness, never an unweighty lightness (possible if the mechanics of load-carrying are precise).

There is a "mouth"/"soprano" movement, and a "hive"/"house" double. The point at which sentences are cut into lines seems to swirl between three as the "three fumes": cuts which over-ride the line-ending to leave it as only a visual marker - "As the fumes of three / different blooms"; a chatty enjambment which catches at the pauses of speech - "the bio-/thermostat moving / from steely cold"; and an optimum line-cut working at optimum mystery, slicing through a phrase to give it momentum: "rolls / soprano" or "There is a delicate / calm in our house."

Catharsis is a common mood in Kinsella's short portrait or narrative poems. They speak from a calm, and their affects are of the lightest making, often generating the atmosphere where one or two details will light up. Is this why Kinsella was obsessed with the chilli? Its fire followed by numbed stilness. One of the chilli poems, 'Residue', the final lines are: "The seeds / are the hottest / part."

        It's okay he says,
        they just hover
        over the orange blossom
        & disperse.

Things lose their symbolic doubles, catharsis as a form of reading-being, "not reading portents".

© Melissa Flores-Bórquez 2006

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