About this Book
Stretches, Knute Skinner’s first full-length collection in six years, contains not only the depth but also the uncommon variety his readers have come to expect of him. Tender and witty love poems coexist with brief narratives and satirical sketches. Lyrical responses to nature interact with spiritual responses to the material world. These poems, diverse in subject and tone, represent the accomplishment of a life’s dedication to a poet’s art and craft. Skinner’s language is accessible but crackles with apt surprise. The collection stretches, and it invites the reader to stretch with it.
“It’s worth whatever stretches might be required to put it into your personal library.”
Salmon Poetry, Monday, April 01, 2002
paper €9.00 $12.50
Cover Artwork: Noreen Walshe
Read a poem from this book
Go, take the path
that leads down by wooded ways
and beyond to the river.
Pass through the wooded ways
with trees full of squirrels,
with grass full of snakes,
and arrive at the river.
Once there, you can stand
or sit on a fallen tree trunk
and look at the river.
You can watch the slow, steady course
of muddy brown water
as it takes a deliberate route
toward the bend in the river.
There’ll be much to see on the water.
Leaves, broken-off branches,
and perhaps an occasional bottle
or unidentified scrap
will float into your vision.
They’ll record the river’s calm movement
before they pass out of sight.
You can stay there as long as you want to,
watching the river,
and you can leave when you want to.
The river won’t mind.
When you do venture again
on the path through the wooded ways,
the river will be there.
Read another poem from this book
A hush settled on the street.
Looking about me,
I saw everyone stopped.
Motionless, some were on footpaths,
feet raised in arrested stride.
Others, their moments exposed
to the oncoming traffic,
were halted – as were all the cars.
Was I moving myself?
At some point I must have moved,
leaving behind me children
gripped by their mothers’ hands
and women in old cloth coats
burdened by bags
and young men jacketed bright
on errands of trust.
Here I am, so surely I moved,
back into a world which never,
from one breath to the next,
coincides with the world before.
Joseph Green in The Washington Poets Association Newsletter, Fall 2002:
I have known Knute Skinner for nearly twenty-five years, and I think of him as a close friend even though I don’t see him very often, now that he make his home full-time in Ireland. Consequently, reading the poems collected in Stretches has been a special pleasure for me.
This new book brings together several paths that Skinner’s poems have followed in the past. His first full collection, Stranger with A Watch (Golden Quill, 1965), was rich with the music of rhymes and meters, as are many of the poems in Stretches. One of the new book’s four sections is a series titled “Thematic Variations: Eight Songs”, wherein each poem is divided into two contrasting halves, the entire group laced together with repeating motifs of love and death, sleep and wakefulness, and the immensity of the cosmos in contrast to the human place within it. The poems move gracefully, on rhymes that are at once surprising and inevitable, as in these lines from the last segment:
But when sunshine punched its timecard
and illuminated north and south
then the dog brought in the paper
with the headlines in its mouth.
In two of his prior collections from Salmon Poetry, The Bears and Other Poems (1991) and What Trudy Knows (1994), Skinner took his voice and vision in a new direction, with suggestive narratives in the voice of personae who were often disaffected or disturbed and were, consequently, also a bit disturbing. That sensibility carries over into some of these new poems as well, though it frequently plays out in third person, as in “The Gap”, where a character recalls an act of voyeurism out of which he has lost his taste for fish, “remembering as he does how long he stood there, / unable to walk away, holding the trout.”
Some of these poems record events and observations almost journalistically, but their point of focus takes them in unexpected directions. This, too, is a familiar path for long-time readers of Skinner’s poetry, but it is one that I would be sorry to see him leave behind. In Stretches, these scenes frequently involve Edna Faye Kiel, with whom Skinner is married. In the last poem of the book, “The Window Seat,” Skinner says he “found Edna stretched out there, / absorbing the sun” in such a manner that he thought she looked like a cat, and he asked whether she purred. She yawned, told him, ‘That’s how we yawn,” and turned away, regally feline: “Fetch me some mice,” she added, “/ and maybe I’ll purr.” I won’t spoil the ending, but it is pitch-perfect.
Finally, this collection is a handsome book indeed. The front cover portrait, originally drawn in pencil by Noreen Walshe, captures something in Knute’s expression that suggests the agility of his wit, a quality displayed in abundance through these pages. Stretches is available for purchase directly from Salmon Poetry at salmonpoetry.com. It’s worth whatever stretches might be required to put it into your personal library.