As many readers of this blog already know, Irene McKinney, West Virginia’s poet laureate for nearly 20 years, died over the weekend at the age of 72. Several others have already given tributes and said what Irene meant to them, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t remember her as well.
Irene was part of a few West Virginia Book Festivals over the years. That includes the 2010 festival, where she was one of the featured presenters and, according to several people in the room, really gave a powerful performance.
Thanks to friend of the blog Vic Burkhammer, who shot video of the event, and posted it to YouTube, you can see part of the event for yourself.
Several of Irene McKinney’s poems are available online, including one with a sadly appropriate title: “Visiting My Gravesite: Talbott Churchyard, West Virginia”:
Maybe because I was married and felt secure and dead
at once, I listened to my father’s urgings about “the future”
and bought this double plot on the hillside with a view
of the bare white church, the old elms, and the creek below.
I plan now to use both plots, luxuriantly spreading out
in the middle of a big double bed. —But no,
finally, my burial has nothing to do with marriage, this lying here
in these same bones will be as real as anything I can imagine
for who I’ll be then, as real as anything undergone, going back
and forth to “the world” out there, and here to this one spot
on earth I really know. Once I came in fast and low
in a little plane and when I looked down at the church,
the trees I’ve felt with my hands, the neighbors’ houses
and the family farm, and I saw how tiny what I loved or knew was,
it was like my children going on with their plans and griefs
at a distance and nothing I could do about it. But I wanted
to reach down and pat it, while letting it know
I wouldn’t interfere for the world, the world being
everything this isn’t, this unknown buried in the known.