Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell is a former MacArthur Fellow and has been State Poet Laureate of Vermont. In 1982 his Selected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. He teaches at New York University, where he is the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing. For thirty-five years, from WHAT A KINGDOM IT WAS to THREE BOOKS to his A NEW SELECTED POEMS, Galway Kinnell has enriched American Poetry, not only with his writing but also with his teaching and his powerful public readings. Join us in celebrating an American literary treasure.
Read A New Selected Poems to catch Galway Kinnell's myriad fine-tunings of poems decades old. Read it for the pleasure of watching his early formalism blossom into long, joyous, almost Whitmanesque lines; but most of all, read it for the eagle's-eye view it provides of one of our finest American poets. Well into his 70s, Kinnell is still producing poetry as visceral as it is philosophical, forging the universal from the fleshy, messy specifics of life. "Lieutenant! / This corpse will not stop burning!" comes the cry in "The Dead Shall Be Raised Incorruptible," a remarkable war poem that literally embodies his political anger. Throughout A New Selected Poems, which Kinnell has culled from eight previous collections spanning 24 years, that corpse burns fiercely, fiercely, as if to heed the poet's own warning from "Another Night in the Ruins:”

 How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren't, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for us
as we go up in flames, our one work
to open ourselves, to be
the flames?

Kinnell is a poet who feels life most keenly as it slips through his fingers. Nothing lasts, but this is less cause for lament than for celebration; after all, he tells us, "the wages / of dying is love." Before we break out the booze and have ourselves a ball, however, there are the poems from his brutal Book of Nightmares to consider, with their apocalyptic howling; his Vermont poems, with their "silent, startled, icy, black language / of blackberry eating in late September"; the noise and clatter of his early New York poems, "Where instants of transcendence / Drift in oceans of loathing and fear..." Kinnell is a poet with a leg in each world, one up above where the bears and porcupines live, and one down below, in what we might call the imaginative underworld. Witness the stunning progression of "When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone," in which he is both Orpheus and a misanthropic Eurydice, singing himself back to the company of the human. How glad we are that Kinnell failed to look back! In the tender "Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight," the poet advises his infant daughter, "Kiss / the mouth / that tells you, here, / here is the world." After reading these poems, you might feel like doing the same.

Mary Park

From Kirkus Reviews
A ``new selected'' from one of Americas national treasures. Drawn from eight of Kinnell’s ten individual volumes, this lovely distillation of work begins with five poems from What a Kingdom It Was (1960) and concludes with ten from Imperfect Thirst (1994). His previous Selected Poems (1982) won the Pulitzer Prize, and Kinnell has received both MacArthur and National Book Awards. In a prefatory note, Kinnell reminds us that he, like the painter Manet, is the sort of artist who is constantly ``touching things up.'' But while Manet had to be restrained from carrying his paints right into the local museum where his paintings were already up on the walls, Kinnell’s curator-editor granted him the liberty of revision. Readers fond of previous versions of poems may revisit them, of course, in the original books, but the small changes that Kinnell has made are unlikely to disturb even the most discriminating memory. It would be wrong to generalize about poetic output that spans more than three decades, but throughout Kinnell’s work a recognizable voice and sure craft are evident. Like James Wright, Kinnell has a gift for observing the natural world: ``There is a fork in a branch / of an ancient, enormous maple, / one of a grove of such trees, / where I climb sometimes and sit and look out / over miles of valleys and low hills.'' The introspective sequence, ``When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone,'' explores physical and psychological aspects of solitude unflinchingly: ``When one . . . abandons hope / of the sweetness of friendship or love, / before long can barely grasp what they are, / and covets the stillness in organic matter, / in a self-dissolution one may not know how to halt.'' A work that belongs in every library.

Boston Globe
"Kinnell is a poet of the rarest ability, the kind who comes once or twice in a generation, who can flesh out music, raise the spirits and break the heart."


“In a world preoccupied with death or the prospect of dying in the war on terrorism, comes a singing poetic hand that sees nature as the driving force of our shared lives. A  plowman, who works the land of civilization like a perfectionist preparing the literary dirt  for a future generation. In “Saint Francis and the Sow,” he says, “The bud/ stands for all things/ even for those things that don’t flower/ for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;" and he is right. Chezia Thompson Cager, Director, Spectrum of Poetic Fire.