Brendan Galvin

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745

Brendan James Galvin was born in the Boston suburb of Everett, Massachusetts, and has maintained a strong identification with the history and flavor of New England. He received a B.S. degree in natural science from Boston College in 1960; one finds evidence of the trained eye of the informed naturalist everywhere in his work. Shifting to English studies in graduate school, Galvin earned an M.A. from Northeastern University in 1964, where he also began his teaching career.

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In 1965, Galvin enrolled in a course of study at the University of Massachusetts that would lead to an M.F.A. in creative writing in 1967 and a Ph.D. in 1970. Although he had dabbled in poetry since the late 1950’s, it was only after 1964 that Galvin charged himself with the serious pursuit of poetic excellence. The early results were impressive; he had two poems published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1965. Still, Galvin’s published output was small until 1970, after which a creative explosion seems to have occurred.

The late 1960’s were busy years, busy in ways that allowed for poetry to be germinated if not harvested in publication. In 1968, Galvin married Ellen Baer, and the couple has raised two children. A one-year position at Slippery Rock State College in Pennsylvania (1968-1969) would inevitably cause some temporary dislocation of sensibility for a man so attuned to the Massachusetts coast. With the 1969-1970 academic year, Galvin began his long association with Central Connecticut State College. The chance for settled employment and the completion of his doctoral work seems to have freed Galvin’s energies. His dissertation, which involved a close reading of Roethke’s poems through the lens of Kenneth Burke, was also a stimulus to Galvin’s direction as a poet. Of the poets of his generation, Galvin is the heir apparent to Roethke as a precise and loving recorder of the natural world. Much of what Galvin records is the Cape Cod area, where his Irish immigrant grandfather settled, known to Galvin from childhood. It is there that he would spend some part of each year.

Galvin’s first two collections were chapbooks published in limited editions. These slim volumes of the early 1970’s introduced some of his recurring motifs: the country-city dichotomy, the close observation of nature, the pain of history, the ethos of the New England town or neighborhood, the entrance into fantasy or dream. Galvin’s first full-length collection, No Time for Good Reasons, recapitulated and extended these interests and revealed Galvin to be a most inventive fashioner of imagery and figures of speech. The same year that this gathering of ten years’ work was published, Galvin won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. By now a tenured professor at Central Connecticut, Galvin had made for himself a secure position as a poet-teacher-critic but only the beginning of a national reputation.

In 1975-1976, Galvin took over William Meredith’s courses at Connecticut College in New London as a visiting professor. By the next year, his second major collection, The Minutes No One Owns, was receiving acclaim. In it, Galvin’s voice and vision grew more distinctly his own, and his range of subjects grew broader.

Galvin hit full stride and wider recognition with his next two collections: Atlantic Flyway and Winter Oysters both received Pulitzer Prize nominations, the latter making the short list. Seals in the Inner Harbor, easily as strong a collection as the Pulitzer nominees, rounded out a miraculous period of steady achievement and continued Galvin’s tendency toward a greater openness, a fuller release of personality, begun in the preceding book.

Wampanoag Traveler represents a change of pace. This is Galvin’s first book-length poem, a sustained narrative-meditation in the form of fourteen letters by an imaginary eighteenth century naturalist, Loranzo Newcomb.

In the consolidating gesture of Great Blue, the map of Galvin’s dedicated journey of more than twenty-five years revealed the highest promontory of achievement. However, many of Galvin’s critics (Dave Smith, George Garrett, and Thomas Reiter are among the exceptions) have not known how to deal with this poet for whom words really matter and for whom nature is not merely an abstract idea or a stirring in the blood. In the volumes that followed through the 1990’s, Galvin’s art climbed from strength to strength. After retiring from his post at Central Connecticut State University, Galvin continued his prolific output, shuttling between visiting writer posts around the country and his home in Truro, Massachusetts.

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