Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1691
Galway Kinnell 1927-
American poet, translator, essayist, novelist, and editor.
The following entry provides an overview of Kinnell's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 5, 13, and 29.
Galway Kinnell, is known for the transcendent nature of his work and his ability to render the essence of the commonplace in flowing lines of verse. This Rhode Island-born “poet-laureate” of Vermont harmoniously mixes concrete and metaphysical issues in his work, offering readers simple yet profound and challenging poetry. Individual poems like “The Bear,” “The Porcupine,” “The Last River,” and “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” have appealed to readers over the years, and his most appreciated collection, The Book of Nightmares （1971）, stands as a major achievement of American verse in the opinion of many commentators. Kinnell works in the American poetic tradition of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, yet has affinities with poets like William Blake and Rainer Maria Rilke, and moves beyond the American transcendentalists' anthropomorphic concerns. He has been characterized as a post-Romantic extending the Romantic vision of life as death-and-metamorphosis and provides a depiction of the natural world that is not found in his predecessors. Some critical discussions of Kinnell's work have focused on his depiction of gender, and Kinnell is seen as one of few male poets of his generation who in clear verse can present “fearless emotion,” as one critic put it. The source of Kinnell's power as a poet has been identified by David Lee Garrison in Commonweal as the ability to raise “a scene, through metaphor, into the realm of vision.”
Galway Kinnell was born in 1927 in Rhode Island. He took an early interest in poetry, which he later developed at Princeton studying under poet Charles C. Bell who noted and encouraged his talent. At Princeton he met poet W. S. Merwin who introduced Kinnell to the poetry of William Carlos Williams. Kinnell saw military service in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946 and after graduating with highest honors from Princeton and with a graduate degree from The University of Rochester, he spent the first phase of his career focused on academic work—as a professor, lecturer, visiting poet, and director at several Universities in the U.S. and abroad, notably in Spain, France, Australia and Iran. A slight move away from academic-related work led Kinnell to odd jobs, which included registering Southern blacks for the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963. This was followed by activity in the anti-war demonstrations of the time. He never completely abandoned teaching, however, and has continued to perform academic functions, such as the directorship of writing programs like that of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. The development of Kinnell's poetic voice parallels his life experiences. Stylistically, Kinnell moved from an early influence of W. B. Yeats to Robert Frost and the open aesthetic of William Carlos Williams. The most significant influence, however, is Walt Whitman. Kinnell has commented on this issue: “Under Whitman's spell I stopped writing in rhyme and meter and in rectangular stanzas and turned to long-lined, loosely cadenced verse; and at once I felt immensely liberated.” Daniel Schenker writing in the Mississippi Quarterly claims that Kinnell shares with Whitman “the conviction that the self remains the key to social reconstruction.” After a couple of early poetry books, What a Kingdom it Was （1960） and Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock （1964）, and Black Light （1966）, a novel, Kinnell found critical favor and a wider reading public with Body Rags （1968）. The Book of Nightmares followed and has, many critics believe, remained his best work to...
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- Critical Essays