Galway Kinnell

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Galway Kinnell (born February 1st, 1927 in Providence, Rhode Island) is one of the most influential American poets of the latter half of the 20th century. An admitted follower of Walt Whitman, Kinnell rejects the idea of seeking fulfillment by escaping into the imaginary world. His best-loved and most anthologized poems, such as "St. Francis and the Sow" and "After Making Love We Hear Footsteps," stand as testaments to the significant possibilities for transcendent realization that can be induced by meticulous excavation of the physical universe.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Kinnell has said that as a youth he was turned on to poetry by Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson, drawn to both the musical appeal of their poetry and the idea that they led solitary lives. The allure of the language spoke to what he describes as a homogenous feel of his hometown, Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

He studied at Princeton University, graduating in 1948 alongside friend and fellow poet W.S. Merwin. He received his master of arts degree from the University of Rochester[1]. He traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East, and went to Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship. During the 1960's, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States caught his attention. Upon returning to the US, he joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and worked on voter registration and workplace integration in Hammond, Louisiana. This effort got him arrested. Kinnell draws upon both his involvement with the civil rights movement and his experiences protesting against the Vietnam War in his book-long poem The Book of Nightmares.

While much of Kinnell's work seems to deal with social issues, it is by no means confined to one subject. Some critics have pointed to the spiritual dimensions of his poetry, as well as the nature imagery present throughout his work. “The Fundamental Project of Technology” deals with all three of those elements, creating an eerie, chant-like and surreal exploration of the horrors atomic weapons inflict on humanity and nature. Sometimes Kinnell utilizes simple and brutal images (“Lieutenant! / This corpse will not stop burning!” from “The Dead Shall be Raised Incorruptible”) to address his anger at the destructiveness of humanity, informed by Kinnell’s activism and love of nature. There’s also a certain sadness in all of the horror—“Nobody would write poetry if the world seemed perfect.” There’s also optimism and beauty in his quiet, ponderous language, especially in the large role animals and children have in his later work (“Other animals are angels. Human babies are angels”), evident in poems such as “Daybreak” and “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”.

In addition to his works of poetry and his translations, Kinnell published one novel (Black Light, 1966) and one children's book (How the Alligator Missed Breakfast, 1982).

Kinnell was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing at New York University and a Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets. He is now retired and resides at his home in Vermont.


  • What a Kingdom It Was (1960)
  • Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock (1964)
  • Black Light (1966)
  • Body Rags (1968)
  • The Book of Nightmares (1971)
  • The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World
  • Walking Down the Stairs (a collection of interviews) (1978).
  • Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980)
  • Selected Poems (1980) Pulitzer Prize; National Book Award
  • How the Alligator Missed Breakfast (1982)
  • The Past (1985)
  • When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone (1990)
  • Three Books (1993)
  • Imperfect Thirst (1996)
  • A New Selected Poems (2000) National Book Award finalist.
  • Strong Is Your Hold(2006)
  • Blackberry Eating

He has also published translations of Yves Bonnefroy, Yvanne Goll, François Villon, and Rainer Maria Rilke.

  • Cortland Review interview and poem “The Fundamental Project of Technology”
  • "Galway Kinnel reads 'Wait' " for the WGBH series, New Television Workshop
  • " 'Since you asked..,' with Galway Kinnell for the WGBH series, New Television Workshop
  • Academy of American Poets biography and links to interviews and poems
  • Modern American Poetry short biography
  • References
    1. ^ Press release of November 8, 2000, from the University of Rochester
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