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March 18, 1980Guggenheim MuseumFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Galway Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on February 1, 1927. In his youth, he was drawn to both the musicality and hermetic wisdom of poets like Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. In 1948, he graduated from Princeton University, where he was classmates with W. S. Merwin. However, while Merwin studied with the critic R. P. Blackmur and John Berryman, Kinnell felt what he called in one interview "a certain scorn that there could be a course in writing poetry." He later received his Master's degree from the University of Rochester.

After serving in the United States Navy, he spent several years of his life traveling, including extensive tours of Europe and the Middle East, especially Iran and France. His first book of poems, What a Kingdom It Was, was published in 1960, followed by Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock (1964).

Upon his return to the United States, Kinnell joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) as a field worker and spent much of the 1960s involved in the Civil Rights Movement. His many experiences with social activism during this time, including an arrest while participating in a workplace integration in Louisiana, found their way into his collection Body Rags (1968), and especially The Book of Nightmares (1971), a book-length poem concerned with the Vietnam War.

Kinnell has published several more volumes of poetry, including Strong Is Your Hold (Houghton Mifflin, 2006); A New Selected Poems (2000), a finalist for the National Book Award; Imperfect Thirst (1996); When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone (1990); Selected Poems (1980), for which he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; and Mortal Acts, Mortal Words (1980).

He has also published translations of works by Yves Bonnefroy, Yvanne Goll, François Villon, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Prose works by Kinnell include collection of interviews, Walking Down the Stairs (1978), a novel, Black Light (1966), and children's book, How the Alligator Missed Breakfast (1982).

About his work, Liz Rosenberg wrote in the 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."

Kinnell is the recipient of the 2010 Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry by the Academy of American Poets. His other honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Rockefeller Grant, the 2002 Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, the 1974 Shelley Prize from the Poetry Society of America, and the 1975 Medal of Merit from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001 to 2007.

He has served as poet-in-residence at numerous colleges and universities, including the University of California at Irvine, Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and Brandeis. He taught at New York University for many years, where he was Erich Maria Remarque Professor of Creative Writing. He currently lives in Vermont.


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From the Image Archive

 

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

Galway Kinnell, 1927
For I can snore like a bullhorn 
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman 
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, 
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house 
and he will wrench himself awake 
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together, 
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, 
familiar touch of the long-married, 
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens, 
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, 
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other 
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, 
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, 
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

From A New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell, published by Houghton Mifflin. © 2000 by Galway Kinnell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

From A New Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell, published by Houghton Mifflin. © 2000 by Galway Kinnell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell

Galway Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on February 1, 1927.

by this poet

poem
The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from
poem
Didn't you like the way the ants help
the peony globes open by eating the glue off?
Weren't you cheered to see the ironworkers
sitting on an I-beam dangling from a cable,
in a row, like starlings, eating lunch, maybe
baloney on white with fluorescent mustard?
Wasn't it a revelation to waggle
from the estuary all
poem
1

In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.


2

I take a wolf's rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it