Oct 15, 2009
Galway Kinnell was born February 1, 1927 in Providence, Rhode Island. He has been hailed as one of the most influential American poets of the latter half of the 20th century. Educated at Princeton and Rochester Universities, he served in the United States Navy, after which he spent several years traveling, in Europe and the Middle East. 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. Social activism during this time found its way into his work – Body Rags (1968), and especially The Book of Nightmares (1971), a book-length poem concerned with the Vietnam War. Other books of poetry include Selected Poems (1980), for which he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Imperfect Thirst (1996); When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone (1990) and A New Selected Poems (2000), a finalist for the National Book Award; He has also published translations of works by Yves Bonnefroy, Yvanne Goll, François Villon, and Rainer Maria Rilke. Honors include a MacArthur Fellowship, a Rockefeller Grant, the 1974 Shelley Prize of the Poetry Society of America, and the 1975 Medal of Merit from National Institute of Arts and Letters. He has served as poet-in-residence at numerous colleges and universities, and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001 to 2007.
We met recently at his home in Vermont to talk about his work.