Galway Kinnell, 13th Annual ODU Literary Festival


Galway Kinnell

Document Type

Featured Participant

Festival Date



Mills Godwin Auditorium

Author/Artist Bio

Galway Kinnell is one of the most highly esteemed contemporary American poets. In 1982 he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for his Selected Poems. There are very few poets whose music can compare to the great poetry of the past, but many critics feel Galway Kinnell is one whose poetry is equal to such comparisons. Lines such as "seed dazzled over the footbattered blaze of earth" will stand the test of time. So will this stanza describing his daughter's birth: "she skids out on her face into light,/ this peck/ of stunned flesh/ clotted with celestial cheesiness, glowing/ with the astral violet/ of the underlife." As Richard Tillinghast said of him, "He always meets existence head-on, without evasion or wishful thinking. When Kinnell is at the top of his form, there is no better poet writing in America."

Besides Selected Poems, Kinnell has eight books of poetry, four books of prose, and five works of translation. In addition to the Pulitzer and the American Book Award, he has received the Shelley Prize, awarded by the Poetry Society of America, and the Medal of Merit, given by the National Institute of Arts and Letters. One of Kinnell's admirers described the poet's quest in life as a search for innocence. Others focus on what they see as his preoccupation with death, his "insistence on peering at the bones behind the face-death beneath the mask of life, yet also some kind of ecstatic survival beyond the mask of death."

Kinnell's vision is in the tradition of Whitman, generous, realistic, and honest. His poetry is proof, as critics have said, that poems can still be written movingly about those subjects that in any age for any people fascinate, disturb, confound, and sadden the heart: poems about the family, mortality, war, a spiritual life, our connection to the natural world.


Kinnell gave the 1990 Benefit Reading for the Festival on Thursday, September 27, at 8:00 p.m. in Mills Godwin Auditorium.


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