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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 29, 2010

Galway Kinnell to read in Rensselaerville

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell will make his way to the Hilltowns this weekend to share his thoughts with an audience of 100.

“I will be reading my work, some of it old, some if it new,” Kinnell told The Enterprise.

At 83, he has written poetry for more than 50 years, and published more than a dozen books of verse.

“I’m always seeking a kind of clarity about things, and about events, and about language,” he said of why, after all these years, he has continued writing. “Sometimes, it’s a thrilling understanding of what I’m talking about. I kind of have to write it to really understand it.”

Kinnell was exposed to poetry at an early age, he said.

“I gravitated towards poetry because I didn’t find many things in school that interested me. Then, we studied poetry at quite a young age, and most of the poems were awful,” Kinnell laughed. “But it was the poems of Edgar Allen Poe that got me. I liked the inwardness of them, and the feeling of love and loss in them. But even more than that, I loved the transformation of the English language into a kind of music.”

This planted the seed for a career spanning two generations, and earning him a Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 2002. His Selected Poems earned him a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1982.

But, while he appreciates the opportunities that these awards afforded him, such as an opportunity to teach at New York University years back, these awards have had no dramatic effect on how he views his own work.

“I don’t know that anybody, whether they get prizes or just write, can judge the quality of poetry reliably,” Kinnell said. “Probably, lots of the people who got the Pulitzer Prize have disappeared namelessly into the next world, and I probably will too,” he concedes, adding, “I was glad to get them also because they altered people’s attitude towards me, and they opened doors in the poetry world that would be hard for me to open by myself.”

His books of poetry include Strong is Your Hold, When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone, and The Book of Nightmares, which pulls from his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and protests against the Vietnam War. One piece from the prize-winning Selected Poems, entitled “Saint Francis and the Sow,” begins:


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 within, of self-blessing…


The first line, the shortest of the poem in its two-word length, is interpreted to be the “bud” of the poem, a testament to Kinnell’s attention to meaning and structure.

Further, his process is reminiscent of a different technological age; in a generation where computers have become commonplace, Kinnell is passionate in his preference for an older instrument: the typewriter.

“With a typewriter, you can hit it hard when you’re really going, and the letters come out much brighter and heavier on the paper,” said Kinnell. “You get into a kind of beautiful fury during some parts of the poem, and then, the typewriter will slow down, and you hear the ‘bup, bup, bup.’ It’s a very wonderful noise that it makes, and I like the type that comes out of it. I think it’s a pity that the typewriter has disappeared.”

Now, in his 80s, Kinnell’s hands show wear from playing sports as a youth, and he has an assistant that types his handwritten poems for him.

“I do have a collection of typewriters,” said Kinnell, “but they’re mostly things I’ve worn out.”

One thing he has not worn out is his welcome at arts venues in the northeast. Next stop: the Helderberg Hilltowns.


Galway Kinnell will present his poetry this Saturday, July 31, at Conkling Hall beginning at 4 p.m. Cheese and wine will be available for those attending with an appetite.

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