Student Writing Center American Poetry

John Ashbery, The Mooring of Starting Out: The First Five Books of Poetry (Hopewell,

David Herd, John Ashbery and American Poetry (New York, 2000). Susan M. Schultz, ed., The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry (Tuscaloosa, 1995).

John Shoptaw, On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery's Poetry (Cambridge, MA, 1994).

In his poem "On the Oregon Coast," Galway Kinnell describes a conversation with fellow-poet Richard Hugo in which the two agree "that as post-Darwinians it was up to us to anthropomorphize the world less and animalize, vegetable-ize, and mineralize ourselves more. / We doubted that pre-Darwinian language would let us." This attempt to make language express the self's folding into the elemental world around it produces the subjects frequent in Kinnell's poetry: the primal rhythms of birth and death, transcendence and mortality, raw confrontations of survival, sexual love, memory, and time. Kinnell's poetry is first and foremost personal. Sometimes his subject is a member of his family - perhaps a son's birth or a young daughter's nightmare - but the poetry is rooted in the poet's response to and meditation upon what the experiences might reveal of the human place in a world outside of human order and understanding. The poet for Kinnell is finally an

David Herd, John Ashbery and American Poetry (New York, 2000). Susan M. Schultz, ed., The Tribe of John: Ashbery and Contemporary Poetry (Tuscaloosa, 1995).

John Shoptaw, On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery's Poetry (Cambridge, MA, 1994).

isolated figure, as he depicts William Carlos Williams (a major influence, along with Whitman) in "For William Carlos Williams," a poem describing hearing Williams reading to a largely inattentive campus audience:

You seemed Above remarking we were not your friends. You hung around inside the rimmed Circles of your heavy glasses and smiled and So passed a lonely evening. In an hour Of talking your honesty built you a tower.

Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and entered Princeton in 1944, where he first began writing poetry seriously and where W. S. Merwin was a fellow undergraduate. After spending time in the US navy and the summer of 1947 at Black Mountain College, he graduated from Princeton in 1948. In 1949 he received an MA from the University of Rochester. He spent a year (1955-6) in France on a Fulbright Fellowship, and in 1963 worked in a voter registration campaign for the Congress of Racial Equality in Louisiana. He has taught at more than 20 colleges and universities, his first tenured position being at New York University in 1985, where he is currently the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in Creative Writing.

Kinnell's first book, What a Kingdom It Was, appeared in 1960 and displays a more traditional Christian sensibility than his subsequent work. The most notable poem, "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World," in its 14 sections blends memories of the Holocaust with a description of Manhattan's Avenue C ghetto, reproducing many of the city's voices and signs. (When Kinnell collected his earlier books in 1974 this poem provided the volume's title.) Flower Herding on Mount Monadnock (1964) and Body Rags (1968) furthered Kinnell's interest in elemental situations. Body Rags contains two of his best-known poems, "The Bear" and "The Porcupine," both of which explore the communality between man and animal in situations involving death. In "The Bear," the narrator wounds a bear and then trails the slowly dying animal for days. When the bear dies, he cuts it open and climbs inside for shelter and in his exhausted sleep relives the bear's experience of its last days and hours.

The Book of Nightmares (1971) is usually considered Kinnell's finest book. One of its best-known poems, "Little Sleep's-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight" describes his daughter Maud wakened from a nightmare, and his comforting of her leads to a meditation upon time, instinctive childhood knowledge, and future love. In this book and in other volumes Kinnell also writes of his son Fergus. One of these is the often anthologized "After Making

Love We Hear Footsteps." Fergus appears in his parents' bedroom, as "one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making." Kinnell has also written poems about the impact of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, and about the Vietnam War, but on the whole he sees poetry as having the status of personal expression, a human cry, rather than, except for a brief period in the 1960s, a direct agent for social change or protest.

In addition to volumes of his own poems that continue to explore the relationship of the self to forces primal and elemental, including When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone (1990) and Imperfect Thirst (1994), Kinnell has published a number of books of translations. These include the poems of François Villon, Yves Bonnefoy, Yvan Goll, and Rainer Maria Rilke (whose Duino Elegies influenced The Book of Nightmares). He has also translated a novel by René Hardy. His own novel, Black Light, appeared in 1966, and a book of interviews, Walking Down the Stairs, in 1978. How the Alligator Missed Breakfast, a children's book, appeared in 1982. Kinnell's Selected Poems (1982) won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize the following year, and his A New Selected Poems (2000) was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 1984 Kinnell was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, and he is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

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