Death in the Works of Galway Kinnell

by Katarzyna Malecka


Hailed as one of the most powerful and moving poets of his generation, Galway Kinnell has been commended by critics who often pair his name with such famous predecessors as Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, W. B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, and Theodore Roethke. Born on February 1, 1927, Galway Kinnell has been working on the strength and truthfulness of his voice for almost five decades now.

This well-written work offers a very important perspective on a major living poet, focusing specifically on what is a key theme in Kinnell’s work––death. The author’s thematic analysis does not stop short with a direct reading of the poetry, it also seeks to place her subject within several contexts, including that problematic pivotal position between Modernism and Postmodernism, and a specific poetic tradition (including T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Whitman and Dickinson). What emerges from the readings of Kinnell’s various poetry collections is essentially an extended philosophical meditation on death, that both offers itself as a commentary whilst also repeatedly showing, with much clarity, how complex a subject death is for Kinnell. This meditation on death also means a deep consideration of those other large themes that have asserted themselves in American poetry––transcendentalism, nature, and life itself magnified against the darkness of death in the poet’s work.

This volume will make an important contribution to research on Kinnell and the author’s ability to follow her subject into a very complex labyrinth of philosophical and aesthetic discussions, while always being mindful that Kinnell remains central, offers much in the way of a good example of literary analysis and scholarship.

This book makes a significant contribution to scholarship on Galway Kinnell, a major contemporary poet whose work will receive more and more attention over the coming years. In addition, this work also marks a contribution to scholarship on poetry, American literature and contemporary literature, as well as to the fascination with death as a theme in much of American literature, from Dickinson and Poe to Plath and Salinger.

Death in the Works of Galway Kinnell will be a very valuable resource for students and teachers of contemporary poetry and American literature.


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