Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell dies


MONTPELIER, Vt. | Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell, known using the everyday as a window into broader themes, has died at his rural Vermont home. He was 87.

Kinnell’s wife, Bobbie Bristol, said he died Tuesday afternoon at their home in Sheffield. He had leukemia.

Kinnell won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1983 for selected poems, and the following year he won a MacArthur Genius Fellowship. In 1989, he was named Vermont’s poet laureate, a post he held until 1993.

In “The Bear,” one of his most notable works, Kinnell describes in brutal detail a hunter’s multi-day pursuit of his quarry. In 2006, he released his final collection, which included “When the Towers Fell,” about the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In 1992, one of Kinnell’s poems was part of a project that put poetry in New York City subway cars.

“That’s reality and I think poetry belongs amid reality,” Kinnell said. “I don’t think it ought to be set aside in an aesthetically perfect realm.”

University of Vermont poet and English Professor Major Jackson, who read one of Kinnell’s poems during an August ceremony at the Vermont Statehouse honoring Kinnell, called him one of “the great quintessential poets of his generation.”

“In my mind he comes behind that other great New England poet Robert Frost in his ability to write about, not only the landscape of New England, but also its people,” said Jackson. “Without any great effort it was almost as if the people and the land were one and he acknowledged what I like to call a romantic consciousness.”

A Rhode Island native, Kinnell graduated from Princeton University.

Bristol says Kinnell had owned property in Vermont since 1960 but started living there full-time in 2005 after he retired from New York University.

Sheffield Town Clerk William St. Peter said Kinnell was well known in the town of about 750 people and he would attend public events.

“He tended to like his seclusion and people respected that but people knew his accomplishments,” St. Peter said.

Jackson said it was clear Kinnell was in declining health during the August reception at the Vermont Statehouse.

“It was one of the most moving tributes I ever attended in my life,” Jackson said. “I could not think of a more deserving American artist.”

Bristol said her husband will be buried on the hill behind their home.