Vermont Arts Council

Galway Kinnell: An Appreciation

By Executive Director of the Arts Council, Alex Aldrich

I once had a small argument with Galway Kinnell. We were in a panel meeting to select the next Vermont State Poet and there was a momentary misunderstanding about process that required some clarification. Galway misunderstood my clarification, meaning that my clarification was “not,” and then told me what he believed was the best way forward.

The words he used were, as one who knows his poetry might imagine, much simpler and far more direct. As a result, even though we both used words that had the same meaning (I thought), the panel agreed with his position, and so we pressed on.

My small argument with Galway Kinnell was, in effect, like trying to paint Mark Rothko’s living room, or like trying to build a stone path for Andy Goldsworthy. He simply used words better than anyone on the planet.

At the Annual Vermont Arts Awards Gala earlier this month, Galway received Vermont’s most prestigious arts prize—the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. It was an honor for the Vermont Arts Council to have produced the event and we were struck by Galway’s response, which was conveyed to us by his son, Fergus, since he, Galway, was too ill to attend.

Galway expressed such appreciation, even going so far as to say that the Governor’s Award meant more to him than his MacArthur “Genius” Award or his Pulitzer or American Book Award prizes—because it came from his home state of Vermont. He loved Vermont. He loved his family. And he loved poetry.

I probably have the order wrong, but I have learned not to argue about it. Instead, I will leave all of you with this short tribute to Galway, produced by Tim Wessel for the Awards Gala.

Requiescat In Pace.