Date of Award

Winter 1986

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This dissertation contains two major parts: an essay and an extensive bibliography. The essay discusses Kinnell's poetry in order to illuminate his major themes and describe his poetics. The bibliography provides virtually complete lists of primary and secondary materials. Both essay and bibliography owe much to a study of the Charles G. Bell Collection at Dimond Library, University of New Hampshire. The collection contains letters and drafts sent by Kinnell to Bell over a 33-year period. Notes on the Bell Collection appear in an appendix to the dissertation.

The essay, first major part of the dissertation, examines Kinnell's poetry and poetics from the 1950s to 1985, focusing on the poems of Mortal Acts, Mortal Words, the books of poetry represented in Selected Poems, and Kinnell's latest collection, The Past. Section I of the dissertation charts the evolution of Kinnell's poetics and his major themes through the individual poets who have influenced him as well as through the traditions with which he aligns himself. Then it demonstrates the effects of these influences and traditions on the form and substance of individual poems in Kinnell's first four books of poetry. Section II interprets Mortal Acts, Mortal Words in terms of the primary goal underlying all of Kinnell's poetry: spiritual growth. Kinnell's poetry, rooted in a shared human reality, is the spiritual autobiography of a man both individual and representative, who suffers from a spiritual and emotional ailment common in secular, technological societies and who searches for ways through poetry to renew, recreate and perfect the self.

The bibliography provides two chronological listings of primary materials. The first lists periodical publications from Kinnell's first published poem to poems published in September, 1985. The second annotates Kinnell's periodical writings, except for original poetry, and publications in book form. The bibliography covers secondary materials, including interviews and book reviews, through 1984, and lists and annotates as many references to Kinnell as can be located by standard bibliographical tools, including databases accessible through on-line searches. Additional items were located by luck and by examination of the Bell Collection.