Kirchwey, Karl 1956-

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KIRCHWEY, Karl 1956-


Born February 25, 1956, in Boston, MA; son of George Washington and Ellen-Douglas (Allen) Kirchwey; married Tamzen Flanders, 1988; children: Tobias Elinor. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1979; Columbia University, M.A., 1981.


Office—English House, Bryn Mawr College, 101 North Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-2899. E-mail—[email protected].


Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor in English composition, 1980-81; American School in Switzerland (Tasis), Lugano, instructor, 1981-82; Elizabeth Irwin High School, New York, NY, instructor, 1982-84; Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street YM-YWHA, New York, NY, assistant director, 1984-87, director, 1987-2000; Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA, director of creative writing, 2000—. Also instructor at Smith College, Northampton, MA (Grace Hazard Conkling writer-in-residence, 1995-97), Yale University, New Haven, CT, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and the writing division, Columbia University, New York, NY.


Norma Farber First book award from the Poetry Society of America, for A Wandering Island, 1991; Ingram Merrill Foundation fellowship, 1993; Guggenheim fellowship, 1994; Rome Prize in Literature, Academy of Arts and Letters, 1994-95; Paris Review Prize for Poetic Drama, 1997, for Airedales and Cipher; National Endowment for the Arts literature fellowship (poetry), 1996; honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa (Alpha of Connecticut), 2000; Rosalyn R. Szhwartz teaching award, Bryn Mawr College, 2003.



A Wandering Island, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.

Those I Guard, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993.

The Engrafted Word, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

At the Palace of Jove, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of play in verse, Airedales and Cipher, based on Euripides' Alcestis, presented in public readings at 92nd Street YM-YWHA and at Appalachian Summer Festival, Boone, NC. Contributor of poems to periodicals, including Nation, New Yorker, Paris Review, New Republic, New York Review of Books, Poetry, and Yale Review. Poems and translations represented in anthologies, including The Best of the Best American Poetry, 1987-1998, Penguin Book of the Sonnet, and After Ovid: New Metamorphoses.


Karl Kirchwey's poems frequently invoke the classical era, finding inspiration in ancient societies. Kirchwey is often seen "mapping the ghostly presences conjured by travel and the historical imagination," related a Publishers Weekly contributor in a review of The Engrafted Word. Kirchwey compares modern catastrophes to the events of Greek tragedies, composes elegies for vanished cultures, and scrutinizes tourists viewing millennia-old ruins. He also makes references to more recent history, discussing, say, Mozart or nineteenth-century U.S. statesman Carl Schurz. And sometimes he deals with highly personal subjects, such as his loved ones. Kirchwey's poems are "spare" and "lucid," observed the Publishers Weekly critic, and are marked by careful word choice.

The Engrafted Word, Kirchwey's third collection, includes numerous poems that meditate on his travels through the former Roman Empire and the relevance of the past to the present. Also featured are family-related poems such as "Zoo Story" and "In Transit," remembrances of his parents, and "He Considers the Birds of the Air," in which he reflects on his young son. "Sharply etched and richly worked as Kirchwey's classical travelogue is, it would feel a bit stuffy if unrelieved by such personal lyrics," commented Bill Christopherson in Poetry. Library Journal's Steven R. Ellis, meanwhile, praised Kirchwey for creating "an art where no word is out of place." And Mary Jo Salter, writing for the New York Times Book Review, said: "To Read The Engrafted Word is to experience the fusion of a living soul with those who came before us. It's a task Karl Kirchwey performs with skill and unwavering integrity."

In At the Palace of Jove, Kirchwey remains "concerned with memory and ways of processing pasts personal and historical," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Kate Bolick, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found that although some poems fail to spring to life, the collection is full of "confident, witty, and often surprising ruminations." "He has mined mythology and history to create poems that enable us to expand our understanding of life," exclaimed Michael Peich of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kirchwey told CA: "Beginning with a poem such as 'The Geographer's Line' in my first book, A Wandering Island, I have been interested in the relationship between geographical place and a feeling of being at home. My family moved around a great deal while I was growing up; what I lost in domestic stability I gained, perhaps, in having seen many different places and people. While I consider myself an American poet, the fact that I lived in England and Switzerland for a number of years places the cultural balance point for me somewhere between Europe and the United States. The Second World War, which marked my parents' generation, I have felt as a legacy stronger than that of the war in Vietnam, which was the defining historical event for my older siblings. Several journeys through Greece with my family when I was a teenager started my preoccupation with the Greco-Roman past, which I read as if it were present. Frost said, 'A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written,' and it is my belief that a poem is best written in this light as well."



Library Journal, April 15, 1998, Steven R. Ellis, review of The Engrafted Word, p. 83.

New Criterion, June, 1998, William Logan, "Soiled Desires," p. 61.

New York Times Book Review, August 9, 1998, Mary Jo Salter, review of The Engrafted Word; January 12, 2002, Kate Bolick, review of At the Palace of Jove, p. 19.

Philadelphia Inquirer, December 22, 2002, Michael Peich, review of At the Palace of Jove, p. H18.

Poetry, September, 1999, Bill Christopherson, review of The Engrafted Word, p. 345.

Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1998, review of The Engrafted Word, p. 68; November 4, 2002, review of At the Palace of Jove, p. 77.