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John Kinsella (1963 – )

John Kinsella, Cambridge UK, 1990s, photo by John Tranter John Kinsella, Cambridge UK, 1990s, photo by John Tranter
John Kinsella

fl. 1989–

John Vincent Kinsella was born in Perth in 1963. His father Ron was a motor mechanic who later became a farm manager near Geraldton, while his mother Wendy taught piano to put herself through university, eventually becoming a secondary school English teacher. Kinsella grew up in suburban Perth, on the family farm, ‘Wheatlands,’ in the Avon Valley north-east of Perth, and Geraldton, where he completed high school. Because of his early literary interests and high intelligence, he was subjected to bullying while at school, which saw him withdraw further into books, reading and writing. After school, he enrolled in a law degree at the University of Western Australia, switching after a year to study history before dropping out of university altogether. Kinsella then travelled and corresponded with writers around the world, meeting Dorothy Hewett and Robert Adamson in Sydney in 1981. In 1983, under the pseudonym John Heywood, he published his first collection of poems,The Frozen Sea.In his 2006 memoir,Fast, Loose Beginnings: A Memoir of Intoxications, Kinsella details his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse in his youth.

In 1989, encouraged by his mother, Kinsella published his first collection of poems under his own name,Night Parrots, with the Fremantle Arts Centre Press, beginning a long association with that publisher. Through the 1990s and 2000s, Kinsella established himself both as an extraordinarily prolific poet, publishing more than thirty collections, and as an increasingly important figure in contemporary Australian poetry, both through his own poetic output, and his multifarious roles as an editor, publisher, and critic. From 1990-2004, he edited and published a literary journal,Salt, which in 2007 was revived asSalt Magazine. This journal and other works were produced under Kinsella’s publishing imprints Folio and Folio/Salt; in 2000, with Chris Hailton-Emery formerly of Cambridge University Press, he established a specialist independent poetry publishing house, Salt Publishing. Since 1998, Kinsella has been a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University. He has also been Professor of English at Kenyon College in Ohio, USA, and Adjunct Professor at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. With his wife Tracy Ryan, he co-authors a weblog: ‘Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist.’

Kinsella is known for his facility in both lyrical and experimental poetry traditions. A volume of his lyrical work,Peripheral Light,selected and introduced by the eminent literary critic Harold Bloom, was published in 2003, while a selected volume of his more innovative work,Doppler Effect, was published in 2004. Thematically, Kinsella’s poetry has often expressed a deep attachment to and fascination with the Western Australian landscape and ecology, and a concurrent anxiety over the impact of postcolonial cultures – these themes have been addressed in large scale works (such asThe Silo: A Pastoral Symphony) sometimes termed ‘anti-pastoral’. He has been the recipient of numerous writers’ grants and awards, winning the Western Australian Premier’s Book Award for Poetry three times (1993, 1998, 2003), as well as the Age Book of the Year Dinny O’Hearn Poetry Prize (forThe Hunt and other poems1998), and the Adelaide Festival John Bray Award (forThe Silo: A Pastoral Symphony– 1996), among others.

Poetry Collections

[as John Heywood], The Frozen Sea (Perth: Zeppelin Press, [1983].

Night Parrots (Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 1989).

The Book of Two Faces: poems (Perth: Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1989).

Ultramarine: poems (Applecross, WA: Folio, 1991).

Eschatologies (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1991).

Poems (Applecross, WA: Folio, 1991).

Full Fathom Five (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1993).

Syzygy (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1993).

The Silo: A Pastoral Symphony: poems (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1995).

Erratum/Frame(d) (South Fremantle, WA: Folio and Fremantle Press, 1995).

Intensities of Blue: poems ([Applecross, WA]: Folio, 1995).

The Radnoti Poems (Cambridge, UK: Equipage, 1996).

Lightning Tree (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1996).

The Undertow: new and selected poems (Lancashire, UK: Arc Publications, 1996).

Poems, 1980–1994 (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 1997).

Lines of Sight ([Cambridge, UK]: Folio/Salt, 1997).

The Hunt and other poems (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Bloodaxe Books, 1998).

Pine: poems (Applecross, WA: Folio/Salt, 1998).

Counter-Pastoral (Sydney: Vagabond Press, 1999).

Visitants (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1999).

Fenland Pastorals (Kenilworth, UK: Prest Roots, 1999).

Zone (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2000).

Wheatlands (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2000)

The Hierarchy of Sheep (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2001)

Rivers (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2002).

Conspiracies (Cambridge, UK: Salt, 2003).

Peripheral Light: new and selected poems (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2003).

Doppler Effect (Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishing, 2004).

The New Arcadia (Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2005).

Love Sonnets (Cambridge, UK: Equipage, 2006).

Divine Comedy: Journeys through Regional Geography (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2008).

Shades of the Sublime and Beautiful (North Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2008).

[with Robert Drewe], Sand (South Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2010).

Suggested Further Reading

Susan Bradley Smith, ‘Cross-Pollinations,’ Meanjin 66-67.4-1 (2007), pp. 45-51.

John Kinsella, Fast, Loose Beginnings: A Memoir of Intoxications (Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Publishing, 2006).

John Kinsella, John Kinsella: poet, novelist, critic, publisher, and journal editor, website,

John Kinsella, “Publishing Poetry,’ Southerly 56.3 (1996), ppp. 36-42.

John Kinsella, ‘The Pastoral, and the Political Possibilities of Poetry,’ Southerly 57.3 (1997), pp. 227-29.

John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan, ‘Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist,’ weblog, http://poetsvegananarchistpacifist.blogspot.com/

Mark Klemens, ‘ “Where the Said and Unsaid Meet”: Interview with John Kinsella at Kenyon College: 8 May 2001,’ Antipodes 15.2 (2001), pp. 76¬-85.

Rod Mengham and Glen Phillips, eds., Fairly Obsessive: Essays on the Works of John Kinsella (Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia, Centre for Studies in Australian Literature and Fremantle Press, 2000).

Marthe Reed, ‘John Kinsella’s Anti-Pastoral: A Western Australian Poetics of Place,’ Antipodes 24.1 (2006), pp. 91-96.

Ann Vickery, ‘John Kinsella,’ in Selina Samuels, ed., Australian Writers 1975-2000 (Detroit, USA: Gale Research, 2006), pp. 186-95.

Maria Vidal and Nuria Casado, ‘John Kinsella, Through his Poetry,’ Southerly 59.3-4 (1999), pp. 157-71.