Donald Finkel

Donald Finkel (1929-2008) was an American poet best known for his unorthodox styles. Finkel wrote his poetry in free verse, juxtaposing different subjects against each other. Some of his poetry was extremely lengthy, with single pieces filling a volume. He strayed from abstraction and used common language in his writing. Finkel would interlace his poetry with sections taken from a wide range of works, including the writings of authors Lenny Bruce, Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka.

Born in New York, Finkel attended Columbia University, where he was awarded a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1952 and a master's degree in English in 1953. Most of his teaching career was at Washington University where he helped develop the Writers' Program with his wife, Constance Urdang, but he has also taught at the University of Iowa, Bard College, and Bennington College. Finkel was the poet-in-residence emeritus at Washington University until his death.

Finkel published 14 books of poems, which were often long, epic poems with many perspectives about one subject, such as Answer Back (1968) about Mammoth Cave, Adequate Earth (1972) about Antarctica, and The Wake of the Electron (1987), which was inspired by the story of sailor Donald Crowhurst, who died in 1969 while competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.

Finkel had aspired to be a sculpture in his youth, and after retirement from Washington University, he returned to it by sculpting figures of all sorts out of buttons, bottles and other found objects—a style he called “dreckolage.”

Go here to explore the finding aid for the Donald Finkel Papers and other Finkel resources at Washington University.

Modern Literature Collection: The First Fifty Years