Log in

Spotlight on Stanley Kunitz - Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Spotlight on Stanley Kunitz [Jul. 30th, 2005|10:37 am]
Cultivating Poetry and Poetic Criticism


I have an aversion to celebrating special events on the day marked for them, so since Stanley Kunitz turned 100 yesterday, I'm posting about it today. Share your favourite poems by him, if you please!

Stanley Kunitz has led a rather modest poetic career. Some say his greatest accomplishment was just growing old, but I find that there is a precious lot of beauty to be found in his work, and over the years critics have come to agree.

"Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he grew up; he studied at Harvard College, receiving a BA in 1926 and an MA in 1927. He then moved to New York, taking a job with the H. W. Wilson company as an editor of the Wilson Library Bulletin; he also began at this time the work of collaboration with Howard Haycraft on four important biographical dictionaries of English and American authors. His first book of poems, Intellectual Things (1930) was barely recognized, and Kunitz did not publish his second book, Passport to War, for another fourteen years. The Second World War interrupted his career as editor, and when he was released from the army he joined the faculty of Bennington College, the first of several academic jobs. Real recognition came slowly to Kunitz, culminating in his receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 for his first Selected Poems.

The witty, even defiantly intellectual first poems of Kunitz gave way, gradually, to a more autobiographical verse (as in The Testing Tree, 1971), which reminded some critics of Randall Jarrell and Robert Lowell in their confessional phases. The poems of recent years have been restrained but quietly passionate, as in ‘The Layers', where Kunitz writes: 'I have walked through many lives, / some of them my own, / and I am not who I was, / though some principle of being / abides, from which I struggle / not to stray.' Always, Kunitz writes with an almost passionate clarity and with attention to formal details.

Kunitz has also worked as a translator, creating deft English versions of Russian poems by Mandelstam, Yevtushenko, Stolzenberg, Akhmatova, and Akhmadulina. His critical essays are collected in A Kind of Order, A Kind of Folly (Boston, 1975). Collections of verse include The Poems of Stanley Kunitz (Boston, 1979) and Next-to-last-Things (Boston, 1985). For criticism, see Marie Henault, Stanley Kunitz (Boston, 1980) and Gregory Orr, Stanley Kunitz (New York, 1985)."

[More here.]

"Many believe his poetry's symbolism is influenced significantly by the work of Carl Jung. Kunitz has himself been an influence on many 20th century poets, including James Wright.

His book Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected (1995) won the National Book Award. Kunitz has been the recipient of many other honors, including the 1959 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, a National Medal of the Arts, Harvard's Centennial Medal, and a term as the state poet of New York State. He founded the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Poets House in New York City. He also taught for many years in the graduate writing program at Columbia University." [wikipedia]

The Long Boat

When his boat snapped loose
from its mooring, under
the screaking of the gulls,
he tried at first to wave
to his dear ones on shore,
but in the rolling fog
they had already lost their faces.
Too tired even to choose
between jumping and calling,
somehow he felt absolved and free
of his burdens, those mottoes
stamped on his name-tag:
conscience, ambition, and all
that caring.
He was content to lie down
with the family ghosts
in the slop of his cradle,
buffeted by the storm,
endlessly drifting.
Peace! Peace!
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.

After the Last Dynasty

Reading in Li Po
how "the peach blossom follows the water"
I keep thinking of you
because you were so much like
Chairman Mao,
naturally with the sex
and the figure slighter.
Loving you was a kind
of Chinese guerilla war.
Thanks to your lightfoot genius
no Eighth Route Army
kept its lines more fluid,
traveled with less baggage
so nibbled the advantage.
Even with your small bad heart
you made a dance of departures.
In the cold spring rains
when last you failed me
I had nothing left to spend
but a red crayon language
on the character of the enemy
to break appointments,
to fight us not
with his strength
but with his weakness,
to kill us
not with his health
but with his sickness.
Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony,
here is a new note
I want to pin on your door,
though I am ten years late
and you are nowhere:
Tell me,
are you still mistress of the valley,
what trophies drift downriver,
why did you keep me waiting?

Single Vision

Before I am completely shriven
I shall reject my inch of heaven.

Cancel my eyes, and, standing, sink
Into my deepest self; there drink

Memory down. The banner of
My blood, unfurled, will not be love,

Only the pity and the pride
Of it, pinned to my open side.

When I have utterly refined
The composition of my mind,

Shaped language of my marrow till
Its forms are instant to my will,

Suffered the leaf of my heart to fall
Under the wind, and, stripping all

The tender blanket from my bone,
Rise like a skeleton in the sun,

I shall have risen to disown
The good mortality I won.

Directly risen with the stain
Of life upon my crested brain,

Which I shall shake against my ghost
To frighten him, when I am lost.

Gladly as any poison, yield
My halved conscience, brightly peeled;

Infect him, since we live but once,
With the unused evil in my bones.

I'll shed the tear of souls, the true
Sweat, Blake's intellectual dew,

Before I am resigned to slip
A dusty finger on my lip.

More poems here.