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KUNITZ, Stanley (Jasspon)


Nationality: American. Born: Worcester, Massachusetts, 29 July 1905. Education: Worcester Classical High School; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Garrison Medal, 1926), A.B. (summa cum laude) 1926 (Phi Beta Kappa), A.M. 1927. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1943–45. Family: Married 1) Helen Pearce in 1930 (divorced 1937); 2) Eleanor Evans in 1939 (divorced 1958), one daughter; 3) Elise Asher in 1958. Career: Editor, Wilson Library Bulletin, New York, 1928–43. Member of the faculty, Bennington College, Vermont, 1946–49; professor of English, Potsdam State Teachers College (now State University of New York), 1949–50, and summers, 1949–53; lecturer, New School for Social Research, New York, 1950–57; visiting professor, University of Washington, Seattle, 1955–56, Queens College, Flushing, New York, 1956–57, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 1958–59, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1970–72, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1974, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1978, and Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1981; director, YMYWHA Poetry Workshop, New York, 1958–62. Danforth Visiting Lecturer, United States, 1961–63; lecturer, 1963–67, and adjunct professor of writing, 1967–85, Columbia University, New York. Since 1968 associated with the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Editor, Yale Series of Younger Poets, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1969–77. Consultant in poetry, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 1974–76. Former Cultural Exchange Lecturer, U.S.S.R., Poland, Senegal, Ghana, Israel, and Egypt. Senior Fellow in Humanities, Princeton University, 1978. Since 1969 Fellow, Yale University. Since 1985 president, Poets House, New York. Awards: Oscar Blumenthal prize, 1941, and Levinson prize, 1956 (Poetry, Chicago); Guggenheim fellowship, 1945; Amy Lowell traveling fellowship, 1953; Harriet Monroe award, 1958; Pulitzer prize, 1959; Ford grant, 1959; American Academy grant, 1959; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1964; Academy of American Poets fellowship, 1968; Lenore Marshall award, 1980; National Endowment for the Arts Senior fellowship, 1984; Bollingen prize, 1987; Walt Whitman award, 1987; Montgomery fellow, Dartmouth College, 1991; Centennial medal, Harvard University, 1992; National Medal of Arts, 1993; Shelly Memorial award, 1995; National Book award, 1995; St. Botolph Club Foundation award, 1996; Robert Frost medal, Poetry Society of America, 1998; Courage Conscience award, Peace Abbey, 1998. Litt.D.: Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1961; Anna Maria College, Paxton, Massachusetts, 1977. L.H.D.: Worcester State College, Massachusetts, 1980; State University of New York, Brockport, 1987. Member: American Academy, and since 1985 secretary; Chancellor, Academy of American Poets, 1970. Address: 37 West 12th Street, New York, New York, 10011, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Intellectual Things. New York, Doubleday, 1930.

Passport to the War: A Selection of Poems. New York, Holt, 1944.

Selected Poems 1928–1958. Boston, Little Brown, 1958; London, Dent, 1959.

The Testing-Tree. Boston, Little Brown, 1971.

The Terrible Threshold: Selected Poems 1940–1970. London, Secker and Warburg, 1974.

The Coat without a Seam: Sixty Poems 1930–1972. Northampton, Massachusetts, Gehenna Press, 1974.

The Lincoln Relics. Port Townsend, Washington, Graywolf Press, 1978.

The Poems of Stanley Kunitz 1928–1978. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Secker and Warburg, 1979.

The Wellfleet Whale and Companion Poems. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1983.

Next-to-Last Things (includes essays). Boston, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1985.

Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected. New York, Norton, 1995.

Recording: The Only Dance, Watershed, 1981.

Other

Robert Lowell, Poet of Terribilità lecture. New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1974.

A Kind of Order, A Kind of Folly: Essays and Conversations. Boston, Little Brown, 1975.

From Feathers to Iron (lecture). Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1976.

Interviews and Encounters with Stanley Kunitz. Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1993.

Editor (as Dilly Tante), Living Authors: A Book of Biographies. New York, Wilson, 1931.

Editor, with Howard Haycraft and Wilbur C. Hadden, Authors Today and Yesterday: A Companion Volume to "Living Authors." New York, Wilson, 1933.

Editor, with others, The Junior Book of Authors. New York, Wilson, 1934; revised edition, 1961.

Editor, with Howard Haycraft, British Authors of the Nineteenth Century. New York, Wilson, 1936.

Editor, with Howard Haycraft, American Authors 1600–1900: A Biographical Dictionary of American Literature. New York, Wilson, 1938.

Editor, with Howard Haycraft, Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature. New York, Wilson, 1942; First Supplement, with Vineta Colby, 1955.

Editor, with Howard Haycraft, British Authors Before 1800: A Biographical Dictionary. New York, Wilson, 1952.

Editor, Poems, by John Keats. New York, Crowell, 1964.

Editor, with Vineta Colby, European Authors 1000–1900: A Biographical Dictionary of European Literature. New York, Wilson, 1967.

Editor and Translator, with Max Hayward, Poems of Akhmatova. Boston, Little Brown, 1973; London, Harvill Press, 1974.

Editor and Co-Translator, Orchard Lamps, by Ivan Drach. New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1978; Toronto, Exile Editions, 1989.

Editor, The Essential Blake. New York, Ecco Press, 1987.

Editor and Co-Translator, with Max Hayward, Poems of Akhmatova/ Izbrannye Stikhi. New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Editor, with David Ignatow, The Wild Card: Selected Poems, Early and Late, of Karl Shapiro. N.p., University of Illinois Press, 1998.

Translator, with others, Stolen Apples, by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. New York, Doubleday, 1971; London, W.H. Allen, 1972.

Translator, with others, Story under Full Sail, by Andrei Voznesensky. New York, Doubleday, 1974.

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Critical Studies: "The Poetry of Stanley Kunitz" by James Hagstrum, in Poets in Progress, edited by Edward Hungerford, Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1962; The Contemporary Poet As Artist and Critic edited by Anthony Ostroff, Boston, Little Brown, 1964; "Man with a Leaf in His Head," in The Nation (New York), 20 September 1971, and "The Darkness of the Self," in Times Literary Supplement (London), 30 May 1980, both by Stanley Moss; "Voznesensky and Kunitz on Poetry," in The New York Times Book Review, 16 April 1972; The Craft of Poetry edited by William Packard, New York, Doubleday, 1974; "Imagine Wrestling with an Angel," in Contemporary Poetry in America, edited by Robert Boyers, New York, Schocken, 1975; "The Language That Saves" by Richard Vine, in Salmagundi (Saratoga Springs, New York), winter 1977; Stanley Kunitz by Marie Hénault, Boston, Twayne, 1978; Stanley Kunitz issue of Antaeus (New York), spring 1980; interview with Chris Busa, in Paris Review, spring 1982; Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry by Gregory Orr, New York, Columbia University Press, 1985; A Celebration for Stanley Kunitz on His Eightieth Birthday, Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1986; The Art of Poetry: Interviews with Stanley Kunitz, edited by Stanley Moss, Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1989; interview with Gary Pacernick, in Michigan Quarterly Review (Ann Arbor, Michigan), 36(4), fall 1997; interview with Leslie Kelen, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 27(2), March-April 1998.

Stanley Kunitz comments:

Since my Selected Poems, I have been moving toward a more open style based on natural speech rhythms. The Testing-Tree (1971) embodied my search for a transparency of language and vision. Maybe age itself compels me to embrace the great simplicities as I struggle to free myself from the knots and complications, the hangups, of my youth. I keep trying to improve my controls over language so that I will not have to tell lies. And I keep reading the masters because they infect me with human possibility. I am no more reconciled than I ever was to the world's wrongs and the injustice of time. The poetry I admire most is innocent, luminous, and true.

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The poems of Stanley Kunitz have always been carefully made (crafted, one might say) and meticulously attentive to subtleties of sound and sense. For this reason contemporary critics and poets, Theodore Roethke and Robert Lowell among them, have rightfully regarded Kunitz as "a subtly powerful presence in the poetic word of his day," according to the citation for his 1987 Bollingen prize. After an impressive start and a relatively quiet midcareer, Kunitz not only retained but also strengthened his inventiveness and skills as a major artist in his later years. What other writer, aside from his beloved Yeats, has written so well in his seventies and eighties, as in poems like "The Layers"?

   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

In the early poems the argument and tone tended to be highly intellectual, almost metaphysical, with echoes of Donne and Marvell as well as their twentieth-century American admirers John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate. For example, "Men's Creatrix," formal in style and modernist in theme, speaks of the conflict between intellect and feeling. "Benediction," an early poem in couplets, and "Grammar Lesson," a later poem in quatrains, exhibit a gift for rhyme that characterized Kunitz's first three collections. In his youth, Kunitz has said, he willed himself into being rather closed to outside influences, but since the late 1960s he has tried to make his work more open and accessible, in the manner of William Carlos Williams, "without sacrificing its more complex inner tissue."

Kunitz's vision is essentially tragic, particularly in poems retracing the myth of the lost father—"Father and Son," "The Portrait," and "Quinnapoxet." "The Testing Tree," a major work and one of several poems and essays inspired by his early years in Worcester, Massachusetts, argues that "in a murderous time / the heart breaks and breaks / and lives by breaking." Chastened by circumstance, the poetic voice remains undaunted, nonetheless, resembling the speaker Solomon Levi in "An Old Cracked Tune":

   I dance, for the joy of surviving,
   on the edge of the road.

"The Magic Curtain," also from Kunitz's later period, is, by contrast, a nostalgic love poem to his mother's housekeeper, beautiful, yellow-haired Frieda, his ally in skipping school for a day at the picture show:

   Downtown at the Front St. Bi-jo (spelt Bijou)
     we were, as always, the first in line,
     with a hot nickel clutched in hand,
   impatient for The Perils of Pauline …

The love poems are among the most memorable of Kunitz's works, beginning with the early "So Intricately Is This World Resolved," through "Foreign Affairs" and "The Science of the Night," to a witty parody of the traditional love lyric, "After the Last Dynasty." In the last poem one partner compares the other to Chairman Mao:

   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.

Kunitz's remarkable collection of essays A Kind of Order, A Kind of Folly includes "Poet and State," perhaps the best essay on the relationship between art and politics in contemporary literature. In Next-to-Last Things he has added an insightful essay on Lowell, a telling note on Whitman, a moving memoir of his mother—a Luthanian immigrant—and a beautiful reflection titled "The Wisdom of the Body."

Through his devotion to art and an insistence upon a high standard of performance, Kunitz has produced a body of work that has increased in stature over the years. A selected poems, Passing Through (1995), marking his ninetieth birthday, gathers most of the work since The Testing Tree (1971), including "The Snakes of Summer," "Raccoon Journal," and the major poem "The Wellfleet Whale," set near the poet's longtime Cape Cod summer residence:

   While empires rose and fell on land
    your nation breasted the open main,
   rocked in the consoling rhythm
    of the tides.

Wounded, the great voyager whale, "chief of the pelagic world," dies "where the lovers lie belly to belly / in the rub and nuzzle of their sporting," where, the speaker says in a final lament,

   You have become like us,
    disgraced and mortal.

—Michael True

Kunitz, Stanley (Jasspon)

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