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Stanley Kunitz

STANELY KUNITZ

State Poet, 1986 - 1988

Stanley Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1905. Educated at Harvard, from which he was graduated summa cum laude, he received the Garrison Medal for Poetry there. His first book of poems, Intellectual Things, appeared before he was 25. In the period before World War II he worked as a newspaperman, edited a magazine, and compiled several works of standard literary reference, of which the best known is Twentieth Century Authors. After military service and a year's residence in Santa Fe on a Guggenheim grant, he joined the faculty of Bennington College for his first teaching appointment. He has since taught at Potsdam State Teachers' College, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, the New School for Social Research and as a Danforth visiting lecturer. He has served as poet-in-residence at the University of Washington, Queens College, Brandeis University, and Princeton, and has taught for many years in the graduate writing program at Columbia University.

Stanley Kunitz, Grace Paley, Gov. Mario CuomoHis numerous awards and prizes include the Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for his Selected Poems: 1928-1958; the Blumenthal and Levinson Prizes; an Amy Lowell traveling fellowship; the Saturday Review and Harriet Monroe poetry awards; an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters; a Ford Foundation grant; an Academy of American Poets Fellowship; and in February 1987, New York State's Walt Whitman Citation of Merit and the Bollingen Prize for poetry. His citation for the Brandeis Medal of Achievement in 1965 described his poetry as "combining a classical strength of language and vision which goes beyond the easier uses of irony and achieves the genuinely tragic." And in 1984, the National Endowment for the Arts honored him with a Senior Fellowship "for his inordinate generosity in working with younger writers" and "his contribution to the world of letters ... a living and lasting influence." His poems have been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Russian, Dutch, Macedonian, French, Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic and Swedish.

Stanley Kunitz has himself translated some of the major Russian poets. Under a cultural exchange agreement, he has made extensive lecture and reading tours of the Soviet Union, Poland, the West coast of Africa, Israel, and Egypt; and he has participated in international poetry festivals in the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Italy and England. For most of his adult life, he has been active in the civil liberties and peace movements.

He edited the Yale Series of Younger Poets from 1969 to 1977, and during that time served as both consultant on poetry and honorary consultant in American letters to the Library of Congress. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and first president of the newly established Poets House in New York City.

He lives in Greenwich Village with his artist-wife Elise Asher. Part of the year he spends on Cape Cod, where he is associated as a founding father with the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, a resident community of American artists and writers. The city of Worcester celebrated his 80th birthday with a five-day poetry festival named after him. Ecco Press published The Essential Blake (1987).


from the works of Stanely Kunitz

FATHER AND SON
Now in the suburbs and the falling light
I followed him, and now down sandy road
Whiter than bone-dust, through the sweet
Curdle of fields, where the plums
Dropped with their load of ripeness, one by one.
Mile after mile I followed, with skimming feet,
After the secret master of my blood,
Him, steeped in the odor of ponds, whose indomitable love
Kept me in chains. Strode years; stretched into bird;
Raced through the sleeping country where I was young,
The silence unrolling before me as I came,
The night nailed like an orange to my brow.

How should I tell him my fable and the fears,
How bridge the chasm in a casual tone,
Saying, "The house, the stucco one you built,
We lost. Sister married and went from home,
And nothing comes back, it's strange, from where she goes.
I lived on a hill that had too many rooms;
Light we could make, but not enough of warmth,
And when the light failed, I climbed under the hill.
The papers are delivered every day;
I am alone and never shed a tear."

At the water's edge, where the smothering ferns lifted
Their arms, "Father!" I cried, "Return! You know
The way. I’ll wipe the mudstains from your clothes;
No trace, I promise, will remain. Instruct
You son, whirling between two wars,
In the Gemara of your gentleness,
For I would be a child to those who mourn
And brother to the foundlings of the field
And friend of innocence and all bright eyes.
0 teach me how to work and keep me kind."

Among the turtles and the lilies he turned to me
The white ignorant hollow of his face.

THE SNAKES OF SEPTEMBER
All summer I heard them
rustling in the shrubbery,
outracing me from tier
to tier in my garden,
a whisper among the viburnums,
a signal flashed from the hedgerow,
a shadow pulsing
in the barberry thicket.
Now that the nights are chill
and the annuals spent,
I should have thought them gone,
in a torpor of blood
slipped to the nether world
before the sickle frost.
Not so. In the deceptive balm
of noon, as if defiant of the curse
that spoiled another garden,
these two appear on show
through a narrow slit
in the dense green brocade
of a north-country spruce,
dangling head-down, entwined
in a brazen love-knot.
I put out my hand and stroke
the fine, dry grit of their skins.
After all,
we are partners in this land,
co-signers of a covenant.
At my touch the wild
braid of creation
trembles.

THE QUARREL
The word I spoke in anger
weighs less than a parsley seed,
but a road runs through it
that leads to my grave,
that bought-and-paid-for lot
on a salt-sprayed hill in Truro
where the scrub pines
overlook the bay.
Half-way I'm dead enough,
strayed from my own nature
and my fierce hold on life.
If I could cry, I'd cry,
but I'm too old to be
anybody's child.
Liebchen,
with whom should I quarrel
except in the hiss of love,
that harsh, irregular flame?


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