“The poem comes in the form of a blessing—‘like rapture breaking on the mind,’ as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”
by Stanley Kunitz
Only, when I am sudden loss
Of consequence for mind and stair
Picking my dogged way from us
To whom, recessive in some where
Of recollection, with the cross
Fall, the breast in disrepair:
Only, when loosening clothes, you lean
Out of your window sleepily,
And with luxurious, lidded mien
Sniff at the bitter dark – dear she,
Think somewhat gently of, between
Love ended and beginning, me.
It is difficult to summarize a career that spans so many decades. Stanley Kunitz is one of those rare talents whose writing got stronger as he got older, he never reached a zenith from which to fall. His poetry ranged from metaphorical postcards to autobiographical and deeply personal. He was fearless in his writing, laying bare the most intimate of wounds before the reader, unimpeded by dramatic flourish, only an invitation to witness our shared humanity.
Kunitz was marked from birth by his father’s suicide, leaving a pregnant wife with two daughters to fend for herself. He did not countenance his father’s selfish act as his inheritance for Kunitz would prosper for over a 100 years, wringing every ounce of enjoyment out of life that the human body can provide.
Kunitz was a poet’s poet. His poems carefully constructed, complex and eloquent. His poetry completely accessible, he embraced rhymes and excelled at free verse. Kunitz wrote what he wanted to write throughout his entire life with aplomb. His first book of poetry, Intellectual Things, was green lighted by a young editor at Doubleday, Ogden Nash, and published in 1930. His final book, The Wild Braid, was published in 2005 in his centenary year. Kunitz long career would influence many including such poets as Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, W. H. Auden, James Wright, and Mark Doty. Kunitz has the unique honor of being named Poet Lauraete twice, in 1974 and in 2000 and holds the distinction of being the oldest Poet Laurate in our nation’s history.
Kunitz is one of those poet’s that if I had come to poetry sooner in my life, I think I would have written him fan mail and wished secretly that he would respond. Here’s one of his most personal poem’s and a great example of why poetry is an art form unlike any other in its power to articulate what it is to be human.
PS. An interesting question, what living poet should I write a fan mail letter? What living poet would you write? A good idea to think about and maybe do…
by Stanley Kunitz
My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek