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Friday, May 19, 2006

In Memorium: Stanley Kunitz

Back in 2000, I was fortunate enough to meet Poet Laureate of that year, Stanley Kunitz. He was reading from his latest collection of poems. Seeing him read his work, he reminded me of my father...a man who held everything in a quiet regard. His poetry was written in the same way.

Stanley Kunitz died in his sleep early Sunday morning. He was 100.

The son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. His father commited suicide in a public park a few weeks before he was born. His mother opened a dry goods store to support her family. Later, Kunitz went to Harvard where he graduated Suma Cum Laude in 1926. His Jewish background however prevented him from becoming an assitant in the English department.

During WWII, Kunitz served three years in the army, even though he was a conscientious objector. His experiences in war were fuel for his collection Passport To War which was published in 1944.

Over the years, Kunitz held teaching positions at Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, Bennington, the New School and of course Columbia, where he spent 22 years. He won several awards. His poetry was widely recognized in the United States as well as the rest of the world. It wasn't until his old age however that he really came into his prime:

Kunitz had just turned 95 when appointed poet laureate in 2000, capping a career that began 70 years earlier with the collection "Intellectual Things" and later included a Pulitzer, a National Medal of the Arts and at age 90 a National Book Award.

He served a single one-year term as U.S. poet laureate and was also the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the precursor to poet laureate, from 1974 to 1976.

One of his best poems was his poem "Touch Me" which he wrote for his third wife, Elise Asher, a painter after her death in 2004. It was one of the poems he read at the reading in 2000. I've copied it for you here:

Touch Me

Summer is late, my heart
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.
Stanley Kunitz was one of America's greatese poets. His contribution to American literature is one that will not soon be forgotten. Stanley Kunitz will be greatly missed.


  • At 5:46 PM, Blogger AbsolutJ said…

    I am sorry for your, and our, cultural loss.
    I hate to be 'that guy' but I do have to say... I love you as a redhead!


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