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Conversations with Stanley Kunitz

Conversations with Stanley Kunitz

Edited by Kent P. Ljungquist
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
  • Book Info
    Conversations with Stanley Kunitz
    Book Description:

    "He again tops the crowd--he surpasses himself, the old iron brought to the white heat of simplicity." That's what Robert Lowell said of the poetry of Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006) and his evolving artistry. The interviews and conversations contained in this volume derive from four decades of Kunitz's distinguished career. They touch on aesthetic motifs in his poetry, the roots of his work, his friendships in the sister arts of painting and sculpture, his interactions with Lowell and Theodore Roethke, and his comments on a host of poets: John Keats, Walt Whitman, Randall Jarrell, Wallace Stevens, and Anna Akhmatova.

    Kunitz emerged from a mid-sized industrial town in central Massachusetts, surviving family tragedy and a sense of personal isolation and loneliness, to become an eloquent spokesman for poetry and for the power of the human imagination. Kunitz has commented, "If we want to know what it felt like to be alive at any given moment in the long odyssey of the race, it is to poetry we must turn." His own odyssey from "metaphysical loneliness" to a sense of community with fellow writers and artists--by building institutions like Poets House and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts--is ever present in these interviews.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-970-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xix)

    Stanley Kunitz, the public voice for poetry, certainly became more widely known to a general audience via a conversation with Bill Moyers, “Dancing at the Edge of the Road,” part of a series on the Public Broadcasting System in 1989. The title of Moyers’s program was drawn from Kunitz’s “An Old Cracked Tune,” a poem that had come to occupy a significant place in his readings in the later decades of his career. The figure in the poem is Solomon Levi, a name that was taken from an offensive street song, but Kunitz sees him as an outcast, a marginalized...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xx-2)
  5. Pulitzer Prize Poet Stanley Kunitz Started Career in Worcester
    (pp. 3-7)
    Margaret Parsons

    Stanley Kunitz, a native of Worcester, was mentioned as the most underrated poet of today in a special supplement of the LondonTimeson “The American Imagination,” published November 8, 1959, this in spite of the fact that he had just won the Pulitzer Prize for hisSelected Poems, as the best book of poetry published in 1958. He was described as “the poet’s poet” in an article on “A Vocal Group, the Jewish Part of American Letters.”

    Last year he won the Ford grant as one of the ten American writers whom the Ford Foundation is subsidizing for two...

  6. Communication and Communion: A Dialogue between Stanley Kunitz and Allen Tate
    (pp. 8-19)
    Allen Tate and Stanley Kunitz

    In the spring of 1966, because poets were persistently complaining that poetry was badly taught, the Academy of American Poets and Stanley Kunitz organized, in conjunction with the New York City Board of Education, a series of weekly dialogues between Mr. Kunitz and twelve American poets as an accredited course for high school teachers. This course was preparatory to the inception of the now nationally renowned “Poetry-in-the-Schools” program, which began the following year in New York City under the direction of Elizabeth Kray, who was then executive director of the academy. Among those who participated in this series of dialogues...

  7. The Poet in the Classroom
    (pp. 20-28)
    Robert Russell

    Recently while on a lecture tour of some eastern colleges, Stanley Kunitz, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, stopped at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As an instructor in the English Department, I naturally looked forward to his visit. Since I was then teaching a course in the analysis of poems, I mimeographed Mr. Kunitz’s “Green Ways” and passed it out to the class before his visit, saying that, if we were lucky, Mr. Kunitz might attend our meeting.

    All good poetry is difficult to read and understand, but not all difficult poetry is good. A large part of the...

  8. Presenting the Poet: Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 29-38)
    Richard Kostelanetz and Stanley Kunitz

    A poet who stands as “an anomalous figure” in American literature, Stanley Kunitz, born in 1905 in the industrial city of Worcester, Massachusetts, belongs to the fertile generation that lies between the old masters—Eliot, Frost, Stevens, and Pound—and today’s poets, such as Lowell and Berryman. He attended public schools in Worcester, and then graduated from Harvard University,summa cum laude(1926). He stayed at Harvard for a master’s degree and pursued his interest in poetry.

    Like his late friend Theodore Roethke, Kunitz sometimes wrote in conventional and traditional forms, but many of his works exploit materials from the...

  9. An Interview with Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 39-44)
    Candace DeVries Olesen and Stanley Kunitz

    The following interview with Stanley Kunitz was held on a sunny November afternoon in his delightful brownstone in New York City’s Greenwich Village. There is, as readers of Mr. Kunitz’s poetry might expect, a veritable forest of greenery within and without his attractive living room. The walls are covered with paintings, including those of his wife Elise Asher (a painter of considerable sensitivity, who combines her oils with calligraphy), and the shelves are crowded with books. Climbing the long, red-carpeted stairs to the softly lit book-lined studio where the interview was given, one could not help but feel that the...

  10. Stanley Kunitz on “The Science of the Night”
    (pp. 45-49)
    Adele Slaughter and Stanley Kunitz

    Stanley Kunitz, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet who is this year’s Poetry Consultant at the Library of Congress, gave a reading of his poems on the “Writers Here & Now” series on November 19, 1974. After the reading, Adele Slaughter conducted the following interview with Mr. Kunitz.

    AS: Mr. Kunitz, when you wrote “The Science of the Night,” how many drafts did you write? Can you remember?

    SK: Oh, that poem went on for a long time, through dozens and dozens of drafts. Maybe I could start by talking about how I usually work on a poem. I remember very well...

  11. Interview with Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 50-56)
    Cleopatra Mathis, Anne Cherner, Elmaz Abinader and Stanley Kunitz

    Columbia: We’re interested in your thoughts about young poets today. You seem so involved in what young poets are doing.

    Kunitz: Why not? I feel more compatible with them than with the generation I was born into. The imagination lives by its changes and is always looking for a home. Perhaps the writers I feel closest to are those who remind me of the vulnerability of my own youth. I like to think of Yeats, with his characteristic mix of poignancy and arrogance, saying towards the end of his life that when he was young his Muse was old: but...

  12. Poetry in the Classroom: A Symposium with Marvin Bell, Donald Hall, and Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 57-75)
    Alan Loxterman, Marvin Bell, Donald Hall and Stanley Kunitz

    The following is a transcript of the soundtrack from a videotape recording made during a symposium held in the Robins Center, University of Richmond, in Virginia. This symposium, entitled “The Continuing Revolution in American Poetry,” was only one of the events during the Tucker-Boatwright Literary Festival, a series of poetry readings and classes given during the week of January 19 to January 23, 1976, by Arthur Vogelsang, Maura Stanton, Thomas Lux, Jane Shore, and the participants in the symposium: Stanley Kunitz, Marvin Bell, and Donald Hall. The Festival was organized by Maura Stanton and Alan Loxterman, an English professor at...

  13. Stanley Kunitz: Action and Incantation
    (pp. 76-89)
    Harvey Gross and Stanley Kunitz

    Harvey Gross: I am speaking with Stanley Kunitz in the garden of his Greenwich Village house. Our particular subject is prosody; however, I expect that we shall be ranging over a wider area: the whole craft of writing poetry. To begin: a question on the use of the wordprosody.Among theoreticians especially there is an ongoing dispute about the terminological implications of the word. The linguists seem to feel that the word refers to the vocalic elements in language: matters of voice, intonation, pitch, etc. Poets think of prosody as the science of metrics; the word still carries with...

  14. An Interview with Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 90-92)
    University of Virginia Alumni News and Stanley Kunitz

    The poetry festival honored Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Stanley Kunitz who, at age seventy-five, serves as adjunct professor of writing at the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts, Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and editor of the Yale Series of Younger Poets. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Kunitz has been awarded both Guggenheim Fellowships and Ford Foundation grants. He is the author of ten volumes, includingSelected Poems 1928–1958,The Testing Tree,Poems of Akhmatova(with Max Hayward), andSelected Poems 1928–1978. His poem “The Flight of Apollo” was printed...

  15. Stanley Kunitz on the Labyrinth of Forms and the Turning of Worms
    (pp. 93-98)
    Kathleen Weldon, Rose Slivka and Stanley Kunitz

    Kathy Weldon: When I read your work, I had the feeling that something larger had been brought down to the essential parts, rather than expanded. And when I picked up thePoems 1928–1979, the first thing that hitmewas . . .

    SK: Why aren’t there ten thousand poems?

    KW: And then it brought to mind Yeats, because it was so condensed, and the language has a song to it that underlies the action.

    SK: Yeats was important to me in my youth, one of several poets from whom I learned about song and action and the possibilities...

  16. A Dialogue with Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 99-114)
    Ayappa Paniker and Stanley Kunitz

    How does a poet like Stanley Kunitz, the strong gentle voice of American poetry, achieve that self-effacing quality which distinguishes him from several of his contemporaries? That was the main question in my mind, as I tried to seek an appointment with him after my arrival from India. The first time I contacted him from New Haven, he was away in Provincetown, and so we agreed to meet in his apartment in New York, on his return. The sober maturity of his voice as he answered the phone was an assurance of his friendliness as well as the lack of...

  17. Interview: Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 115-122)
    Madeleine Beckman and Stanley Kunitz

    Stanley Kunitz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, is a tall, thin, white-haired gentleman. This summer he will turn seventy-seven. The following interview was conducted in his Greenwich Village apartment, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, surrounded by his paintings, antiques, and plants.

    MB: You were Poetry Consultant for two years. What does the Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress do?

    SK: The consultant’s duties are not clearly defined. He’s a presence in the library, he or she as the case may be. Duties are pretty much what the consultant decides on his own. There’s a series of readings at the...

  18. An Interview with Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 123-138)
    Peter Stitt and Stanley Kunitz

    Stanley Kunitz, who will turn eighty-seven on July 29, 1992, is the reigning dean of American poets. Not only is he still writing, but he is writing as well today as he ever has, as is evident from poems he has published recently.

    With his wife Elise Asher, Stanley Kunitz spends his winters in New York City and his summers in Provincetown; his flower garden is both one of his great passions and one of the primary attractions of Cape Cod. He visited Gettysburg College on the twelfth and thirteenth of March 1990, to read his poems and to visit...

  19. Stanley Kunitz: An Interview
    (pp. 139-154)
    Leslie Kelen and Stanley Kunitz

    The following interview with Stanley Kunitz is the outcome of two conversations taped at his New York City apartment. The first took place on the afternoon of November 26, 1991, the second on the evening of March 24, 1993. The first session focused almost entirely on the poet’s early years: The aim here was to identify and describe the personal and social contexts that influenced the poems and to place the poet’s earliest efforts in their atmosphere. The second interview concentrated on the dramatic transformation that marks Kunitz’s recent, mature work. It attempted to locate and articulate the connections between...

  20. Stanley Kunitz: “The Gifts of the Heart Are Always Added to Our Store”
    (pp. 155-164)
    Christopher Busa and Stanley Kunitz

    Christopher Busa: After going to two of your readings in the last few months, in Provincetown and New York, I noticed that both times you read “An Old Cracked Tune.” Is that poem now part of your repertoire?

    Stanley Kunitz: Yes.

    CB: “Solomon Levi” was a name that echoed in a distant time, in the teens of this century when you also were in your teens. He was a figure in an offensive street song that mocked a little Jewish tailor, depicted as a scoundrel. You remembered the tune and some of the words. When you wrote the poem, in...

  21. An Interview with Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 165-177)
    Donald G. Parker, Joan I. Siegel and Stanley Kunitz

    On November 22, 1993, Stanley Kunitz visited Orange County Community College, Middletown, New York. During the afternoon he conducted a question and answer session with students and later presented a formal reading to the college community. Earlier that day the editors conducted an interview with Kunitz.

    Q: In the epigraph to your first book,Intellectual Things, you quoted Blake’s line “For the tear is an intellectual thing,” implying the inseparability of passions and the intellect. How was that received by the critics?

    SK: That title was completely misunderstood. They thought I was separating poetry from emotion, whereas I meant to...

  22. An Interview with Stanley Kunitz
    (pp. 178-187)
    Gary Pacernick and Stanley Kunitz

    Like William Blake, Stanley Kunitz glorifies the role of the poet in the modern world. In our interview, I began by quoting his statement to Bill Moyers that “poetry is the most difficult, the most solitary, and the most life-enhancing thing that one can do in the world.” When I asked him to elaborate, he replied, “The experience of love and the creative act are the supreme expressions of the life force. They do more than express it; they refresh and renew it and give it back, magnified.”

    It is a testimony to the lights of love and poetry that...

  23. Openhearted: Stanley Kunitz and Mark Wunderlich in Conversation
    (pp. 188-193)
    Mark Wunderlich and Stanley Kunitz

    Wunderlich: I’d like to begin with our location and ask you how you became a resident of Provincetown. What was it that drew you here?

    Kunitz: From my early years, when I experienced a certain loneliness at the thought of becoming a poet in this culture, I have been driven to search for a community in which I could feel at home. There are other factors involved in addition to the need for companionship. In general, I’ve found that I am more at peace with myself when I’m in daily contact with the natural world, either in the country or...

  24. The Productions of Time: Kunitz on Blake
    (pp. 194-216)
    Jason Shinder and Stanley Kunitz

    SK: When I first read this poem from William Blake’sSongs of Experienceas an adolescent, I didn’t fully understand the word “charter’d.” I found little help in the dictionary. I didn’t really grasp the meaning of the work until I moved from my native Worcester, Massachusetts, where I was born and raised, and came to New York. In Manhattan I saw particular buses parked in the street that were not available to the public, that had a “chartered” sign on the windshield. They had been hired. Blake was saying that the streets of London, even the Thames, were bought...

  25. Index
    (pp. 217-226)