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Stanley Kunitz

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The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, by Stanley Kunitz with Genine Lentine
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Kunitz’ early life:

Stanley Kunitz was born in 1905 in Worcester, MA, just 6 weeks after his father committed suicide. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. at Harvard, but left school when told that as a Jew he would not be offered a teaching position for “Anglo-Saxon” students. He worked from 1927 - 1943 as an editor & writer for the Wilson reference company in New York. He applied for conscientious objector status during World War II but was denied & drafted into the Army. Kunitz’ first two marriages ended in divorce.

Kunitz’ later life:

After the war, Kunitz began a long career as a teacher at Bennington College, then New York State Teachers College, and many others. His Pulitzer Prize-winning Selected Poems was published in 1958, the same year he married artist Elise Asher -- this third marriage lasted until her death in 2004. Kunitz was a founder of several workshops & arts institutions, including the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown & Poets House in New York. He spent many summers tending his garden in Provincetown.

Kunitz as poet:

Kunitz began writing poems as a child & was told by his teachers that he would be a poet. In high school he was enraptured with the poetry of Robert Herrick; later influences were Keats & Blake. His first book, Intellectual Things, was published when he was 25; his second book, Passport to War, came out 14 years later. His poems have always been direct, never unnecessarily obscure, but his early work used meter & form; in later years, his writing became less formal, somehow sparer & more pure.

Kunitz on writing poetry:

On the evolution of his own work, Kunitz said, “I’ve learned to strip the water out of my poems.” On the experience of writing poetry, he said, “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.”

Books by Stanley Kunitz:

  • The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden (prose, poetry, conversation & photographs, with Genine Lentine, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005)
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  • The Collected Poems (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000)
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  • Passing Through: The Later Poems New and Selected (W.W. Norton & Company, 1995)
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  • Interviews & Encounters with Stanley Kunitz (ed. Stanley Moss, Sheep Meadow Press, 1990)
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  • Next-To-Last-Things: New Poems and Essays (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986)
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