This volume represents the most complete collection of Kunitz’s poems to the year 1978. Although only sixteen of the poems are new, this body represents a departure for Kunitz in that some of the new poems are much longer than any of his earlier ones. The last piece in the collection, “The Layers,” is a highly reflective poem that, more than any of his earlier verse, seems in tone to be the poet’s final message to the world. Like “Father and Son,” “The Layers” has about it a dreamlike quality. Unlike many of his other poems, it consists of a single long (forty-four-line) stanza. The author foresees his death, which may overtake him before he is finished with his work.
Recipient of the Lenore Marshall Prize for the best American poetry book of the year, this volume presents new poems that are forthright and unadorned in their language. They make their impact through terse lines and sharp images. In his later poems, Kunitz seems consciously to strive for psychological impact more than he did in his earlier work. He is quite like a painter who has moved from watercolors to acrylics and revels in the freedom the change allows.