Study Guide

Stanley Kunitz

Stanley Kunitz Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226259-Kunitz.jpgStanley Kunitz Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The suicide of Solomon Z. Kunitz, a dress manufacturer, before the birth of his third child, Stanley, haunted Stanley Kunitz throughout his life. Stanley’s mother, Yetta Helen Jasspon, was remarried to Mark Dine when Stanley was eight; Dine died six years later. Yetta tried to expunge the memory of her first husband from her household, igniting Stanley’s curiosity about his father. Once when the young boy found a picture of Solomon, Yetta snatched it and slapped him for having it.

In 1922, Kunitz, valedictorian of his class at Worcester Classical High School, won a scholarship to Harvard University. Having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, he received a bachelor’s degree in English, summa cum laude, from Harvard in 1926. He received a master’s degree in 1927.

At this point, Kunitz, recipient of the prestigious Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal for Poetry in 1926, hoped to teach at Harvard. The head of Harvard’s English department intimated to him, however, that despite Kunitz’s outstanding qualifications—which included the appearance of his poems in some of the nation’s best literary publications—Harvard undergraduates would resent being taught by a Jew. This disappointment turned Kunitz from the academic world.

Forced to earn a living, he worked for the Worcester Telegram before becoming an editor for the H. W. Wilson Company in 1928; this association lasted for more than forty years. Kunitz was editor of the Wilson Library Bulletin from 1928 until 1942, when he left Wilson temporarily to serve in the Air Transport Command of the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant.

Upon his postwar separation from the Army, Kunitz received a Guggenheim Fellowship, giving him a year to write. Two collections of his verse, Intellectual Things (1930) and Passport to the War: A Selection of Poems (1944), had already won for their author recognition in the literary world, although he was equally well known for books he had edited or coedited in his position at Wilson, among them Living Authors: A Book of Biographies (1931); Authors Today and...

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Stanley Kunitz Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Kunitz’s poetry to 1958 was partly an apprenticeship for what lay ahead. During the first three decades of his literary activity, he wrote meticulously crafted verse, consciously employing the poetic conventions and conceits of classical poetry from the Elizabethans to the Romantics. As he matured, he read and frequently interacted personally with living poets, from William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot to Robert Lowell and Theodore Roethke. He finally burst the formal stylistic bonds that had constrained his earlier work and became a modern poet, even though he never tested the experimental extremes of modernism as Eliot and Ezra Pound did.

Stanley Kunitz Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111226259-Kunitz.jpgStanley Kunitz Published by Salem Press, Inc.

While a scholarship student at Harvard University, Stanley Kunitz won a prize for a poem anticipating his acknowledged themes of time and mutability. Critics speculate that Kunitz’s thematic preoccupations stem from an event that occurred weeks before his birth: his father’s suicide. Kunitz suffered a further blow at the age of fourteen when his beloved stepfather died.

Significantly, the dramatized “I”—the protagonist throughout Kunitz’s poetry—is the ever-questing self, determined to survive against the odds “the hurt/ Which is unanswerable [and] fill[s] the brow/ with early death.” The basis of Kunitz’s work is personal, but he is not a poet of the confessional school. He intends his poetry to be a vehicle that transforms private themes and events into legend. That is, the poetry is meant to give the particular and the personal a universal dimension. “All the essential details of the poem are true as dreams are,” Kunitz explains in his commentary on “Father and Son.”

The “I” in “Father and Son” pursues his ghostly father across a dreamscape. His face a “white ignorant hollow,” the figure remains to the end wordless, incapable of imparting knowledge. Kunitz characteristically sounds the note of bitterness against family and tradition in his early poetry. “Let sons learn from their lipless fathers how/ Man enters hell,” he declares in “For the World Is Flesh.”

With World War II, during which, as a conscientious objector, he took a noncombatant role, Kunitz appears to have reforged links with his Jewish immigrant heritage. In “Reflection by a Mailbox,” then-current horrors in Adolf Hitler’s Europe precipitate an imaginative journey backward through time to the pogroms that brought his parents from Russia to America. The discovery of Russian poetry, which he began to translate, also revived ancestral ties. “Journal for My Daughter,” occasioned by Kunitz’s divorce in 1958, marks a major development toward reconciliation in his work, as he confronts his own parental responsibility for a child’s suffering.

Kunitz’s love of the natural world, traced to his boyhood solace in exploring the woods and fields surrounding his home, has remained a source of renewal, evident particularly in the expansive perspective of his later poetry. Recognition has included the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1959 for Selected Poems, 1928-1958, designations as Library of Congress consultant on poetry from 1974 to 1976 and, in 1987, State Poet of New York.

Stanley Kunitz Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

The son of immigrants, Stanley Jasspon Kunitz was born July 29, 1905, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Kunitz’s father, Solomon, descended from Russian Sephardic Jews, committed suicide shortly before Stanley was born—an event that was to haunt the poet and that stands behind some of his most important and best-known poems. His mother, Yetta Helen, of Lithuanian descent, opened a dry-goods store to support herself, her son, and two older daughters and to repay accumulated debts. Reared principally by his sisters and a succession of nurses, Kunitz grew up with his father’s book collection, into which, as he put it, he would “passionately burrow.” Though his mother shortly remarried, his stepfather, of whom he was fond, died before Kunitz reached his teens.

Educated in Worcester public schools, Kunitz edited the high school magazine, played tennis, and graduated valedictorian of his class. Kunitz won a scholarship to Harvard, where he majored in English and began to write poetry, subsequently winning the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal for poetry in 1926. He graduated summa cum laude in the same year, and he took his M.A. degree from Harvard the following year. He worked briefly as a Sunday feature writer for the Worcester Telegram, where he had worked summers during college. He also completed a novel, which he later “heroically destroyed.”

In 1927, Kunitz joined the H. W. Wilson Company as an editor. With Wilson’s encouragement, he became editor of the Wilson Bulletin, a library publication (known now as the Wilson Library Bulletin). While at Wilson, he edited a series of reference books, including Authors Today and Yesterday: A Companion Volume to “Living Authors” (1933; with Howard Haycraft and Wilbur C. Hadden), British Authors of the Nineteenth Century (1936; with Haycraft), American Authors, 1600-1900: A Biographical Dictionary of American Literature (1938; with Haycraft), and Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature (1942; with Haycraft).

In 1930,...

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Stanley Kunitz Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111226259-Kunitz.jpgStanley Kunitz Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The contribution of Stanley Jasspon Kunitz (KYEWN-ihts) to literature can be divided into his careers as a poet and translator, as an editor of reference books, and as a mentor to other American poets. Kunitz accumulated a steady record of honors and awards while teaching at more than a dozen colleges and universities. From 1967 to 1977, he edited the Yale Series of Younger Poets, and he served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress from 1974 to 1976. In 1970, he was named one of the twelve chancellors of the Academy of American Poets; in 1985, he was named president of the Poets House in New York City. Kunitz’s influence on American poetry can be seen in the 1976 volume A Celebration of Stanley Kunitz on His Eightieth Birthday, which contains poetry and tributes by fellow poets Richard Wilbur, Gregory Orr, David Ignatow, Olga Broumas, Kenneth Koch, and others. In 2000, at the age of ninety-five, he was named poet laureate of the United States.

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905, Kunitz graduated from Harvard University. He published his first book of poetry, Intellectual Things, in 1930, the same year as his first marriage. Ironically and sadly, the event that had the most influence on Kunitz’s poetry was the suicide of his father six weeks before the writer was born. When he was fourteen, moreover, his stepfather died; perhaps as a result, he wrote much poetry in which quests for a father and for identity figure prominently. He also showed an early interest in the use of symbols related to home, family, loss, and love. Intellectual Things is written with a careful balance of allusions to religion, philosophy, drama, and earlier poetry, mixed with circumstances from Kunitz’s own life on the themes of death and the search for the father. Later, Kunitz developed the idea of “key images”—a term he employed to describe the universal image patterns he used in his poetry that retained their personal significances to him as a poet as well.

After obtaining his master’s degree from Harvard, Kunitz worked for the H. W. Wilson publishing company in New York until he was called to serve in World War II. He created and edited The Wilson Library Bulletin, for which he wrote a column. The reference books he wrote with coeditor Howard Haycraft became standard texts. Kunitz also edited the military newsmagazine Ten Minute Break while he was in the Army...

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Stanley Kunitz Biography (Poetry for Students)

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905, Stanley Jasspon Kunitz was the youngest of three children of Russian-Jewish parents. Six weeks...

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