Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
To what extent does Stanley Kunitz use sensory detail in the poems that you have read? Does he involve all the senses?
The best poets use specific events in their poems to suggest larger, more universal truths. Do you find much in Kunitz’s poems that suggest universal truths?
What uses does Kunitz make of nature in his poetry? Cite specific examples.
Do you find references to people and characterization in Kunitz’s poetry?
What is Kunitz’s attitude toward death? Defend your answer by drawing specific examples from some of the poems that you have read.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Stanley Kunitz (KYEWN-ihts) published numerous essays, interviews, and reviews on poetry and art. These are collected in A Kind of Order, a Kind of Folly: Essays and Conversations (1975) and in Next-to-Last Things: New Poems and Essays (1985). In addition, he made extensive translations of modern Russian poetry, most notably in Poems of Akhmatova (1973, with Max Hayward) and Story Under Full Sail by Andrei Voznesensky (1974), and he edited and cotranslated Ivan Drach’s Orchard Lamps (1978) from the Ukrainian.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
In more than seven decades of writing poetry, Stanley Kunitz produced a corpus of work that is notable for its cohesiveness, its courageous explorations of the modern psyche, and its ever-broadening sympathies that adumbrate (with some fierce reservations and caveats) the unity of human experience. In language that always sustains a high degree of passionate dignity, never falling prey to the hortatory or didactic, Kunitz boldly knocked again and again on the doors of his obsessions with family, love, memory, and identity to demand that they surrender their secret meanings.
From the start of his career, Kunitz paid consummate attention to matters of form, as bespeaking, to use his borrowed phrase, “a conservation of energy.” Indeed, on numerous occasions, Kunitz spoke of form as a constant in art, as opposed to techniques and materials, which vary according to time and cultural necessity. Nevertheless, Kunitz’s later poems surprised his readers with their fresh embodiments: journal poems, prose poems, and free verse. At the same time, the poems retain the characteristically impassioned, sometimes bardic voice of the earlier work, a voice that constitutes an unbroken thread running through all his poetry.
In many ways, Kunitz’s work declares allegiance to the “flinty, maverick side” of American literature, the side inhabited by Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, and holds to humanistic values, independent judgment,...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Barber, David. “A Visionary Poet at Ninety.” The Atlantic Monthly 277, no. 6 (June, 1996): 113-120. This article includes a biographical survey and a brief review of some of the poet’s earlier works before turning to a heartfelt appreciation of Passing Through. Barber names Kunitz a “visionary” and sees his poetry as “transfiguring.”
Campbell, Robert. “God, Man, and Whale: Stanley Kunitz’s Collected Poems Show His Work Is All of a Piece.” The New York Times Book Review 150 (October 1, 2000): 16. This review of Kunitz’s poems, collected and published in his ninety-fifth year, offers comments about the broad spectrum of this poet’s writing over seven decades. One of the most insightful brief overviews of Kunitz in print.
Henault, Marie. Stanley Kunitz. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A good introduction to Kunitz for the beginning reader. Presents biographical detail and criticism of his poetry, discussing his themes, form, and techniques, and the “interior logics” of his poems. A sympathetic study lamenting the fact that Kunitz has not received the wide critical recognition he deserves.
Kunitz, Stanley. “An Interview with Stanley Kunitz.” Interview by Peter Stitt. The Gettysburg Review 5, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 193-209. Offers a transcript of a 1990 interview and features a...
(The entire section is 553 words.)