Stanley Kunitz Kunitz, Stanley (Jasspon)

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(Poetry Criticism)

Stanley (Jasspon) Kunitz 1905–2006

American poet, essayist, editor, translator, and journalist.

Hailing from the generation of poets that came of age under the influence of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, Kunitz is considered an important, if somewhat critically neglected, voice in contemporary American poetry. He exercised a subtle influence on such major poets as Theodore Roethke and Robert Lowell, and has provided encouragement to hundreds of younger poets as well. Kunitz's career is generally divided into two phases. While his early poetry collections, including Intellectual Things (1930) and Passport to the War (1944), earned him a reputation as a technically accomplished metaphysical poet, his later work, beginning with The Testing-Tree (1971), showed Kunitz writing a simpler, more emotional poetry that embraced the physical world. Although Kunitz has always been admired by his peers, especially since the publication of Selected Poems, 1928-1958 (1958), which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1959, the classification of his work into two, easily defined categories and his reputation as a "poet's poet" have tended to deter critical interest in his work. While Kunitz's style changed over the years, the subjects of his poems have remained constant. He is known for his sensitive exploration of such themes as the simultaneity of life and death, the search for the lost father, love, generation and decline, and the movement from the unknown to the known. Consistently praised for his skillful craftsmanship, Kunitz incorporates the rhythms of natural speech in his poetry and displays a fine ear for the musical cadence of phrases.

Biographical Information

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Kunitz was the third and last child of Russian-Jewish parents. His father, Solomon, a dress manufacturer, committed suicide just months before his birth, and his mother, Yetta, who took over the family business, would not allow Kunitz to mention his father's name. Kunitz received B.A. and M.A. degrees from Harvard, where he was recognized as a promising poet and awarded the coveted Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal for Poetry. In 1927, when Kunitz was denied a teaching appointment at Harvard because of the school administration's concerns about his religious ancestry, he rejected the academic life as a profession but continued writing poetry in private. He worked briefly as a reporter for the Worcester Telegram before beginning a long association with the W. H. Wilson Publishing Company of New York, where he served as editor of the Wilson Library

Bulletin from 1928 until 1943 and worked on eight biographical dictionaries about famous authors between 1931 and 1980. In the late 1920s, Kunitz contributed poems to a variety of magazines, including the Dial, the Nation, and the New Republic, and by early 1929, his first collection, Intellectual Things, was accepted by the largest publishing house in the country, Doubleday, Doran. While most of the reviews of Intellectual Things and Kunitz's second collection of poems, Passport to the War, were complimentary, it was not until the publication of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Selected Poems, 1928-1958 that Kunitz began to elicit any substantial critical attention. In 1946, as a result of his friendship with Roethke, Kunitz began teaching at Bennington College in Vermont, and he continued to teach at a number of American colleges, including Yale and Columbia, until 1985. In the 1960s and 1970s Kunitz also gained recognition for his translations of the works of several Russian poets, among them Anna Akhmatova, Andrei Voznesensky, and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In addition, he became well known as an advocate of poetry and the arts; he directed the YM-YWCA Poetry Workshop in New York, was general editor of the prestigious "Yale Series of Younger Poets," headed the poetry section at the Library of Congress, and traveled as a cultural exchange lecturer to Poland, Israel, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, and the former Soviet Union.

Major Works

Kunitz's early poetry...

(The entire section is 26,933 words.)