Stanley Kunitz Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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

(Poets and Poetry in America)

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.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

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, self-discipline, and a distrust of power in all its modern manifestations, particularly in the hands of the state. At the same time, the poems bear witness to the individual’s spiritual yearnings in an age of decreasing sanctity at all levels. Although not explicitly a religious poet (“I’m an American freethinker, a damn stubborn one . . .”), Kunitz wrote poems that, nevertheless, remind readers of the tragic consequences that befall humans at the loss of that dimension. His achievement was “to roam the wreckage” of his own humanity in a way that was both highly personal and representative and to ennoble that pursuit with the transformative powers of his art.

Kunitz was honored with the Lloyd McKim Garrison Medal for poetry (1926), a Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine (1956), the Pulitzer Prize in poetry (1959), the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize (1980), the Bollingen Prize for Poetry (1987), the National Book Award in Poetry (1995), and the Shelley Memorial Award (1995) and the Frost Medal (1998), both from the Poetry Society of America. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1963. He served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1970 to 1996 and as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress from 1974 to 1976 and poet laureate consultant in poetry from 2000 to 2001. In 1996, President Bill Clinton presented Kunitz with a National Medal of Arts. In 2002, Kunitz was awarded the Massachusetts Book Medal for...

(The entire section is 1,217 words.)