Uncategorized | July 27, 2005

Poet Stanley Kunitz will turn 100 this Friday. To honor him, the New York Times has posted a great little Op-Art piece by Lauren Redniss wherein Kunitz’s words–a narrative about the woods he grew up exploring and which remain an unsullied source of inspiration–surround what seems to me to perfectly capture his uniquely 20th-century urbane sensibility, a delicate strength stretched across a wry cynicism. As the surrounding text indicates, however, Kunitz is more at home in the out of doors, and would most likely prefer us to imagine him in his garden–as much a life’s work as his poetry–rather than his drawing room (although do note the iconic watering can to the left).

What attracted me about his vignette was not the idyllic, however, but the martial. “You have to fight for every poem,” he says. Kunitz is known to be a tireless (or tiring, as he describes it here) reviser, not afraid to labor years over a poem before releasing it into the wild. I think of an essay by Donald Hall, “Poetry and Ambition”, where he makes the argument that poetry would be better served if more poets had this attitude toward their work. Hall lays much blame at the feet of the workshop, and while not blameless, I suspect that impatience and laziness with the demands of art were not invented in Iowa, and are not exclusively the property of the current younger generations, however notorious our poor work ethic. Still, Hall’s essay puts the truth of the matter bluntly: our ambition should be to make work that survives, not to publish now at all costs. Kunitz’s example, which, if his work stands the test may in time rise to the embodiment of an archetype–I’ll call it Poet as Gardener-Warrior. If such a model indeed exists, it’s in need of more practitioners. But for now, let us celebrate those in our midst, and wish Stanley Kunitz many growing seasons and poems more.

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