Stanley Kunitz

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Stanley Kunitz
Stanley Kunitz.jpg
BornStanley Jasspon Kunitz
(1905-07-29)July 29, 1905
Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
DiedMay 14, 2006(2006-05-14) (aged 100)
New York City, New York, USA
Occupation Poet
NationalityUnited States
Alma mater Harvard College
Notable awards
  • Helen Pearce (1930–1937; divorced)
  • Elanor Evans (1937–1958; divorced)
  • Elise Asher (1958–2004; her death)

Stanley Jasspon Kunitz ( /ˈkjuːnɪts/ ; July 29, 1905 May 14, 2006) was an American poet. He was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress twice, first in 1974 and then again in 2000. [1]

Poet person who writes and publishes poetry

A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience.



Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, the youngest of three children, to Yetta Helen (née Jasspon) and Solomon Z. Kunitz, [2] both of Jewish Russian Lithuanian descent. [3]

Worcester, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Worcester is a city in, and the county seat of, Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. Named after Worcester, England, as of the 2010 Census the city's population was 181,045, making it the second most populous city in New England after Boston. Worcester is located approximately 40 miles (64 km) west of Boston, 50 miles (80 km) east of Springfield and 40 miles (64 km) north of Providence. Due to its location in Central Massachusetts, Worcester is known as the "Heart of the Commonwealth", thus, a heart is the official symbol of the city. However, the heart symbol may also have its provenance in lore that the Valentine's Day card, although not invented in the city, was mass-produced and popularized by Esther Howland who resided in Worcester.

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, excluding Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is the largest metropolitan area in Europe proper and one of the largest cities in the world; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

Lithuania republic in Northeastern Europe

Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania, is a country in the Baltic region of Europe. Lithuania is considered to be one of the Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.8 million people as of 2019, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. Other major cities are Kaunas and Klaipėda. Lithuanians are Baltic people. The official language, Lithuanian, along with Latvian, is one of only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.

His father, a dressmaker of Russian Jewish heritage, [3] committed suicide in a public park six weeks before Stanley was born. [4] After going bankrupt, he went to Elm Park in Worcester, [5] and drank carbolic acid. [6] His mother removed every trace of Kunitz's father from the household. [4] The death of his father would be a powerful influence of his life. [7]

Suicide intentional act of causing ones own death

Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Mental disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse—including alcoholism and the use of benzodiazepines—are risk factors. Some suicides are impulsive acts due to stress, such as from financial difficulties, troubles with relationships, or bullying. Those who have previously attempted suicide are at a higher risk for future attempts. Effective suicide prevention efforts include limiting access to methods of suicide—such as firearms, drugs, and poisons; treating mental disorders and substance misuse; proper media reporting of suicide; and improving economic conditions. Even though crisis hotlines are common, there is little evidence for their effectiveness.

Kunitz and his two older sisters, Sarah and Sophia, were raised by his mother, who had made her way from Yashwen, Kovno, Lithuania by herself in 1890, [8] and opened a dry goods store. [9] Yetta remarried to Mark Dine in 1912. Yetta and Mark filed for bankruptcy in 1912 and then were indicted by the U.S. District Court for concealing assets. They pleaded guilty and turned over USD$10,500 to the trustees. [10] Mark Dine died when Kunitz was fourteen, [2] when, while hanging curtains, he suffered a heart attack. [11]

Josvainiai Town in Aukštaitija, Lithuania

Josvainiai is a small town in Kėdainiai district, central Lithuania. It is located on the Šušvė River 10 km southwest from Kėdainiai. In the town there is a Catholic church, secondary school, post office and public library.

Dry goods term referring to supplies and manufactured goods

Dry goods is a historic term describing the type of product line a store carries, which differs by region. The term comes from the textile trade, and the shops appear to have spread with the mercantile trade across the British colonial territories as a means of bringing supplies and manufactured goods out to the far-flung settlements and homesteads that were spreading around the globe. Starting in the mid-1700s, these stores began by selling supplies and textiles goods to remote communities, and many customized the products they carried to the area's needs. This continued to be the trend well into the early 1900s; but with the rise of the department stores and catalog sales, the decline of the dry goods stores began.

Bankruptcy legal status of a person or other entity that cannot repay the debts it owes to creditors

Bankruptcy is a legal status of a person or other entity who cannot repay debts to creditors. In most jurisdictions, bankruptcy is imposed by a court order, often initiated by the debtor.

At fifteen, Kunitz moved out of the house and became a butcher's assistant. [2] Later he got a job as a cub reporter on The Worcester Telegram, where he would continue working during his summer vacations from college. [2]

<i>Telegram & Gazette</i> newspaper in Worcester, Massachusetts

The Telegram & Gazette is the only daily newspaper of Worcester, Massachusetts. The paper, headquartered at 100 Front Street and known locally as the Telegram or the T & G, offers coverage of all of Worcester County, as well as surrounding areas of the western suburbs of Boston, Western Massachusetts, and several towns in Windham County in northeastern Connecticut.

Kunitz graduated summa cum laude in 1926 from Harvard College with an English major and a philosophy minor, [2] and then earned a master's degree in English from Harvard the following year. He wanted to continue his studies for a doctorate degree, but was told by the university that the Anglo-Saxon students would not like to be taught by a Jew. [2]

Harvard University private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 post graduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

A master's degree is an academic degree awarded by universities or colleges upon completion of a course of study demonstrating mastery or a high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice. A master's degree normally requires previous study at the bachelor's level, either as a separate degree or as part of an integrated course. Within the area studied, master's graduates are expected to possess advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied topics; high order skills in analysis, critical evaluation, or professional application; and the ability to solve complex problems and think rigorously and independently.

After Harvard, he worked as a reporter for The Worcester Telegram, and as editor for the H. W. Wilson Company in New York City. He then founded and edited Wilson Library Bulletin and started the Author Biographical Studies. [2] Kunitz married Helen Pearce in 1930; [2] they divorced in 1937. [12] In 1935 he moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania and befriended Theodore Roethke. [12] He married Eleanor Evans in 1939; they had a daughter Gretchen in 1950. [12] Kunitz divorced Eleanor in 1958. [13]

At Wilson Company, Kunitz served as co-editor for Twentieth Century Authors, among other reference works. In 1931, as Dilly Tante, he edited Living Authors, a Book of Biographies. His poems began to appear in Poetry, Commonweal , The New Republic , The Nation , and The Dial .

During World War II, he was drafted into the Army in 1943 as a conscientious objector, and after undergoing basic training three times, served as a noncombatant at Gravely Point, Washington in the Air Transport Command in charge of information and education. He refused a commission and was discharged with the rank of staff sergeant. [12]

After the war, he began a peripatetic teaching career at Bennington College (1946–1949; taking over from his friend Roethke). [12] He subsequently taught at the State University of New York at Potsdam (then the New York State Teachers College at Potsdam) as a full professor (1949-1950; summer sessions through 1954), the New School for Social Research (lecturer; 1950-1957), the University of Washington (visiting professor; 1955-1956), Queens College (visiting professor; 1956-1957), Brandeis University (poet-in-residence; 1958-1959) and Columbia University (lecturer in the School of General Studies; 1963-1966) before spending 18 years as an adjunct professor of writing at Columbia's School of the Arts (1967-1985). Throughout this period, he also held visiting appointments at Yale University (1970), Rutgers University–Camden (1974), Princeton University (1978) and Vassar College (1981). [14]

After his divorce from Eleanor, he married the painter and poet Elise Asher in 1958. [15] His marriage to Asher led to friendships with artists like Philip Guston and Mark Rothko. [13]

Kunitz's poetry won wide praise for its profundity and quality. He was the New York State Poet Laureate from 1987 to 1989. [16] He continued to write and publish until his centenary year, as late as 2005. Many consider that his poetry's symbolism is influenced significantly by the work of Carl Jung. Kunitz influenced many 20th-century poets, including James Wright, Mark Doty, Louise Glück, Joan Hutton Landis, and Carolyn Kizer.

For most of his life, Kunitz divided his time between New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts. He enjoyed gardening and maintained one of the most impressive seaside gardens in Provincetown. There he also founded Fine Arts Work Center, where he was a mainstay of the literary community, as he was of Poets House in Manhattan.

He was awarded the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience award in Sherborn, Massachusetts in October 1998 for his contribution to the liberation of the human spirit through his poetry. [17]

He died in 2006 at his home in Manhattan. [18] He had previously come close to death, and reflected on the experience in his last book, a collection of essays, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden.


Kunitz's first collection of poems, Intellectual Things, was published in 1930. His second volume of poems, Passport to the War, was published fourteen years later; the book went largely unnoticed, although it featured some of Kunitz's best-known poems, and soon fell out of print. Kunitz's confidence was not in the best of shape when, in 1959, he had trouble finding a publisher for his third book, Selected Poems: 1928-1958. Despite this unflattering experience, the book, eventually published by Little Brown, received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

The Testing-Tree - (partial excerpt)
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.

~ Stanley Kunitz

His next volume of poems would not appear until 1971, but Kunitz remained busy through the 1960s editing reference books and translating Russian poets. When twelve years later The Testing Tree appeared, Kunitz's style was radically transformed from the highly intellectual and philosophical musings of his earlier work to more deeply personal yet disciplined narratives; moreover, his lines shifted from iambic pentameter to a freer prosody based on instinct and breath—usually resulting in shorter stressed lines of three or four beats.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, he became one of the most treasured and distinctive voices in American poetry. His collection Passing Through: The Later Poems won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1995. [19] Kunitz received many other honors, including a National Medal of Arts, the Bollingen Prize for a lifetime achievement in poetry, the Robert Frost Medal, and Harvard's Centennial Medal. He served two terms as Consultant on Poetry for the Library of Congress (the precursor title to Poet Laureate), one term as Poet Laureate of the United States, and one term as the State Poet of New York. He founded the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Poets House in New York City. Kunitz also acted as a judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition.

Library Bill of Rights

Kunitz served as editor of the Wilson Library Bulletin from 1928 to 1943. An outspoken critic of censorship, in his capacity as editor, he targeted his criticism at librarians who did not actively oppose it. He published an article in 1938 by Bernard Berelson entitled "The Myth of Library Impartiality". This article led Forrest Spaulding and the Des Moines Public Library to draft the Library Bill of Rights, which was later adopted by the American Library Association and continues to serve as the cornerstone document on intellectual freedom in libraries. [20] [21]

Awards and honors



Other writing and interviews:

As editor, translator, or co-translator:

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  1. "Poet Laureate Timeline: 1971-1980". Library of Congress. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Orr, Gregory (1985), Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry, Columbia University Press, p. xxvii, ISBN   978-0-231-05234-4
  3. 1 2 Kimmelman, Burt; Temple Cone & Randall Huff (2008). The Facts on File Companion to American Poetry: 1900 to the Present. Facts On File. p. 323. ISBN   978-0-8160-6950-7.
  4. 1 2 Braham, Jeanne (2007). The Light Within the Light. David R. Godine Publisher. p. 65. ISBN   978-1-56792-316-2.
  5. Williamson, Chet (June 3, 2010), "A Poetic Structure", Worcester Mag, Holden Landmark Corporation
  6. Davison, Peter (1994). The Fading Smile. Knopf. p. 230. ISBN   978-0-679-40658-7.
  7. Harrison, Sue (May 18, 2006). "Farewell, Stanley: Former Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz dies at 100". Proviencetown Banner. GateHouse Media.
  8. Feingold, Norma & Nancy Sadick (1983). Water Street: World Within a World. Worcester Historical Museum. p. 17.
  9. Magill, Frank Northen (1992). Critical Survey of Poetry: English Language Series. Salem Press. p. 1881. ISBN   978-0-89356-838-2.
  10. "Creditors Get Property". Boston Evening Transcript . June 28, 1912. p. 6.
  11. Goodyear, Dana (September 1, 2003), "Profiles: THE GARDENER", The New Yorker: Volume 79, Issues 21-28: 107
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Orr. p.xxviii.
  13. 1 2 Orr. p.xxix.
  14. "Marquis Biographies Online".
  15. Saxon, Wolfgang (March 13, 2004), "Elise Asher, 92, Painter-Poet Who Blended Images and Words", The New York Times
  16. "New York". US State Poets Laureate. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 8, 2012.
  17. The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Recipients List Archived 2009-02-14 at the Wayback Machine
  18. Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (May 16, 2006). "Stanley Kunitz, Poet Laureate, Dies at 100". The New York Times .
  19. 1 2 "National Book Awards – 1995". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-08.
    (With acceptance speech by Kunitz and essay by Megan Snyder-Camp from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  20. McCook, Kathleen de la Peña (2011). Introduction to Public Librarianship, pp. 62-63.
  21. Lingo, M. (2003). Forbidden fruit: The banning of 'The Grapes of Wrath' in the Kern County Free Library. Libraries & Culture, 4, 351. doi:10.2307/25549126