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About Stanley Kunitz

Jay Parini

Kunitz was born inWorcester, Massachusetts, where he grew up; he studied at Harvard College, receiving a BA in 1926 and an MA in 1927. He then moved to New York, taking a job with the H. W. Wilson company as an editor of the Wilson Library Bulletin; he also began at this time the work of collaboration with Howard Haycraft on four important biographical dictionaries of English and American authors. His first book of poems, Intellectual Things (1930) was barely recognized, and Kunitz did not publish his second book, Passport to War, for another fourteen years. The Second World War interrupted his career as editor, and when he was released from the army he joined the faculty of Bennington College, the first of several academic jobs. Real recognition came slowly to Kunitz, culminating in his receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 for his first Selected Poems.

The witty, even defiantly intellectual first poems of Kunitz gave way, gradually, to a more autobiographical verse (as in The Testing Tree, 1971), which reminded some critics of Randall Jarrell and Robert Lowell in their confessional phases. The poems of recent years have been restrained but quietly passionate, as in ‘The Layers', where Kunitz writes: 'I have walked through many lives, / some of them my own, / and I am not who I was, / though some principle of being / abides, from which I struggle / not to stray.' Always, Kunitz writes with an almost passionate clarity and with attention to formal details.

Kunitz has also worked as a translator, creating deft English versions of Russian poems by Mandelstam, Yevtushenko, Stolzenberg, Akhmatova, and Akhmadulina. His critical essays are collected in A Kind of Order, A Kind of Folly (Boston, 1975). Collections of verse include The Poems of Stanley Kunitz (Boston, 1979) and Next-to-last-Things (Boston, 1985). For criticism, see Marie Henault, Stanley Kunitz (Boston, 1980) and Gregory Orr, Stanley Kunitz (New York, 1985).

From The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English. Ed. Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Copyright 1994 by Oxford University Press.

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