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Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected Paperback – May 17, 1997
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Marking his 90th birthday, this Stanley Kunitz greatest hits package is a treasure. "The Wellfleet Whale" is one of the best nature poems of the 20th century, but Kunitz shines brightest when writing about the family. Notice especially, "The Portrait," which both describes a portrait found in an attic and is itself a portrait of Kunitz's childhood. The poem details a child finding a portrait of his dead father, a portrait that opens old wounds ("My mother never forgave my father / for killing himself") even as new wounds are being formed. This is moving, potent, passionate writing. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer and Bollingen Poetry Prize winner, Kunitz, at 90, celebrates new and ancient events, global and personal, real and mythic, in language that compels us to share his wonder at the workings of the world. From Apollo 11's flight to Roman gladiators' fights, Pastor Bonhoeffer to his daughter whose first dog was a Pekinese, "half mandarin, half mini-lion," Kunitz's often meticulous narratives and descriptions lead us to a deeper reality. In the lengthy "The Wellfleet Whale," he addresses a 63-foot finback whale that swims "like a god in exile" before foundering on the beach: "You have become like us,/ disgraced and mortal." The poet's father, a suicide not long before Kunitz was born, is a vital absence in several poems. As a child young Kunitz found a pastel portrait "of a long-lipped stranger/with a brave moustache." His mother tore it up, then slapped him. "In my sixty-fourth year/ I can feel my cheek/ still burning." In the last new poem, one of nine previously uncollected, he writes, "Touch me,/ remind me who I am." It is what he does for us.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The really fascinating news, though, is that Stanley Kunitz continually improved as a poet. "Passing Through: The Later Poems" --- almost universally considered the best of his ten books --- was published when he was 95. And, for once, "best" and "most accessible" belong in the same sentence. For as he aged, Kunitz said, "I've learned to strip the water out of my poems." The result is a clarity and directness that makes Kunitz an ideal poet both for people who only sort of like poetry and for those who like to dig into the poem and explore the layers.
Digging in: That's the right phrase to describe the pleasure of a Kunitz poem. He was a lifelong gardener, and as soon as he arrived at his summer home on Cape Cod he was with his plants: tending, pruning, marveling. (His final book, published in 2007, is a gardening chronicle.)
This connection with growing things is closely connected to the key issue of Kunitz's life and work --- parenting. An odd connection? Consider the biography. A few weeks before he was born, his father drank carbolic acid and died. His mother, a tough-minded immigrant, raised two daughters and Stanley for eight years, then married a charming, loving man who was like a father to the boy. Alas, he had a fatal heart attack four years later.
Kunitz might have found "the lost father" at Harvard, but after graduating summa cum laude he was told there was no teaching opportunity there --- the Christian students might resent a literature instructor who was a Jew. He gigged around, committed himself to poetry and began a seventy-five year career as a poet.
The poems in "Passing Through" touch all the bases. Right off, we get the primary wound (which Kunitz repeated by leaving his first wife and young daughter): "You say you had a father once/his name was absence." He has a healthy interest in women: "I think I'd rather sleep forever/than wake up cold/in a country without women." He has a loving father's appreciation for his daughter: "I like the sound of your voice/even when you phone from school/asking for money." And on the biggest topic of all:
To be rocked by the Infinite!
As if it didn't matter
which way was home;
as if he didn't know
he loved the earth so much
he wanted to stay forever.
Stanley Kunitz has more than any writer of these past few months including, Karen Armstrong, Fred Buechner, Joan Chittister, Anne Lamott, and Ferrol Sams, Jr. SK has made one totally affective, profoundly life-change upon my writing endeavors! His poems have been handed-off to several friends, who are older, wiser, more gifted writers than I may become! My mistake not give a Perfect--10 Stars! Shalom...Chaplain Fred W. Hood