Essay

Remembering Stanley Kunitz

by Marie Howe
At a poetry festival, someone once asked Stanley about his relationship to Nature. “I am Nature,” he retorted—not unkindly. And, he knew, because he was Nature, that he would die. He lived with that awareness and wrote about it. To be human, he used to say, was to know yourself to be living and dying at the same time. But it always seemed to me that he lived at the intersection of time and eternity. And that he lived in time so comfortably.

Anyone who’s ever been shopping with Stanley remembers how he would pick up a lemon and look at it intently. One could walk three times around the grocery store before Stanley had looked at several lemons long enough to choose one and move on to the lettuce. He didn’t hurry. He’d tie up the little bundle of herbs in brown paper and string—“Wait right here,” he’d say, disappearing into the kitchen, “I have just the thing”—and he never did two things at once.

On a train to Albany a few years ago, our last journey together, I asked him how he did it—how did he live in the present when I, and everyone I knew, was always harried, hurried, late and unsettled? “You must grab ahold of time,” he said, “and draw it into your self. You must train it so that it corresponds to your own interior rhythms.” Otherwise, he said, you’ll be chasing it all your life.

A few minutes later we lurched to the dining car, bought some food, and sat at one of the tables. The world was rushing past the wide windows: backyards and satellite dishes, junked cars, highways, factories, hospitals. . . . Stanley opened our little snacks, pulling carefully at the cellophane, and then set them between us. “Here is our feast,” he declared. And we ate our crackers and rubbery cheese.
Originally Published: June 23, 2006

COMMENTS (6)

On April 12, 2008 at 1:24am Sarah Ritter wrote:
Many years ago Marie Howe wrote a little poem for my birthday and I save it in the beautiful box that wrapped this gift. That was long before everyone found her. But you had to -she who has too much hair and too much magic to be missed. I am so lucky to see her words again.

On March 21, 2009 at 9:26am Katy Aisenberg wrote:
Dear Marie-

Stuart is coming into town next week

which reminded me of you-and I just

reread The Good Thief. I love those

poems still--they are classic in the best

best sense.

Hope you are your daughter are well!

Katy

On May 16, 2009 at 12:47am Bob Keensn wrote:
Dear Marie:

You are a poet

Sans doubt!

Knock my socks off...

So proud of you!

(I am an architect...

Would-be poet...

Just now unemployed,

Like so many others recently,

But no worries...

Ars longa, Vita Brevis,

As they say,

etc., etc.,

And all the rest.)

Love you always and

All your family

Forever.

Please let me know

You ever get this message.

All the best

Regards.

RK

(To Absolutely Sweet Marie Howe

From Bob Keenan ;)

On August 7, 2009 at 8:05pm Brent Pace wrote:
Marie, I'm moved by your memory of Stanley Kunitz. I don't know if you remember the remarkable evening I spent with him and you in Provincetown. It's a meal I'll never forget. Stanley sat with us afterward--if you remember--and read poems that others had written about him. That night is a dream now. Thank you for continuing to write, to inspire and to cause me to become aware--near the end of each of your poems--of how my breath has slowed. It's as though you teach me to "train time."

On November 25, 2009 at 10:45am Lisa Vindici wrote:
I believe marie was my eighth grade teacher at north middlesex...She was amazing .I think of her often!!! I wrote in her class that spring was a lonely misfortune,she told me i should finish it....never did,but i still love to write today because of her. she actually gave me a book of poems by emily dickenson before we parted...I always have been deep,and she noticed it. great woman would love to chat!

On January 14, 2011 at 3:26am barbara kaufman wrote:

Dear Marie, I don't know you...but wish I did! For the last 6 nights or so [about 11:30 pm, California Time, on PBS, Channel 189],The Poetry Foundation video taped session has been YOU reading "The Gate." I probably have watched and listened to you reading this poem many more times during the past month, but THIS WEEK I THINK I FINALLY THOROUGHLY UNDERSTAND IT! ...a sometimes writer of poems myself and a definite reader of poems more often than that, I now want to go to Aardvark Books on Church Street, in San Francisco, and obtain your collection: What The Living Do. Your HAIR, your apartment, that GREEN VASE that sits atop a sideboard [in the background, I think], your clear, sharp image and memory of your brother resonates so well. The subjects of loss and remembering are vital to any human being...but making sense of them, to provide healing and solace for those of us searching for such understanding...is indeed a special gift from a fine poet to her readers. Thank you. Warm Wishes, Barbara

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 Marie  Howe

Biography

Born in Rochester, New York, Marie Howe attended Sacred Heart Convent School and the University of Windsor. She received an MFA from Columbia University, where she studied with Stanley Kunitz, whom she refers to as “my true teacher.”

Her first collection, The Good Thief (1988), was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Margaret Atwood, who praised Howe’s “poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.” In that . . .

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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