Remembering Stanley Kunitz
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.
Born in Rochester, New York, Marie Howe attended Sacred Heart Convent School and the University of Windsor. She earned 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...