Poetry News

A Stanley Kunitz 1989 Address Is Strikingly Familiar

By Harriet Staff

Poets House dug up an archival piece, “An Unfolding Parable,” written in 1989 for the Third Annual New York/New Jersey Poetry Teachers Conference by Poets House co-founder, Stanley Kunitz. "His words, though they reference then-President George H.W. Bush, point to a 'problematic new order of the universe' that is strikingly familiar to our current moment of crisis," they write. An excerpt:

We may as well start with the acknowledgment, sad to say, that America is not a poetry-loving culture. The American myth belongs to politics and power, not to poetry. In the origins of our national consciousness we don’t have a Homer, and we don’t have a Virgil, we don’t have a Shakespeare or a Pushkin or a Dante to put an imprint on language itself and on the way we look at history. A great civilization yearns for a grand poetic myth, a sustaining vision, to bond its successive generations with a sense of common heritage and values and aspirations. Walt Whitman perceived that need and gave us his mighty book, but he came late in the day when the seeds of progress, empire, and materialism had already taken root, not to be overrun by his leaves of grass.

For the mass of our population in the twentieth century the marriage of Poetry and Democracy that Whitman celebrated has never been sanctified. It is no accident that our head of state stammers in embarrassment and grows confused when he alludes to what he terms “the vision thing” [George H. W. Bush].

Don’t get me wrong; I am not weeping over the death of poetry in this country, or its decline. Curiously enough, while our poets complain that nobody listens to them or cares about what they say, they continue to flourish outside the mainstream...

Read the full piece at Poets House.

Originally Published: November 16th, 2018