After reaching the century mark in age, Stanley Kunitz (1905–2006), the most significant American poet of this time, died on 14 May 2006. His death stirred the poets of this country to respond. In his long tenure, he simply became the poets’ poet. He was the guardian of most of the younger poets. Not only Americans but also poets from many parts of the world living in the US, seek comfort in his poetry. I, too, greatly admired him and was the recipient of his blessings. Once, in his New York City apartment, he embraced me and addressed me as a "brother-poet" and said, "Poets are from the same womb; there is no racial differences or national boundaries between poets." I was really moved by his words. The way he used to pronounce his words, the way he weighed them and used them in his poetry—for them to be suitable within the framework of his structural beauty—to satisfy every reader or listener.
Kunitz published his first book, Intellectual Things, in 1930. In an interview with me, he said he took the title from William Blake. But he admitted that people misunderstood his title and criticized him for it. From the date of this first publication, it is clear that he came right after the two giants of the English poetry, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. But, to achieve fame in the field he had to wait for at least 28 years. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for his third book, which was published the previous year. By publishing his first few books fourteen years apart from each other, I believe, he also sent a strong message to the younger generation of poets how slowly they should pace forward to cluster their words together. And so, in only eight collections of poetry, he managed to cope with modernism, high-modernism, and postmodernism. It’s a rare achievement. A poet, who was forever changing with the new sun of the day, therefore, said in his nineties, "I am not done with my changes." He also wrote, "Poetry is intimately concerned with the historic process. It tells us what it feels like to be alive in a given time and place. Words themselves, forever tuned to the passing show, forever tied to their own roots and yet forever changing, are the most sensitive of recording instruments." So, the tune, the passing images, and the changing phenomenon of language became his own instruments of writing. And he was unbelievably successful.
After he lost his father, who committed suicide in his boyhood, he searched for him throughout his life. Later, "the slap" from his mother portrayed in his poem, "The Portrait," has become the symbol of pain for every reader; we still feel that slap on our faces. Or, when he wrote, "Touch me, remind me who I am," in "Touch Me," we poets, inheritors of the great legacy, must say: "Sure Stanley, we will always come by and 'touch' your poetry, and we will definitely 'remind you' who you were."
We are happy to publish this special issue of Shabdaguchha as a tribute to this fine poet and profound human figure. I am grateful to all the contributors, with special thanks to Stanley H. Barkan, our editorial advisor, for his great help with this issue.
to Current Issue
to Front Page
Shabdaguchha, A Journal of Poetry, Published in New York,
Edited by Hassanal Abdullah.