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Brett C. Millier

The career of American poet Stanley Kunitz (1905–2006) spanned nearly eighty years of continuous productivity and achievement. At the age of 95, he was named Poet Laureate of the United States, and was also a Guggenheim (1945), Pulitzer Prize (1959), and National Book Award (1995, at the age of 90) winner. Born on the older edge of a generation of American poets whose lives were saddened and cut short by mental illness and alcoholism (his friends Theodore Roethke and Robert Lowell among them, as well as Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Elizabeth Bishop, and Delmore Schwartz), Kunitz overcame early sorrow and personal disappointment and lived, writing poems up to the time of his death at the age of 100. His early work showed the influence of the Metaphysicals and was generally highly formal and intellectually abstract. He resisted the move toward looser, “confessional” poetry for a long time after his contemporaries had embraced it, but critics agree that most of his best work followed his first “confessional” volume, The Testing Tree (1971). From 1946, Kunitz taught literature and creative writing at universities including Bennington College, SUNY Pottsdam, the New School, the University of Washington, and Columbia University. After his retirement, he devoted himself to gardening, and to writing “visionary” poems of maturity and old age, some of the finest in the language.