March 30-April 5, 2001
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Breaking bread brings faculty and students together

Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff

Kunitz's poems chronicle passing through the 20th century
Novelist Margot Livesey to be here beginning of April
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Off the Shelf -- recently published books by faculty and staff
U.Va. professor recalls growing up in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era
Electronic Text Center will share $1.5 million gift with Monticello
In Memoriam
Two Engineering faculty named AIMBE fellows
Artist's "Galactic Journal" on display
Looking for dark matter, distant stars and extraterrestrial life
Stanley Kunitz
Nic Siler
U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz, center, talks to U.Va. poet Greg Orr (left) and Rob Vaughan, president of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, backstage at Culbreth Theatre before reading to a full house during the Virginia Festival of the Book.

Kunitz' poems chronicle passing through the 20th century

By Anne Bromley

Few — if any — poets can read aloud to you about their reaction to the advent of World War I, about their experience in the early 1900s of being thrown by a horse when startled at seeing a train for the first time. Then, there's living through the Great Depression and years later, imagining how the Apollo astronauts felt as they approached the moon. At 95, U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz marks such historic episodes of the 20th century in his work, but perhaps even more amazing is the emotional strength and wisdom that shines through the later work — later, as in the past 20 years.

With his wry sense of humor and variety of vivid lyric and narrative poems, he elicited spontaneous applause from the full house in Culbreth Theatre after reading the poem, "Passing Through," and others, as well as laughter and tears.

Kunitz, who published his first book in 1930, read poems spanning several decades March 22 as part of the seventh annual Virginia Festival of the Book, sharing the stage with his former student, U.Va. English professor and poet Gregory Orr.

Orr, who read from his latest book, Orpheus and Eurydice, said Kunitz was not just a teacher but "a guardian of human dignity and significance.

"It was said of John Keats that history shows us very few poets who are also heroes, but Stanley Kunitz carries on that tradition," Orr said.

In introducing the two poets, Robert Vaughan, president of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, which organizes the book festival, recalled when Orr came to him more than 20 years ago with the idea of putting on a poetry conference in honor of Kunitz, who was turning 75.

"In a way, that was a precursor to this book festival," with several days of readings and lectures, Vaughan said.

The event was one of many that packed thousands of booklovers into readings and panel discussions over the five-day festival, according to preliminary estimates.

Passing Through
— on my 79th birthday

Nobody in the widow's household
Ever celebrated anniversaries.
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
That my friends were given parties.
Before I left town for school
My birthday went up in smoke
In a fire at City Hall that gutted
The Department of Vital Statistics.
If it weren't for a census report
Of a five-year-old White Male
Sharing my mother's address
At the Green Street tenement in
I'd have no documentary proof
That I exist. You are the first,
My dear, to bully me
Into these festive occasions.

Sometimes, you say, I wear
An abstracted look that drives you
Up the wall, as though it signified
Distress or disaffection.
Don't take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much
As being who I am. Maybe
It's time for me to practice
Growing old. The way I look
At it, I'm passing through a phase:
Gradually I'm changing to a word.
Whatever you choose to claim
Of me is always yours;
Nothing is truly mine
Except my name. I only
Borrowed this dust.


© Copyright 2001 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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