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
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
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.
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.
who read from his latest book, Orpheus and Eurydice, said Kunitz
was not just a teacher but "a guardian of human dignity and
was said of John Keats that history shows us very few poets who
are also heroes, but Stanley Kunitz carries on that tradition,"
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.
a way, that was a precursor to this book festival," with
several days of readings and lectures, Vaughan said.
event was one of many that packed thousands of booklovers into
readings and panel discussions over the five-day festival, according
to preliminary estimates.
on my 79th birthday
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.
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.