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Poetry Review of Stanley Kunitz

Updated on November 28, 2016

The thing Kunitz does well would definitely have to be his descriptive language. He describes his poems so vividly that they can paint pictures in your mind; it's as if you can play a short clip, a movie of what's going on in the poem. A few I found display this kind of description were; "Robin Redbreast", "The Abduction", "The Portrait" and "Touch Me". These poems all contain beautiful descriptions that seem to come to life on the page.

"Robin Redbreast" is one that illustrated mortality and death. The narrator in the poem finds this bird beat up and bruised, like it had been through some sort of battle with other birds ganging up on him. The bird reminds me of what one would see if they were to see the homeless on the street. Kunitz describes the bird as, "the dingiest bird / you ever saw, all the color / washed from him , as if / he had been standing in the rain / friendless and stiff and cold, / since Eden went wrong." When I read this the description is so vivid that I can picture what this bird would look like, so much that I try to compare it to what you would see on the streets in the city everyday the homeless. No one wants to acknowledge that they are there most put their heads down as if they are ashamed to see them on the streets, but the narrator looks at this bird and wants to help. It is possibly a big stretch to even think Kunitz meant to compare this the homeless, but as a reader of poetry one interpretation rarely matches another. Then when Kunitz describes the wounds inflicted on the bird by some bullying blue jays, the reader can get a clear picture of how the bird would of looked. Kunitz seemed to find some sort of beauty in this bird who seemed near death. The poem seems to be doing more than just examining a tortured bird, it examines death and mortality. The poem illustrates it so beautifully and by having the man pick up the bird to try and help it seems to me that he didn't want the bird to be alone while taking it's final breath.

In "The Abduction" you can really get a sense of someone being abducted and being found at last. He uses descriptions such as: " When you stumbled out of the wood, / distracted, with your white blouse torn / and a bloodstain on your shirt", "when I hold you in my arms, / I wonder where you are", "searchlights controlled by unseen hands", just to name a few. In these descriptions the reader gets a sense of the woman being abducted and how her loved ones deal with her abduction. One of my favorite lines of this poem are at the end when the narrator begs the question on where to go from here. It's as if he is saying how do we put the pieces back and get back to our normal lives after something so horrific: "Out there is childhood country, / bleached faces peering in / with coals for eyes. / Our lives are spinning out / from world to world; / the shapes of things / are shifting in the wind. / What do we know / beyond the rapture and the dread?" What I like about this line is that is brings this tragedy to the front and highlights the things that no one wants to admit when these sort of things happen, the unknown and how to fix the person traumatized by the acts of strangers.

Stanley Kunitz


In "The Portrait" Kunitz uses something very personal and describes it eloquently. Before Kunitz was born his father killed himself in a public park and this poem illustrates how his mother never forgave him for his act; but it also illustrates how she wanted to hide his shame from her son as if she was angered to call him a husband and father.

"My mother never forgave my father / for killing himself, / especially at such an awkward time / and in a public park, / that spring / when I was waiting to be born. / She locked his name / in her deepest cabinet / and would not let him out, / though I could hear him thumping. / When I came down from the attic / with the pastel portrait in my hand / of a long-lipped stranger / with a brave moustache / and deep brown level eyes, / she ripped it into shreds / without a single word / and slapped me hard. / In my sixty-fourth year / I can feel my cheek / still burning."

What I find lovely about is this poem is that you can feel the emotion within the words, that hatred the mother has for the man who left her a widowed mother. It's a poem of anguish and shows how suicide affects people long after the one who took their own life is dead and gone.

Another thing Kunitz does well with his poetry is when he puts feeling into his work, to where it comes alive on the page. For example in his poem "Touch Me" Kunitz describes how a love long ago felt and how he still remembers that feeling in the present. He uses words like: "wild with love", "torn in two", "whistling wind and rain", "like a child again", "desire", and "longing for the dance" and you can feel how passionate he is about this woman he loved long ago. I love the beauty and elegance this poem exhibits. Everything about it seems fragile and special, like a first love.

"Summer is late, my heart. / Words plucked out of the air / some forty years ago / when I was wild with love / and torn almost in two / scatter like leaves this night / of whistling wind and rain. / It is my heart that’s late, / it is my song that’s flown. / Outdoors all afternoon / under a gunmetal sky / staking my garden down, / I kneeled to the crickets trilling / underfoot as if about / to burst from their crusty shells; / and like a child again / marveled to hear so clear / and brave a music pour / from such a small machine. / What makes the engine go? / Desire, desire, desire. / The longing for the dance / stirs in the buried life. / One season only, / and it’s done. / So let the battered old willow / thrash against the windowpanes / and the house timbers creak. / Darling, do you remember / the man you married? Touch me, / remind me who I am."

The language here is beautiful and Kunitz does an excellent job of capturing a love that is so rare, one that is true and honest. Kunitz immortalizes this love by printing it in ink, here it will stand the test of time unlike fragile loves that are forgotten and lost. This love will live in infamy, forever celebrating a love two people shared for one another.

Poetry Reading of Touch Me

Found an interesting video of Stanley Kunitz reading his poem "Touch Me". I find that poems read by the authors themselves help readers better understand how the author intended the poem to be read. It helps bring a tone to the poem.


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