July 31, 2000 Librarian of Congress Appoints Stanley Kunitz Poet Laureate
Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced the appointment of Stanley Kunitz to be the Library's 10th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry (photo at left by Ted Rosenberg). He will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library's annual literary series in October with a reading of his work. Mr. Kunitz succeeds Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, Mark Strand, Joseph Brodsky, Mona Van Duyn, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, and Robert Pinsky.
Of his appointment, Dr. Billington said, "Stanley Kunitz is a creative poet in his 95th year, having published his first volume of poetry in 1930. He continues to be a mentor and model for several generations of poets, and he brings to the office of Poet Laureate a lifetime of commitment to poetry that is a source of inspiration and admiration for us all. We derive enormous pleasure from his willingness to serve as the nation's 10th Poet Laureate, bringing to bear his unparalleled knowledge of 20th century poetry as we enter the 21st century."
Stanley Kunitz, who served as Consultant in Poetry at the Library from 1974 to 1976 (before the title was changed to "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry" with the passage in 1985 of PL 99-194), was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1905 and educated at Harvard. His 10 books of poetry include Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected (W. W. Norton, 1995), which won the National Book Award; Next-to-Last Things: New Poems and Essays (1985); Selected Poems 1928-1958, which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Testing-Tree (1971); and Intellectual Things (1930). He also co-translated Orchard Lamps by Ivan Drach (1978), Story Under Full Sail by Andrei Voznesensky (1974), and Poems of Akhmatova (1973), and edited The Essential Blake (1987), Poems of John Keats (1964), and The Yale Series of Younger Poets (1969-77).
His other honors include the National Medal of the Arts (presented to him by President Clinton in 1993), the Bollingen Prize, a Ford Foundation grant, a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, Harvard's Centennial Medal, the Levinson Prize, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, a senior fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Shelley Memorial Award, the Leonore Marshall Prize and the Frost Medal. He was designated State Poet of New York and is a Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A founder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Poets House in New York City, he taught for many years in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. He lives in New York City and in Provincetown with his wife, the painter Elise Asher.
In a 1997 interview with poet Mark Wunderlich for American Poet, the quarterly journal of the Academy of American Poets, Mr. Kunitz discussed his more recent work:
"Certainly through the years I've tried to simplify the surface of my poems. I've tried to write more intimately than I did, in a more conversational tone. I have fewer conflicts, perhaps; yet the ones that remain are central to my existence. Since I came to realize, in my middle years, that I was occupying two worlds at once, that of my living and that of my dying, my poems have tended to hover between them. More recently I expressed a desire to write poems that are natural, luminous, deep, spare. ... I recognize that there is a great area of unknowing within me. I try to reach into that chaos of the inner life, to touch those words and images that will help me face the ultimate reality. Such existential concerns tend to make me rather impatient with the particulars of the day. At the same time I am aware that it is out of the dailiness of life that one is driven into the deepest recesses of the self. There is a transportation, to and fro, between these two worlds. The moment that flow stops, one stops being a poet.:
Background of the Laureateship
The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, in order to afford incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the Library. Each brings a new emphasis to the position. Allen Tate (1943-44), for example, served as editor of the Library's now-defunct Quarterly Journal during his tenure and edited the compilation Sixty American Poets, 1896-1944. Some consultants have suggested and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have spoken in a number of schools and universities and received the public in the Library's Poetry Room.
Maxine Kumin initiated a popular women's series of poetry workshops at the Poetry and Literature Center. Gwendolyn Brooks met with groups of elementary school children to encourage them to write poetry. Howard Nemerov conducted seminars at the Library for high school English classes. Most incumbents have furthered the development of the Library's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in public places--supermarkets, hotels, airports, and hospitals. Rita Dove brought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library's literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets, and a two-day conference, "Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora," featuring panel discussions, readings, and music. Robert Hass sponsored a weeklong gathering of American nature writers and poets that brought 26 of the best environmental writers and poets to the Library in the spring of 1997. Most recently, Robert Pinsky initiated his Favorite Poem Project, which energized a nation of poetry readers to share, in readings across the country and in audio and video recordings, their favorite poems. The project was a major program of the Library's Bicentennial, which it is celebrating this year.
Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of service are listed below:
Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry to the Library of Congress
- Joseph Auslander 1937-41 (Auslander's appointment to the Poetry chair had no fixed term)
- Allen Tate - 1943-44
- Robert Penn Warren - 1944-45
- Louise Bogan - 1945-46
- Karl Shapiro - 1946-47
- Robert Lowell - 1947-48
- Leonie Adams - 1948-49
- Elizabeth Bishop - 1949-50
- Conrad Aiken - 1950-52 (First to serve two terms)
- William Carlos Williams (Appointed in 1952 but did not serve)
- Randall Jarrell - 1956-58
- Robert Frost - 1958-59
- Richard Eberhart - 1959-61
- Louis Untermeyer - 1961-63
- Howard Nemerov - 1963-64
- Reed Whittemore - 1964-65
- Stephen Spender - 1965-66
- James Dickey - 1966-68
- William Jay Smith - 1968-70
- William Stafford - 1970-71
- Josephine Jacobsen - 1971-73
- Daniel Hoffman - 1973-74
- Stanley Kunitz - 1974-76
- Robert Hayden - 1976-78
- William Meredith - 1978-80
- Maxine Kumin - 1981-82
- Anthony Hecht - 1982-84
- Robert Fitzgerald - 1984-85 (Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to LC)
- Reed Whittemore - 1984-85 (Interim Consultant in Poetry)
- Gwendolyn Brooks - 1985-86
- Robert Penn Warren - 1986-87 (First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry)
- Richard Wilbur - 1987-88
- Howard Nemerov - 1988-90
- Mark Strand - 1990-91
- Joseph Brodsky - 1991-92
- Mona Van Duyn - 1992-93
- Rita Dove - 1993-95
- Robert Hass - 1995-97
- Robert Pinsky - 1997-2000
The poetry and literature reading series at the Library of Congress is the oldest in the Washington area, and among the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s and has been almost exclusively supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the appreciation of good literature to a larger audience. The Poetry and Literature Center administers the series and is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194, as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series and plans other special literary events during the reading season.