MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Stanley Kunitz was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, U.S. Poet Laureate and an influence on writers for the better part of a century. He died yesterday at his home in Manhattan at the age of 100. Stanley Kunitz said poems are born of the wisdom of the body. He liked the physical act of writing and he deliberately kept his tools simple, including an old manual typewriter.
Mr. STANLEY KUNITZ (Poet): I do a lot of brooding about writing and thinking about poems. The actual writing of the poem is a slow process. I usually start with notes and keep pushing ahead in my notebook, working with pencil or pen. And at a certain point when I feel the poem is beginning to roll, I turn to my trusty old Hermes 3000 and I start to type.
BLOCK: That's Stanley Kunitz speaking on this program in 2001. Poet Marie Howe was one of Stanley Kunitz's students and his close friend over the last 25 years.
Ms. MARIE HOWE (Poet, Friend of Stanley Kunitz): Stanley, you know, especially since he was probably 70, I think wrote the greatest poems of his life. He wrote somewhere, I dream of an art so transparent you can look through it and see the world. And his later work is so transparent, so seemingly simple on the surface that all you hear is the sound of a soul speaking out loud. There's no mistaking his voice.
BLOCK: The photograph of him on the cover of his last book shows him in his garden in Provincetown and I gather gardening was maybe about as important to him as poetry.
Ms. HOWE: Yeah. He is famously in love with his garden and when I, he was talking earlier about making a poem, it reminded me of a poem where he talks about going down into the cellar to write with nothing to tempt him but an old compost heap. And I think that the garden, for him, was just a major metaphor of his whole life. I mean, it was a life that believes in transformation from one form to another, to see the flowering and the breaking down, the re-flowering again, the seasonal, the circular. And he loved his garden, he worked in it and he loved writing, which is a very similar process.
BLOCK: You got to know Stanly Kunitz over about 25 years and I understand you were with him just before he died this weekend.
HOWE: I was fortunate enough to be able to go over to his apartment and to be with him in his room for several hours. Genine Lentine, who is his assistant, came in after about an hour and other people, Cleopatra Mathis came. There were people coming and going but for about an hour, I got to be with Stanley and he was sleeping in, you know, the way one does just before one dies. But it was the sweetest pleasure to read to him some of his own poems out loud and to just be with him and to sit with him.
BLOCK: What did you decide to read?
HOWE: Well, that was easy because Stanley wrote always about transformation and about change and about loving this world and about not wanting to leave it. And about knowing that he would. Stanley lived at the intersection of time and eternity his whole life, I think, and so virtually any poem I chose would have been the right poem. But I read a poem called The Layers, which is about surviving loss and going on as a transformed being that ends famously with the line “I'm not done with my changes.”
BLOCK: Marie Howe, remembering her friend and fellow poet, Stanley Kunitz, who died yesterday. He was 100. Here's a recording of him reading the end of his poem, The Layers.
Mr. KUNITZ: “How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? In a rising wind the manic dust of my friends, those who fell along the way, bitterly stings my face. Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat, with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me. In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me, ‘Live in the layers, not on the litter.' Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes.”
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