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.
In an interview in in The Brooklyn Rail (July/August 2005), as he was approaching his 100th year, poet Stanley Kunitz was asked if he could live forever would he translate poems into every language--and if so, what would make it worth it? Kunitz replied: "All those poems!!"
[Photo by Matt Valentine, with permission.]
Farnoosh Fathi spoke with Kunitz and his literary assistant, poet Genine Lentine, about his life-long devotion to poetry. Kunitz had a full life as a poet, editor, teacher, activist and leader, and he loved working in his garden.
How many of us could hope to live to the age of 100 (or might even want to)? Is the writing of poetry a lifelong thing? or does the flame die out for some, somewhere along the years, the interest and passion periodically waning, the presence of the muse no longer felt?
Do the poems one pens in one's youth speak more honestly than those brought forth in later years; is there a common theme one keeps going back to, again and again? Do we promote or eschew the poetry of our time, wearily succumbing, passionately resisting--or simply not caring one way or the other?
The poetry we write will outlive us, but only comes to life again when read, or spoken, spread, or thought about. Like flowers in a garden, some words need replanting to ensure visibility; others seem to arrive of themselves, in unlikely corners, waiting for someone to notice. Finding these gems may be not so much a case of where we look but that we look--it's as if life in all its absurdities still succeeds in pulling us towards its poetic 'dance'--in nature, in song, and in words.
When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you have to think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgement of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself. And I think the world tends to forget that this is the ultimate significance of the body of work each artist produces. It is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.
~ ~ Stanley Kunitz [The Wild Braid, W.W. Norton, 2005]
Some other quotes of Stanley Kunitz, particularly helpful for poets or writers:
"You must be careful not to deprive the poem of its wild origin."
"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."
"Be what you are. Give what is yours to give. Have style. Dare."
(Interesting reflection: One's life as a "book of transformation"; poetry as a testament to what changes in us, what remains the same, and how and why we're driven to express it.
Thanks, Stanley. Your poems, like the perennials in my garden ... still erupting, still singing life.