ABSTRACT

Though Stanley Kunitz was among the most decorated poets of his generation, he did not secure his first college teaching position until he was in his forties, and it wasn't until he was well into his fifties that he began to receive widespread acclaim for his work. Ultimately, these early fissures in Kunitz's vocation were problems of professionalization that can be traced back to his origins. As the youngest son of a hardscrabble immigrant widow in a gritty industrial city, Kunitz transcended his difficult childhood, but found it more complicated to contend with his heritage as he shaped a career for himself. Though Kunitz made isolated attempts to reckon with his Jewish and Lithuanian roots, his more usual course was to de-emphasize that heritage. But if Kunitz's poetics proved to be a poetics of sublimation in the main, there are also instances in which the sorrows of his station shine through—as, for instance, in the masterful short poem “An Old Cracked Tune,” where Kunitz takes pains to reassert his beleaguered identity, to think through the terms of the prejudices he faced up to, and, in his own terms, “to embrace a wounded name.”

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