Richard Kostelanetz, though best known as a critic of literature and culture in general, is a pioneer in the fields of visual poetry and infraverbal poetry (poetry in which what happens inside words is crucial); the most impressive examples of his efforts were collected in his 1993 volume, Wordworks. His influences range from William Blake to Gertrude stein, Robert Indiana, and John cage. Among the many poets who have learned from his example are John Byrum, Jonathan Brannen, Crag Hill, G. Huth, and Bob Grumman.
Kostelanetz was born in New York City, where he still lives. He has spent his life almost entirely as an unaffiliated scholar /artist, receiving fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1967), the National Endowment for the Arts (1976, 1978, 1979, and 1985), and numerous other sources domestic and foreign.
Kostelanetz is unusual as a poet in that he did not branch out from mainstream into "otherstream" poetry but began as a purely visual poet: His first poem, "Tribute to Henry Ford," which he produced at the age of 27, uses uppercase Ts and As to stand for the Ford company's early 20th-century Model As and Model Ts to create a three-frame snapshot of part of the history of American automobiles.
Among his best visual poems is "Genesis" (1972), a sequence of eight words, each filling a page. It begins with its title, "GENESIS," in large black print. "LIGHT" follows, in larger letters. They are pedestrianly stenciled but white on a black page. This reversal, coming directly after the title page's black on white, gives them a dazzling effect. Moreover they touch each other, so, at first, they seem a fusion of light, rather than a word. once recognized as a word, however, they near-per-
fectly express the fully unified, overflowing, bright hugeness of a universe just begun. The rest of Koste-lanetz's sequence unfolds with equal finesse.
Kostelanetz is also well known for such "fusional" infraverbal poems as those he calls "strings," which consist of chains of words, each of them (except the first) incorporating the preceding word's last, last two, last three, last four letters. The result is an often strangely resonant blends. The string-fragment, "ideaf-encerebrumblendivestablishmentertain," from "String-Five" (1979), bubbles with ideas about things people fence with, have differences over, use to "divest" the establishment, and so forth. Another example of his variety of fusional infraverbal poems is "dmionneeryo" ("Spanglish Interweavings" ), which interweaves the word money and its Spanish equivalent, dinero, to make a text surprisingly high in appropriate connotations, one, for example having to do with the domineering quality of money. He has been equally adept at making suggestive "fissional" infraverbal poems along the lines of "REVERBERATE" (1992), which takes its title-word through "RE," "EVE," "VERB," "BE," "ERA," and "ATE" back to "REVERBERATE."
Beyond these poems and many others based on other infraverbal tactics, Kostelanetz has been in the vanguard in the making of video poems, sound poems, poetic holograms, and almost every other unconventional poetic form known.
Grumman, Bob. "Segreceptuality." American Book. Review
17.1 (September-October 1995): 20. Kostelanetz, Richard. "Person of Letters in the Contemporary World." In Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, pp. 179-199. Parker, Peter, ed. "Richard Kostelanetz." In The Reader's Guide to Twentieth-Century Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 410.
KUMIN, MAXINE (1925- ) Atypically for her generation, Maxine Kumin eschewed the free verse revolution in favor of a reinterpretation of traditional forms (see prosody and free verse). Kumin has said that she loves the challenge of meter and rhyme and that the rigidity of a set form is what gives her the per mission to tackle emotionally charged or difficult topics (74). According to her, W H. auden "exerted an intellectual and visceral influence" both "in terms of rhyme and scansion, and his ability to compress those gifts into images, to make a metaphor of a thought" (197-198). Over time Kumin developed a looser music distinctively her own, employing slant rhyme, nonce forms, and a colloquial diction. Her work incorporates autobiography; even so, in her poems, the self is not the focus, but a lens through which to view the world. Accordingly she has never been associated with confessional poetry, despite her close association with Anne sexton, a poet inextricably linked to that movement. While Kumin insists upon the androgynous nature of writing, issues of gender have unavoidably marked her career. Her 1972 collection begins with a series of poems written in a male persona because, at the time, Kumin feared they would not be taken seriously if written in a female voice, while the opening poem of her 1989 collection reports, "I suffer, the critic proclaims, / from an overabundance of maternal genes" ("Nurture"), a complaint she co-opts by celebrating it.
Maxine Winokur was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Radcliffe College with a B.A. in history and literature and an M.A. in comparative literature. In 1946 she married Victor Kumin and settled in suburban Boston. In 1957 she signed up for an adult education poetry workshop conducted by John Holmes; other members of that now legendary class included Anne sexton, George Starbuck, and Sam Albert. Kumin's collection of poems, Up Country (1972), won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, while Looking for Luck (1991) received both the Poets' Prize (1994) and the Aiken Taylor Award (1995). Some of Kumin's many honors include the Ruth Lilly Award (1999), an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award (1980), a National Council on the Arts Fellowship (1967-68), the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize (1972), the Levin-son Prize (1986) from Poetry magazine, and a fellowship from the Academy of American Poets (1986). In 1981-82, she served as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress, and she served as poet laureate of New Hampshire from 1989-94. She is a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, a post she and Carolyn kizer resigned in 1998 to protest the sparse representation of women and people of color on the board of chancellors. In addition to the volumes already mentioned, Kumin has published 11 other collections of poetry, beginning in 1961 with Halfway, continuing with The Privilege (1965), The Nightmare Factory (1970), House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975), The Retrieval System (1978), Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982), The Long Approach (1985), Connecting the Dots (1996), Selected Poems: 1960-1990 (1997), The Long Marriage (2001), and Bringing Together: Uncollected Early Poems, 1958-1988 (2003). Kumin has also published five novels, a collection of short stories, more than 20 children's books (four coauthored with Anne Sexton), four books of essays, and a memoir, and she has taught at a number of universities, including Tufts, Brandeis, Columbia, and Princeton.
Mortality and the counterbalancing thrust for life are the recurrent themes of Kumin's poetry; Kumin's reexamination of these themes is distinguished by the unsentimental steadiness of her gaze. Sometimes dubbed "Roberta Frost," Kumin does share in common with Robert frost the dedication to form, the New England sensibility, and the use of nature as a subject, but Kumin is no feminine derivative of Frost. Perhaps her most striking difference from Frost is her forthright rejection of transcendence. Nature in a Frost poem is emblematic; the woods he stops in, or in which his roads diverge stand in for something beyond themselves, and they are more a landscape of the mind than an actual landscape (see "the road not taken" and "stopping by woods on a snowy evening"). In Kumin's poems, by contrast, nature is always materially there, even when it additionally performs metaphoric work: "The cats clean themselves after the kill. / A hapless swallow lays another clutch" ("The Green Well" ). In Alicia ostriker's words, "she employs metaphor not to elevate but to articulate phenomena— in the double sense of expressing them clearly and showing their connections and conjunctions" (qtd. in Grosholz 81). Connections are vital to Kumin's poems, most especially in her "tribal" poems (Kumin's term for her many poems on family) and in her expression of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all aspects of the natural world. Kumin is known for her empathetic and unflinching poetry about animals and for her presentation of the human not in contrast to (and therefore somehow free of) nature but as embedded in and inextricable from nature. As she reminds us in "Territory" (1970), "We are not of it, but in it."
More than one critic has highlighted the connection between Kumin's use of set form and her pervading theme of mortality: As mortality pressures and makes precious the life we do have, so the confines of form compel and energize the poetry. Though most often rooted in the local of her New Hampshire landscape, the topics and concerns of Kumin's poetry are global in scope.
Davison, Peter. The Fading Smile: Poets in Boston 1955-1960.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. Grosholz, Emily, ed. Telling the Barn swallow: Poets on the Poetry of Maxine Kumin. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997. Kumin, Maxine. Always Beginning. Port Townshend, Wash.:
Copper Canyon Press, 2000. Ostriker, Alicia. Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.
KUNITZ, STANLEY (1905- ) Stanley Kunitz is an important modernist poet whose acute phrasing, keen observation, and emotional and intellectual power have delighted readers for move than 70 years (see modernism). At age 95 he published his 12th book of poetry, The Collected Poems (2000), representing in its 154 poems work originally published from 1930 to 1995. In recognition for his work and a remarkable longevity, he was twice appointed the nation's poet laureate (1974-76 and 2000-01). In continuing to write strongly into his eighth and ninth decades, Kunitz joins poets such as William Butler Yeats, Randall jar-rell, Robert lowell, Thomas Hardy, and Czeslaw Milosz. Like Yeats especially, Kunitz as seer writes out of a personal, created mythology, as exemplified in "The Wellfleet Whale" (1984).
Kunitz was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, to Jewish Lithuanian immigrants. His father, Solomon Z. Kunitz, killed himself before Stanley was born, and his mother, Yetta Helen Jasspon Kunitz, worked as a dressmaker. At Harvard University, he earned an A.B. in
English in 1926 and an A.M. in English in 1927. From 1928 to the 1970s, he worked for the H.W Wilson Company in New York City, a publishing house. At the age of 38 he went off to war in the United States Army. Kunitz has won numerous prizes for his work, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1959 for Selected Poems 1928-1958 (1958), a National Book Award for his collection Passing Through (1995), the Bollingen Prize (1987), and the National Medal for the Arts (1993).
Kunitz's metaphysical visions of physical nature are often coupled with concrete images and rendered in a declarative, indicative style. For example, "The Science of the Night" (1953) compresses the scientific history of human origins and its mystery to a few short lines addressed to the speaker's sleeping female companion: "We are not souls but systems, and we move / In clouds of our unknowing." The speaker marvels, watching her, at the "long seduction of the bone" that has led her down through her genetic history to this point. His lover and he had their beginnings, physical and spiritual, in the "big bang" represented by Adam's rib bone, literally the stuff of "planetary dust . . . blowing." The tight layering of thought and allusion is typical of Kunitz, a craftsman who melds scientific ideas and myth in crisp images and syntax. Understanding, faith, and science combine to tell readers a little about who they are and where they came from, but just as physicists calculate humanity's position from the "beginning of things" by measuring the shift of perceived light toward the red end of the spectrum, so too the poet calculates the distances that lie between our observation of and participation in the act of love and our grasp of the wonder of it all. He alludes to the red shift in the spectrum by which we see how the universe expands. Life is short, and the time for enjoying the human touch rapidly diminishes. The final three lines of the poem summarize his argument with a deft allusion to John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" (1633). The lovers are physically together some of the time but emotionally together always, just as the hands of the clock are always united at its center, and as the stiff twin legs of the compass are united in Donne's poem. This use of another poet's conceit illustrates an important aspect of Kunitz' method. Even more to the point, it illuminates a fundamental atti tude, a respect for and mastery of the techniques and concerns of a certain type of poetic ancestor, the metaphysical poet.
The simple rhythms and syntax of the final poem in the Collected Poems (2000), "Touch Me," convey poignance as the speaker acknowledges the passage of the years since he was a child, remembering, like Wordsworth, what it was to be a child again kneeling to hear the crickets underfoot and the "music pour / from such a small machine." Desire makes that small machine go. Kunitz combines acute observation with the language of his poetic ancestors and makes it new.
Duncan, Erika. Unless Soul Clap Its Hands: Portraits and Passages. New York: Schocken, 1984. Moss, Stanley, ed. A Celebration for Stanley Kunitz on His Eightieth Birthday. Riverdale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Sheep Meadow, 1986. Orr, Gregory. Stanley Kunitz: An Introduction to the Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
KYGER, JOANNE (1934- ) Often categorized as a beat poet, but more closely associated with the san Francisco renaissance, Joanne Kyger emerged as the Beat movement itself was beginning to wane in the 1960s. Like many of the Beats, Kyger draws on an assortment of influences, including Buddhist traditions and practices, American Indian and First Nations teachings, and certain strains of New Age philosophies.
Kyger was born in Vallejo, California. In 1957 she left Santa Barbara for the San Francisco Bay area where the HOWL obscenity trials were in full swing. There she met John wieners, and, through the weekly writing groups that they hosted, Robert duncan and Jack spicer. In 1959 Kyger moved into the legendary East-West House, a communal living project where Philip whalen, Lew Welch, and Jack kerouac were sporadic residents. It was during this time that Kyger also began sitting with Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who had come to teach at the Soto Zen Church. In 1960 Kyger joined Gary snyder in Japan, where they were married. Following their divorce in 1964, she returned to the Bay Area and published her first book, The Tapestry and the Web (1965). She then briefly lived in New York, returned to the San Francisco area, and moved to Bolinas. Through her involvement with local environmental issues, editing a local newspaper, and being a sitting member of the Ocean Wind Zendo, Kyger has maintained an active presence in the Bolinas community. Since its beginnings in the mid-1970s, she has also taught at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and at the New College of San Francisco.
overall Kyger's poetry resonates with a Buddhist attentiveness. Direct and immediate, her poems are often likened to snapshots in time exploring the experience of sunyata, or "no-self": "I am bereft / I dissolve quickly / I am everybody" ("what i wanted to say" ). Yet the self demands to be understood. "Breakfast" (1978), for instance, details a series of moments through the point of view of a poetic voice that gives way to sliding variables between the pronouns "I," "she," and "them" and ends, "I wouldn't go there, into their / minds. . . . thru the mirror one can she see / pine branches." Kyger is one of American poetry's key innovators. Her poetry is of place and community, and it examines a range of themes from identity and radical ethics to spirituality, personal relationships, and national politics. Above all else Kyger's challenge has been attending to the processes of realizing and directly engaging with conditions of existence, "the broad / sweeping / form of being there" ("what i wanted to say" ), through poetry.
Russo, Linda, ed. "Joanne Kyger Feature," Jacket magazine 11 (2000). Available online. URL: www.jacketmagazine. com/11/index.html. Downloaded December 2003.
-., ed. "Joanne Kyger author page," Electronic Poetry
Centre at the State University of New York, Buffalo. Available online. URL: http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/kyger. Downloaded December 2003. Tonkinson, Carole, ed. Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation. New York: Riverhead Books, 1995.
Was this article helpful?