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Stanley J. Kunitz '26 will be the country's tenth poet laureate, the Library of Congress announced Monday, succeeding Robert Pinksy in October as the nation's top poet.
Kunitz, 95, who splits his time between a home in New York City and a summer house in Provincetown, Mass., said he is honored by the title, but said that American society is so diverse that no one can really represent the entire country.
"It has significance to me even though I do not believe any poet can really qualify as poet laureate in the multiple society of the United States," he said. "It makes me think of Whitman calling us the nation of nations."
Kunitz will receive a $35,000 salary and an office at the Library of Congress, and he says that as poet laureate he hopes to encourage poets from the many different parts of society.
"I think of the nations of poetry that are emerging in the last few years in particular, which I think represent an upsurge of the poetic voice out of the various aspects of our society," he said. "I would hope to, in some way, help to bring out into the open those voices from the various corners of our society."
Kuntiz has already won virtually all other major honors accorded to poets, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Bollingen Award.
He is also the founder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, which offers residency programs to young poets and artists.
He started his poetry writing career while at Harvard as an English Literature concentrator.
"I had a professor and I took a composition course with him. His assignment each day was a one-page piece of any sort and I sent him every day a prose piece," Kunitz said. "He wrote on one of them you sound like a poet, why don't you write poetry?"
Kunitz said he has admired many poets over the years, including John Dunne, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
In turn, Kunitz has been an tremendous teacher to modern poets, said Assistant Professor of English Oren Izenberg '91, who studies 20th century American poetry.
"I don't know if you can count the number of poets who have learned from him," he said.
Izenberg described Kunitz's work as a mix of two very different types of poetry.
"He tries to combine the kind of subjective depth of confessional poetry with a kind of intellectual rigor which we associate with a less personal poetry," he said.
Despite his age, Izenberg said that Kunitz is a "natural choice."
"In terms of being able to set an example and demonstrate a lifelong commitment to poetry, I think he's a great example," Izenberg said.
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