The Wild Braid

And while we are on the subjects of gardens and the writers who love them I would not rest easily if I did not encourage everyone to pick up a copy of The Wild Braid – A Poet Reflects On A Century In The Garden by Stanley Kunitz.  The book, written in his one hundredth year, with the poet Genine Lentine, is an absolutely beautiful reflection not just on the garden itself but on life, loss, death and renewal.  It is scattered with poems, prose, conversations between Genine and Stanley, and stunning photography by Marnie Crawford Samuelson.  I was quite surprised to discover that reading the book was much like wandering in a well-loved garden in the sense that there was always something new and unexpected to discover.  Walking through a conversation between the two poets, stopping to admire a photograph of the poet tending his plants and then, suddenly, oh look over here… a poem in the middle of this page right here, growing just where it should.

Needless to say, this little book is as well tended as the poet’s garden.  There is nothing here that should be moved around or weeded out.

Stanley Kunitz was honored and awarded just about every prize for poetry one can think of including the Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Award, A National Medal of the Arts and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America.  He served twice as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress and as the U.S. Poet Laureate. He was a teacher at Columbia University, an editor of the Yale Younger Poets, the founder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and also of the Poets House in New York City.  And he was a gardener.  He died in 2006 at the age of 100.

All these beautiful photographs are from the book, taken by Marnie Crawford Samuelson.

“Thinking of a new season in the garden feels different from imagining a new poem.  The garden has achieved its form; it doesn’t have to be new each year.  What it has to do is grow. You’re not going to uproot the entire garden and start all over.  The poem is always a new creation and aspires to a transcendence that is beyond telling at the moment when you’re working on it.  You know you are moving into an area you’ve never explored before and there is a great difference.”

“I wonder if those birds ever tire of their song –I wonder whether a bird ever thinks, ‘Today I’ll try a new song.'”

Stanley Kunitz – The Wild Braid

One Art – Letters of Elizabeth Bishop

Just when I became aware of American Poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) it’s hard to say.  I can say with absolute clarity however that my obsession with her began after reading her well-known villanelle “One Art”.  To call the villanelle a complicated verse form is an understatement at the very least and yet I remember how strikingly simple it seemed to me upon first reading of this poem.  To be quite honest, this poem haunts me and has been inside my head since the day I read it.  The many letters in this collection, which takes it title from the poem, are illuminating, not just to the structure of the poems themselves but to the structure of the poet behind them … a woman who guarded her privacy closely but who, in her private correspondence, began at least to reveal a little of the life she led.  Although Bishop gave us only around 100 poems in her lifetime there are over 500 letters in this collection (selected from over several thousand) to close friends and fellow poets alike including  Marianne Moore, Robert Lowell, James Merrill and many others.  Today, World Book Day, I find myself turning to my dog-eared collection once again, reading at random, happy to be a fly on the wall while one of the greatest poets of the 20th century shares her hopes, dreams, struggles, and joy for life and art.