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Pulitzer-Winning Poet Stanley Kunitz Dies

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Stanley Kunitz, 100, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet of far-ranging style and influence and who twice was U.S. poet laureate, died May 14 at his home in New York City. The cause of death was reported to be pneumonia.

In about a dozen books, Mr. Kunitz's literary approach veered over the decades from metaphysical sonnets about love and loss to stark ruminations on his father's suicide. Gradually, he learned to "strip the water out of my poems" and acknowledge the benefits of a simpler, more intense approach.

Thematically, he spoke of rebirths and questing. He was fascinated by the ongoing tussle between life and death. "The deepest thing I know is that I am living and dying at once, and my conviction is to report that dialogue," he once said. "It is a rather terrifying thought that is at the root of much of my poetry."

Stanley Jasspon Kunitz was born in Worcester, Mass., on July 29, 1905. His father, a dress manufacturer whose business went bankrupt, committed suicide by swallowing carbolic acid in a public park. Later, his stepfather died prematurely, from a heart attack while hanging draperies.

His mother, a Lithuanian immigrant, opened a dry-goods store to support her son and his two toddler sisters. In his poem "The Portrait," he wrote of his mother's stoic reaction to losing her first husband, Mr. Kunitz's father:

She locked his name

in her deepest cabinet

and would not let him out

though I could hear him thumping.

When I came down from the attic

with the pastel portrait in my hand

of a long-lipped stranger

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