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“I have walked through many lives”: Listen to Stanley Kunitz read his poem “The Layers.”

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May 14, 2021, 1:18pm

Today marks fifteen years since the death of Stanley Kunitz, tenth Poet Laureate of the United States and fiercely dedicated teacher. Kunitz once spoke of the importance of reading his work aloud: “I write my poems for the ear . . . in fact, my method of writing a poem is to say it . . . I can’t help wondering about the influence on posterity of the technical revolution that will enable them to see and hear, on film and on tape, the poets of our century. Suppose we had videotapes of Keats reading ‘To Autumn’ or Blake declaiming ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’!” Happily, we have the modern equivalent: tapes of Kunitz reading his own work.

In this video from the Poetry Breaks series, a series of videos of poets reading and discussing their work filmed by Leita Luchetti in the 1980s-1990s, Kunitz reads “The Layers,” the poem he wrote to introduce his volume of collected work from 1928 to 1978. Says Kunitz in the video, “Every once in a while one is tempted to write a summing-up poem”—and what better way to celebrate Kunitz’s life than to listen to him read his.

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