This conversation between Stanley Kunitz and Mark Katzman took place on February 28, 2003, at the Digital Library at the American Museum of Natural History.



What does one learn working in a garden?


SK: Patience above all, patience. And beyond patience one learns to appreciate the beauty of ordinary things in this earth and the magic of growth and survival.


What’s the role of poetry in our culture?


SK: I think the role of poetry in culture is to make us all aware of the richness of experience itself, of the possibilities of examining, studying, and loving all the bearers of life through all the orders of creation. I believe very strongly in the web of creation. I think we are all part of it and if we disturb it at any one point, the whole web trembles.


I know you're the moving force behind the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown as well as Poets House here in New York. What motivated you to put these organizations together?


SK: What propelled me is the experience of my own self as a young man in a world that I felt was unresponsive and neglectful and that above all I felt was alienated from the aspirations of the young and paid little attention to them. I know how much I hungered for companionship and for a supporting word and I resolved that if I was ever in a position to help the young and lost in the world of the arts I would do something about it.


Can poetry be taught?


SK: It cannot be taught to the unresponsive, the uncaring, the unsympathetic heart, mind and soul, but it certainly can be taught, or at least communicated to those who are hungry for the word and who need some sense of destiny and direction.


How was your experience as a Poet Laureate?


SK: What pleased me most was the communication from people who are not poets-- housewives, merchants, young people in school looking toward the future. Those letters were so touching, so real, that I felt it was an answer to those who think of poetry as somehow peripheral of art in the modern world. It is not so; it strikes at the center of human experience. I think that poetry is the voice that can be heard if we listen to it, generation after generation. It's the cry and the song of the human spirit through the centuries and no art has been so expressive of it as poetry.