Note to readers: This is something I wrote to practice for a writing contest I might ask students to enter, which requires one to write to an author to tell them what their work means to them.
Dear Stanley Kunitz,
In my journey to teacherhood, I had the privilege of student teaching with a woman who adored poetry and shared at least one poem with her students every day. We’d gather in a circle and, in her soft voice, the room glowing by lamplight, she’d read the poem she’d chosen. After her reading, she’d pause. The room felt full with thinking as students mulled over the words. She’d read the poem once more, and we’d discuss it. And that seemed to me the perfect way to begin a class.
Sometimes I would not like the poem she chose, or I might be lukewarm toward it. But in her reading of your “The Portrait”...I felt like you knew me--I, too, was a child always asking questions. I, too, had provoked my mother to slaps with my proddings. I, too, wondered often about my father and his secret history, although mine was present as yours was not.
Of course, I did what all passionate readers do upon discovering a new writer. I looked up all your work. Discovered you’d been writing for seventy years. I found many other poems that resonated with me and have been touchstones throughout my life, especially “The Layers” and “Touch Me.”
Still early in my teaching career, I had the opportunity to hear you speak, one of the most powerful and memorable experiences of my life. I clutched my friend Peg and cried inelegantly the whole time, choking on my own snot--so alive, so grateful, so completely human. You read “The Wellfleet Whale,” which I still believe to be one of the best crystallizations of humanity as a whole. But which I still can not read without collapsing in on myself.
I came back to “The Layers” as an experienced teacher this past summer, as I chose it for a recording I made for a beloved former student now graduating from high school. “How shall the heart be reconciled/to its feast of losses?” Who hasn’t wondered that?
I hope that G, that student, is able to find in you the comfort and understanding that I have. Both of us journeying on, both of us with our “will intact to go/wherever[we] need to go,/and every stone on the road/precious to [us].