Stanley Kunitz’ garden musings perfect for lazy summer days

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

Last winter I came across a short quote by Stanley Kunitz from his book The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, co-written with Genine Lentine. His words touched me so deeply, I couldn’t wait to get the book. Oh, what a gem full of gems The Wild Braid turned out to be.

You don’t need to be a gardener or to love poetry to enjoy this unassuming volume of less than 150 pages of prose, poems and beautiful photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson of the poet in his garden. This mini-memoir – based on conversations between Kunitz and Lentine collected between 2002 and 2004, as the poet was approaching his hundredth birthday in 2005 – is a touching reflection on a creative life that anyone can be inspired by. I was hooked after the first few lines:

“Why is the act of cultivation so compelling?

“All my life, the garden has been a great teacher in everything I cherish. As a child I dreamed of a world that was loving, that was open to all kinds of experience, where there was no prejudice, no hatred, no fear. The garden was a world that depended on care and nourishment. And it was an interplay of forces; as much as I responded to the garden, the garden, in turn, responded to my touch, my presence.”

Thoughtful and graceful, the poet’s words unfold like a perfect, slow summer day, making The Wild Braid a wonderful summer read – short enough to enjoy over a weekend, or even in a day, yet contemplative and inspiring to savour one lazy hour at a time. You may want to have a journal handy as you stroll through the gentle landscape of the artist’s life and enjoy the scenery he paints. His love of gardening, poetry and creativity in general is likely to make you pause and reflect on your own creative life.

“There’s a conversation that keeps going on beyond the human level, in many ways, beyond language, extending into the atmosphere itself. Weather is a form of communication. There is an exchange between the self and the atmosphere that sets the tone for an entire day…That’s why each morning, the first thing I look at is the sky, and that puts me in tune with the day.”

What a lovely meditation – taking a moment to look at the sky first thing each morning. I often look up or look out the window at the trees in the garden or over the lake as I contemplate, like now, between the lines of this post. Today is a perfect lake-side writing day: blue sky, fresh air, moments of gentle breeze rippling the glassy surface of the lake, blue jays and company keeping things interesting. What puts you in tune with the day?

Not surprisingly, since I bought it, this wonderful book hasn’t found its way to a bookshelf. It belongs on the shelf designated for my other favourite books, but I can’t imagine it ever joining the company. It will continue making its rounds from the coffee table to the night stand, from the writing desk to the travel bag, always inspiring, comforting, nudging, and enticing.

“The Round” (Excerpt)

A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick up my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed…”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

—Stanley Kunitz

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