Literary Landmark: Boyhood Home of Stanley Kunitz
Dedicated: June 19, 2010
Partners: Worcester Public Library Board of Directors, Worcester County Poetry Association, Friends of Stanley Kunitz
The house at 4 Woodford St., Worcester, Mass., was the boyhood home of poet Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006). Speakers at the Literary Landmark dedication included event organizer Judith Ferrara, who gave the history of the project, the house, and the neighborhood; Kevin M. Dowd, president of the Worcester Public Library board of directors; Carle Johnson, president of the Stanley Kunitz Society, and Michael True, co-founder of the Worcester County Poetry Association. The plaque was unveiled by Carol Stockmal, current resident of 4 Woodford St., and Gretchen Kunitz, Stanley Kunitz's daughter.
The house at 4 Woodford St. was built in 1919 by Kunitz's mother, Yetta. The family resided there until 1925, when the widowed Mrs. Kunitz could no longer afford to pay the mortgage. In 1979, the house was purchased by a young couple, Carol and Greg Stockmal. They began restoring it to its former beauty, not knowing it was the boyhood home of Kunitz. They were made aware of that fact on Oct. 17, 1985, when they found Kunitz, his wife Elise Asher, and an entourage of poets standing in the street looking at their house. Kunitz was being honored on his 80th birthday by the Worcester County Poetry Association with a weeklong festival. The Stockmals invited him to step inside the house for the first time in six decades.
Listed on the plaque are several honors bestowed on Kunitz during his almost 101 years: Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Poet Laureate of the United States, and National Medal of Arts. It also bears the words Kunitz wrote to the Stockmals one month after his first return to the house: "There was no mistaking, the moment I stepped inside, that this was indeed the house of my childhood, the one I still dream about."
The plaque also features an image of a pear, a symbol for the 20-year friendship that developed between Kunitz and the Stockmals. During their first meeting, Kunitz remarked to his wife that he and his mother had planted a pear tree in the backyard, and that it gave the most delicious fruit. Greg overheard this and said, "The tree is still there, and it does have the most delicious pears you've ever tasted." Beginning the following fall and for the next 20 years, the Stockmals sent Kunitz a box of pears from the tree.
Kunitz dedicated his poet "My Mother's Pears" to the Stockmals. The lines "Those strangers are my friends/whose kindness blessed the house/my mother built on the edge of town" acknowledge his appreciation to them for opening their hearts and "(y)our house" to him.