by Dana Goodyear
(6385 words, Originally published in The New Yorker. Compilation copyright (c) 2003 The Conde Nast Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
In 1946, just after being discharged from the Army, where he underwent infantry training four times and then refused a commission when it was offered, the poet Stanley Kunitz got a letter from Bennington College inviting him to come and teach. He was baffled—he had no teaching experience—until he learned the origin of the proposition: his friend and fellow-poet Theodore Roethke had had one of his periodic manic episodes, and, holed up in his faculty cottage, had said he would emerge peaceably only if Kunitz was hired to replace him.
Kunitz’s affiliation with Bennington was brief. As he tells it, several weeks before the graduation ceremonies of 1949 a student, Miriam Marx (Groucho’s daughter), came to him in hysterics. She told him that she was going to be expelled because of a curfew violation. Kunitz was sympathetic. She was young and vulnerable, and he felt that expulsion would be disastrous for her. He organized a meeting of the student body to protest the school’s decision. That night, the president of the college barged into Kunitz’s house and testily warned him to stop the protest. Kunitz was repotting a plant at the time and threw it in the president’s face. Then he packed up his car.