This was once the densest, most complex and most poignant garden in town — by design. The garden, together with an extraordinary body of poetry, was the life work of the poet Stanley Jasspon Kunitz (1905-2006), a founder of the Fine Arts Work Center. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1959, the Bollingen Prize in 1987, the National Medal of the Arts in 1993, the National Book Award in 1995, and then, in 2000, at the age of 95 — when most people think about slowing down a bit — he was named Poet Laureate of the United States. Kunitz spent almost 50 years in Provincetown. “I conceived of the garden as a poem in stanzas,” he told The New York Times in 2005. “Each terrace contributes to the garden as a whole in the same way each stanza in a poem has a life of its own.”
His last book, in collaboration with Genine Lentine, was The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, with photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson. Kunitz died in 2006 at the age of 100. He and his wife, the painter and poet Elise Asher (1912-2004), are buried in the Town Cemetery near Jack and Rachel Tworkov, who had been their neighbors in life.
Underneath an aggressive 1960s renovation is a house constructed in the early 20th century, the Provincetown Historic Survey states, giving a slightly later estimated date of construction (1910) than is actually possible, since Ursula M. Maine (1873-1961) became the owner in 1909. She ran a rooming house in Boston. Lauren Richmond said that her parents, who rented 30 Commercial Street from Miss Maine, passed on the story that her patrons in Boston were not the sort who needed rooms for much more than an hour or so. So she “came to Provincetown to change her ways,” Richmond said, henceforth conducting a reputable business. Her adjacent properties on Commercial Street were known as the Ursula Cottage and the Maine Cottage. I’m guessing this was the Ursula. Miss Maine sold No. 30 to Jack Tworkov in 1958. This house was sold to Kunitz and Asher by Maine’s estate a year after she died.
¶ Adapted from Building Provincetown (2015).
For further reading online
“Stanley Kunitz, Poet Laureate, Dies at 100,” by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times, 16 May 2006.
“Elise Asher, 92, Painter-Poet Who Blended Images and Words,” by Wolfgang Saxon, The New York Times, 13 March 2004.