Stanley Kunitz, now nearing ""the end of my sixth decade,"" is our senior statesman of poetry. The careful editing and ordering of this collection of critical essays, some dating from as early as the '40s, reflects his passionate discipline. It serves his reputation well. Two theoretical threads run through his approach to poetry: the participation of the individual in the style of the age (our own sensibility, as he proposes, corresponds to the physics of Einstein and Heisenberg--a poetry of process instead of fact) and the quest for selfhood. Analyzing one of his own poems, he remarks on ""the symbolic extensibility of plain facts""--and he always straddles that wiggly line between literal readings and the poet's inalienable right to be hermetic. He's impatient with the avant-garde establishment in the arts, but enormously respectful and genuinely kind to his fellows: painter Mark Rothko, best friend Roethke, and--in a notable interview--Robert Lowell. Here is Kunitz's 1957 early warning assessment of Berryman and a wicked review of the letters of Wallace Stevens. ""The Vice President of Insurance."" He's very nice to Marianne Moore, Conrad Aiken, H. D., and Robinson Jeffers; contributes a review of Allen's New American Poetry called ""Olson & Co.""; and seems unsure about the merits of Robert Creeley. He gets a little more dubious as the subjects get even younger: the Yale Younger Poets seem downright brash from his prefaces to their prize-winning books. Distinguished and dignified criticism, as befits the poet.