Maxine Kumin 1925–
(Full name Maxine Winokur Kumin) American poet, novelist, short fiction writer, essayist, and author of children's books.
Kumin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose verse often portrays the simple workings of day-to-day life at her Warner, New Hampshire, farm. Animals, children, the seasons, and neighbors are recurring subjects. Often classified as a transcendentalist, Kumin probes the human relationship to nature and celebrates the redemptive qual ities of the natural world. Her writing has been compared to that of her late close friend, Anne Sexton, and in some aspects to the work of Sylvia Plath. Like Sexton, Kumin writes personal poems that focus on the inner lives of her characters. Unlike Sexton or Plath, however, she does not dwell on despair; thus, she is known for her survival poems.
Kumin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned a B.A. and an M.A. from Radcliffe College in 1946 and 1948 respectively, and married Victor Kumin in 1946. While awaiting the birth of her third child, she began to write children's stories. Her writing interests evolved to include poetry, novels, short fiction, and essays. She found encouragement for her writing at the Boston Center for Adult Education, where she met and befriended poet Anne Sexton. Kumin and Sexton's friendship was important to both women's poetry. The former possessed a technical ability honed from study; the latter wrote with a raw voice that was brilliantly fresh. They phoned each other daily, often writing a poem after ending the phone call. Each call was another session in their own continual workshopping. In fact, Sexton titled Kumin's Up Country: Poems of New England, and Kumin titled Sexton's Transformations. Kumin has received the most acclaim for her poetry, winning the Lowell Mason Palmer Award in 1960, a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1966, and ultimately, the Pulitzer Prize for Up Country in 1973. Since 1958, she has served many distinguished posts as teacher, lecturer, and visiting fellow or artist; she was a consultant to the Library of Congress from 1981 to 1982. She continues to live on her farm in New Hampshire, tending to her horses and gardens.
Halfway, her first collection of verse, was published in 1961 when Kumin was thirty-six and deals with topics she
has explored throughout her career: religious and cultural identity; the tenuousness of human life; loss or the threat of loss; and the human in relation to nature. Lessons learned in girlhood are always present in Kumin's work. The poet also searches for order in her poetry; she stated in an interview with Martha George Meek that "… there is an order to be discovered—that's very often true in the natural world—but there is also an order that a human can impose on the chaos of his emotions and the chaos of events. That's what writing poetry is all about." Highly personal material, another hallmark of Kumin's work, comes to life in The Privilege. The ties and separations inherent in families, especially "the privilege" of being a member of a family, are explored. In some of the poems of Up Country Kumin adopts the persona of a male hermit to particularize the universal solitude of man in nature. She continues in this vein with House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate. This volume's title, which originated from a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, reflects Kumin's style of naming things in nature that are often overlooked. For her fastidious naming Kumin has been compared to Henry David Thoreau. Another volume that exhibits thoughtful naming is The Retrieval System, which was written as a memorial to Anne Sexton, who killed herself in 1974. Like The Retrieval System, The Long Approach and Looking for Luck reflect Kumin's experience of aging as well as her steadfast hope for chance encounters with the beneficence of all living things. Some of Kumin's pastoral themes in Nurture shift into the political realm: the earth and its inhabitants should be "nurtured," not endangered.
Kumin's poetry has generally been favorably reviewed since her first book of verse appeared. Critics have noted that the poet's best poems in The Privilege are those that evoke her own childhood. In a review of Up Country in the 1973 Spring-Summer issue of Parnassus, Ralph J. Mills quoted John Ciardi: "[Kumin] teaches me, by example, to use my own éyes. When she looks at something I have seen, she makes me see it better. When she looks at something I do not know, I therefore trust her." Similarly, The Long Approach has been praised for Kumin's customary success in depicting the details of New England life. However, some of the poems in that volume and in Nurture have been criticized for venturing programmatically into social issues, an arena considered by some too large for Kumin's private voice. It is at such times that many critics feel she slips into blatant metaphor and prosaic lines of summation. But poet and reviewer Diane Wakoski defended Kumin as "best at… [m]aking images, wonderful images, that turn into big metaphors. Playing with dualities, and manipulating everyday language so that it works with complexity of idea and pattern."
The Privilege 1965
The Nightmare Factory 1970
Up Country: Poems of New England 1972
House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate 1975
The Retrieval System 1978
Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems 1982
Closing the Ring: Selected Poems 1984
The Long Approach 1985
Looking for Luck 1992
Connecting the Dots 1996
Other Major Works
Sebastian and the Dragon (juvenilia) 1960
Follow the Fall (juvenilia) 1961
Spring Things (juvenilia) 1961
A Summer Story (juvenilia) 1961
A Winter Friend (juvenilia) 1961
Mittens in May (juvenilia) 1962
No One Writes a Letter to the Snail (juvenilia) 1962
Archibald the Traveling Poodle (juvenilia) 1963
Eggs of Things [with Anne Sexton] (juvenilia) 1963
The Beach Before Breakfast (juvenilia) 1964
More Eggs of Things [with Anne Sexton] (juvenilia) 1964
Speedy Deigs Downside...
(The entire section is 227 words.)
SOURCE: "Revelations and Homilies," in Poetry, Vol. XCIX, No. 2, November, 1961, pp. 124-29.
[Dickey was an American educator and poet who served as the Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, 1966-1968. In the following review of Halfway, he comments that "Kumin is more successful in personal poems than in those which attempt public stances."]
[Maxine Kumin] defines her intention and accomplishment in a few lines from "The Moment Clearly":
Write, saying this much clearly:
Nearly all, this is nearly all,
The small sounds of growing, the impress
Of unarrested time, raising
The prized moment.
The realizations [of Halfway] are small, but they become important by reason of the care and precision with which they are expressed. Picking up her book and looking at the first poem, one might suppose that the images were going to be arbitrary. "Isosceles of knees" the poem starts, but it goes on "my boys and girls sit / cross-legged in blue July / and finger the peel / of their sun-killed skin". The images return always to a strict visual accuracy; behind the startling word lies its solid justification. Consider Miss Kumin on bats: "until the terrible mouse with wings / notched like bread knives came skittering / down the chimney next to my bed". Or on travelling northward after a...
(The entire section is 442 words.)
SOURCE: "Weights and Measures," in Shenandoah, Vol. XVII, No. 2, Winter, 1966, pp. 91-102.
[Stuart is an American educator and poet, and has served as poetry editor and eventually editor-in-chief of Shenandoah since 1976. Below, he admires Kumin's control of her subject matter, the domain of childhood, in The Privilege.]
[T]he title of Mrs. Kumin's collection, The Privilege, [is taken] from one of Joseph Conrad's letters. The passage she cites closes, "One must drag the ball and chain of one's selfhood to the end. It is the price one pays for the devilish and divine privilege of thought."
For Mrs. Kumin, as the Conrad quote implies, the privilege is also a burden, and the poems in her book have an amazing internal balance of both these evaluations of consciousness. Balance and control are central achievements of her poetry, won by an unflinching attempt to "bear out hope to the edge of pain."
It is impossible to communicate by commentary the world these poems make. It is a big world, a world of the self and the self's connections to things which help create it—parents, childhood, class, religion, war, space, love, domesticity. It is filled with dread and terror as well as expectancy, humor and praise. It is a world whose minutest details are observed with precision, whose smallest inhabitants are treated with purpose. Perhaps it is enough to say that...
(The entire section is 575 words.)
SOURCE: "Down from the Forked Hill Unsullied," in Poetry, Vol. CVIII, No. 2, May, 1966, pp. 121-24.
[Wallace is an American educator and poet. In the following excerpt, he lauds The Privilege for its direct language.]
Maxine Kumin's new poems [in The Privilege] are superb. She hardly makes a mistake. Her language always catches the world into the poem, is deliciously prosy, direct, surprising—"fog thick as terry cloth"—as are her strategies, which permit beginning a poem:
The symbol inside this poem is my father's feet
which, after fifty years of standing behind
the counter waiting on trade,
were tender and smooth and lay on the ironed sheet,
a study of white on white, like a dandy's shirt.
Childhood and now, the halves of her world mirror equally a vision of the isolation and enchantment of selfhood: in the remembered games, streets, convent school, legless man "who came / inside a little cart, inchmeal, / flatirons on his hands, downhill"; in the adult lovers, "oyster killers who live in a world / of sundown and gin and shellfish", and cannot afford to count their "own small gift of bones"; in fighting for sleep "by lying down" ("but the Walden of my mind / fills up with berry pickers"); in the gin for a lady dining on the past at the Ritz:
(The entire section is 331 words.)
SOURCE: "One for Life, One for Death," in The New York Times Book Review, November 19, 1972, pp. 7, 14.
[Oates is a prolific American educator, author, and critic. In the review below, she compares Up Country to Sylvia Plath's Winter Trees, remarking on the similarities and differences between the poets' writings and concluding that "one book affirms life; the other affirms death."]
Read together, these two excellent books cause us to ask ourselves one of the riddles of life: Why is the experience of one human being so vastly different from that of another? Why, in two sensitive, intelligent, gifted women poets should the energies of art be so differently employed? Where one discovers in nature a "presence" of "something else that went before" (Kumin in "The Presence"), the other discovers a helpless "blue dissolve" and shadows "chanting, but easing nothing" (Plath in "Winter Trees"). Where one does not shy away from "populating symptoms" or from the stunning horrors of a physical world gone into error, the other acquiesces to the symptoms, the horrors, "the shriek in the bath, / The cloak of holes" (Plath, "Purdah")—and seems perversely to honor them, to insist upon them, to refuse to make any judgment that might transpose the mysteries of nature into an adult, human art.
Maxine Kumin's book acknowledges its debt to Thoreau, though in my opinion Kumin's poetry gives us...
(The entire section is 740 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Up Country, in The Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 65, No. 79, February 28, 1973, p. 9.
[In the following review, Howes praises the "country ways" of Up Country.]
Maxine Kumin is a poet attuned to country ways. She is heir to a tradition of pastoral poetry that reaches back through Robert Frost and Thomas Hardy all the way to its rural beginnings in Theocritus. Nature poetry, she comes to tell us, is alive and well and sinking its taproots in New Hampshire soil.
Whether she writes of a woodlot in winter, tadpoles hatching in the spring, of berrypicking or a night visit from a mosquito, she brings to her page what Wordsworth called "the harvest of a quiet eye." Her eye is on the object—the tininess of "the shrew's children, twenty to a teaspoonful;" the near invisibility of minnows—"a see-through army in the shallows / as still as grains in a rice bowl"; the ambiguity of strange markings left in new snow. What made the marks?
It could have been a raccoon
lugging a knapsack,
it could have been a porcupine
carrying a tennis racket,
it could have been something
as supple as a red fox
dragging the squawk and sputter
of a crippled woodcock.
Up Country is the fourth book of poems by this Boston-based poet and...
(The entire section is 278 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Up Country, in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1973, pp. 211-24.
[Mills is an American poet who has written several critical studies on contemporary poets. In the following excerpt, he congratulates Kumin for her "marvelously etched, intricately textured pictures" of New England in Up Country.]
Maxine Kumin is like [Denise Levertov,] a poet of the trained eye and the exact word, though without the visionary proclivities and the desire for new sonic and organic forms which Denise Levertov seeks. The poems of Up Country are selected from several sources, including previous books of Mrs. Kumin's, and compose a series of marvelously etched, intricately textured pictures of different aspects of New England life and countryside that fewer and fewer Americans know. The central location for these poems is a farm in southern New Hampshire where, one gathers, Mrs. Kumin and her family live part of each year; thus the poet's presence is that of a sympathetic inhabitant who also possesses a wider acquaintance with the world. Yet Mrs. Kumin, as is obvious from the first page on, has plunged like [Theodore] Roethke or [Robert] Frost, Edmund Blunden or Jon Silkin into the details of nature and rural living without stinting herself. We discover a capacity for seeing that places this poet in a direct line from the greenhouse poems of Roethke. I think the "Garden...
(The entire section is 853 words.)
SOURCE: In a conversation on April 15, 1974, in Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 4, 1976, pp. 115-36.
[In the following interview with Showalter and Smith, Kumin and poet Anne Sexton discuss their twenty-year-old friendship and its influence on their poetry.]
Max and I
Two immoderate sisters,
Two immoderate writers,
Made a pact,
To beat death down with a stick.
To take over.
Anne Sexton, "The Death Baby"
This conversation between four women is about the friendship of Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton, a friendship which began in the late 1950s, when they studied together in a poetry workshop in Boston led by John Holmes. Because they had young children, and were often unable to get out of the house, they developed a process of "workshopping" poems on the telephone, supplying for each other both detailed criticism and warm support. Both women won Pulitzer Prizes for books of poems. Anne Sexton in 1967 for Live or Die, and Maxine Kumin in 1973 for Up Country: Poems of New England. Their poetic styles are completely different; Kumin's poetry is exact, formal, intensely crafted, while Sexton wrote dramatically about breakdown and death. On October 5, 1974, Anne Sexton killed herself at her home in Weston, Massachusetts…....
(The entire section is 4713 words.)
SOURCE: An interview in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. XVI, No. 2, Spring, 1975, pp. 317-27.
[In the following interview, Kumin discusses her poetry. She declares that "in the process of writing, as you marshal your arguments, as you marshal your metaphors really, as you pound and hammer the poem into shape and into form, the order—the marvelous informing order emerges from it, and it's—I suppose, in a sense, it's in the nature of a religious experience."]
Our formal subject is poetry as a principle of order in life, when oneself and the world are otherwise chaotic. As we discuss that difficult point where the art and the life of an artist coincide, Kumin reads aloud a quotation from Faulkner as a motto for confessional writers: "If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate. The 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies."…
- The hermit in the first eight poems of Up Country is so very alone. I wonder if for you, as well as for the hermit, if the tribe, the family, is the last unit in society that can be balanced between order and disorder?
- Yes, I think very definitely.
It's no larger than that?
Well, it's the family and it's the larger family, by extension, of those whom...
(The entire section is 4850 words.)
SOURCE: A review of House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, in America, Vol. 134, No. 8, February 28, 1976, p. 165.
[Below, Ferrari praises House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate for its "finely crafted structures" and "powerful, personal images."]
Maxine Kumin won the Pulitzer Prize for her poems in Up Country in 1973. House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, her newest collection, will not disappoint those who enjoy solid poetry that values life despite all its pain.
Two things seem immediately important: her dedication to her personal and poetic comrade, Anne Sexton, who took her own life in 1974, and her opening quotation from Rilke: "It may be as the poet has said, we are only here to say: House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate."
The dedication to Anne Sexton is particularly significant. I have read both women's works and have known each of them slightly, and I find in Kumin's latest poems a more Sexton-like directness. Though she still celebrates the positive, healing powers of nature, as she has always done in her poetry, she now confronts the macabre in her own life as well. Instead of shutting out the grotesque and unbearable pain life can bring, she faces it and incorporates it into a spirit of acceptance, however grim at times. But the horror is always understated, never dramatized or paraded for its shock value.
Her use of Rilke's quote, which...
(The entire section is 673 words.)
SOURCE: An interview in To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry and Country Living, The University of Michigan Press, 1979, pp. 35-46.
[In the following interview conducted by high school students at Interlochen Arts Academy, Kumin answers questions about her work, in particular, her methods of writing. She also provides some advice for future writers.]
- Is everyday life experience the chief influence upon your poetry?
- I would say that the distillation of everyday life experiences is exactly what I am trying to particularize and order in poetry.
When you write a poem, do you set down a chunk or block of words and then pare down from that, or do you build line on line?
I set down everything I can think of, everything that flies into my head, even though it may seem terribly digressive. I try to get it all because I'm afraid that if I don't get it all down on the page, it will evanesce and blow away. I tend to get a whole chunk that looks like prose, maybe three or four pages of it. While that's going on, I can already sense that certain of those things are lines, and then the next time through, I can begin to pick out the lines. By the end of the second session with the poem, I can see the order, the stanzaic pattern, if there's going to be...
(The entire section is 3294 words.)
SOURCE: "Kumin on Kumin: The Tribal Poems," in To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living, The University of Michigan Press, 1979, pp. 106-23.
[In the essay below, written in 1977, Kumin surveys her "tribal poems" or "poems of kinship and parenting" and the examines the recurrent theme of parent-child separation.]
A terrible ego, as rife among poets as roundworm in the barnyard, had caused all of us represented in this collection of essays by women writers to agree to examine critically some aspect of our own work. Some will argue that we leap to do so because we are women and only recently in the history of American letters has the woman writer been taken seriously. Since I began as a poet in the Dark Ages of the fifties with very little sense of who I was—a wife, a daughter, a mother, a college instructor, a swimmer, a horse lover, a hermit—a stewpot of conflicting emotions has given me some sympathy with that point of view.
But I suspect that the desire to be heard is purer, or more purely corrupt than that. Every poet everywhere longs to be understood, to plead his / her case before the tribunal. To explicate an image, to verify an attitude, to point out the intricacies of a rhyme scheme or stanzaic pattern is a far brighter fate than to take up a soap box in Hyde Park. And although I have not been unhappy with the epithet "pastoral" which is routinely...
(The entire section is 4581 words.)
SOURCE: "Past Halfway: The Retrieval System, by Maxine Kumin," in The Iowa Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, Fall, 1979, pp. 99-109.
[Estess is an American poet and critic. In the following essay, she analyzes the ways in which Kumin faces loss in The Retrieval System.]
The Retrieval System, Maxine Kumin's sixth book of poetry, is about surviving loss. It confirms things many of us already knew about its author, a just-past-middle-age, increasingly refined, non-suicidal poet. The main value in both her life and her poetry is preservation. That which is retrieved in her system may be the simple life of fruits and vegetables or it may be something in her unconscious. But in The Retrieval System the things that most need to be recovered, savored and saved are the memories of those no longer within the poet's physical reach. This is the primary kind of loss with which Kumin, in her mid-fifties, lives.
Kumin's courage in dealing with loss is evident in the poems written about her friend Anne Sexton who died in 1974. After a lunch of tuna sandwiches and vodka at Kumin's Boston house, Sexton drove to her own garage and asphyxiated herself.
From all accounts, especially Kumin's—which she will be, as she says, "gathering up for years"—the friendship of these two women was extraordinary. Both came to writing late: Kumin at nearly thirty, pregnant with her third...
(The entire section is 3348 words.)
SOURCE: "Earth Mother, Earth Daughter," in The Women's Review of Books, Vol. VII, No. 1, October, 1989, pp. 20-1.
[Wakoski is an American educator and poet. In the following review of Nurture, Wakoski—while stating that "Kumin's vision is sometimes limited"—admires the poet's Earth poetry, especially "the wonderful images, that turn into big metaphors."]
If you had told me fifteen years ago that today I would assess Maxine Kumin as one of the ten best contemporary American poets, I probably would have smiled sceptically. However, my esteem for her work has continued to grow since publication of The Retrieval System (1978), work which seems to ground her right under a reader's bootsoles. In Nurture, she continues to explore American earth mythology as she offers her aging body as the aging earth itself.
Earth poets have fathers as well as mothers, and plainly Kumin's understanding of the world is from William Carlos Williams. Like Pound and Olson, she too has been telling the "tale of the tribe." Many of the best poems in this collection play in her smooth clear voice with the idea that holding on to things is human, but the real holding must be done for the community, the polis. And of course, there is father Whitman's ecstatic song of herself.
Let us eat of the inland oyster.
Let its fragrance intoxicate...
(The entire section is 1194 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Nurture, in Poetry, Vol. 156, No. 1, April, 1990, pp. 48-50.
[Here, Cole appraises Nurture, commending Kumin for her continued depiction of environmental issues and her modesty, which he describes as "divine translucence," in her verse.]
Maxine Kumin is a senator for man and beast and earth. She speaks for the caribou, the manatee, the orca, the arctic fox, the Aleutian goose, the trumpeter swan, the dusky seaside sparrow, the broodmare, the grizzly bear, the Scotch Highland heifer, and all this only to begin a list, for there are also three generations of kin to consider and a plot of land to be worked. Please let me not be counted among those critics who devalue her "overabundance of maternal genes." In a world where dolphins are sacrificed daily for our light lunches of tuna fish salad, should there not be one among us to take up their cause? …
These sensible poems record the passage of seasons in the North Temperate Zone. In "Surprises" Kumin reports, "After fifteen summers // of failure …" a hundred California peppers cluster in her garden:
Doubtless this means I am approaching
the victory of poetry over death
where art wins, chaos retreats, and beauty
albeit trampled under barbarism
rises again, shiny with roses, no thorns.
(The entire section is 727 words.)
SOURCE: "Poetry Chronicle: Hunger, Hope, and Nurture: Poetry from Michael Ryan, the Chinese Democratic Movement, and Maxine Kumin," in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 67, No. 3, Summer, 1991, pp. 455-77.
[In the following excerpt, Harris commends Kumin's intimate and tender poems in Nurture. He states that with this volume the poet is seeking "atonement."]
Maxine Kumin labors under no immediate threat of being silenced for political reasons. But this has not tempted her to complacency. She has not had to look far in the modern world to discover ample cause for concern, ample provocation to resist evil and stupidity. In Nurture, Kumin focuses more strongly than ever on the animals passing from our lives. Nurture addresses the elemental subjects of birth, death, love, sex, the family, and violence but, as often as possible, it does so within the context of Kumin's long-standing concern for the welfare of animals. She mentions in the opening poem that a critic has accused her of suffering "from an overbundance of maternal genes." Her implicit response to this rather patronizing remark is that she agrees, and vows to suffer harder.
In a way that is not utterly unlike Shu Ting's "singing flower," Kumin claims for herself the role, or vocation, of nurturer. While its focus extends well beyond the animal world, Nurture gives animals pride of place. References to...
(The entire section is 2138 words.)
SOURCE: "Creature Comforts," in The Women's Review of Books, Vol. IX, No. 8, May, 1992, p. 17.
[George is a poet, educator, and critic. In the following review of Looking for Luck, she describes Kumin "as a survivor who knows her survival is only temporary, she uses poetry to come to terms with as many permanent losses as possible before the final one."]
With Looking For Luck, her tenth volume of poetry, Maxine Kumin joins the Norton stable of writers. I'm usually uncomfortable with that term, but for Kumin, the horsewoman-poet of American letters, it's appropriate. For decades she has written about the connections between humanity and the rest of the folk who inhabit the world. In Looking for Luck she continues this and other themes—death and loss, family and legacy, how to survive devastation and celebrate life.
The poems here are often about the intervention of imagination in the natural world. The opening, "Credo," announces Kumin's belief in magic—in the "rights of animals to leap out of our skins," as in an Indian legend in which suddenly "there was a bear where the boy had been." The epilogue, "Rendezvous," comes full circle to magic again, this time as a renewed, reclothed eros. Evoking a legend that says a male bear can feel shame, she writes that a woman encountering one is advised to remove her clothes, which will scare him away. But in Kumin's...
(The entire section is 1600 words.)
SOURCE: "Ecstasy and Irony," in Poetry, Vol. CLIX, No. 2, November, 1992, pp. 99-113.
[In the following excerpt, Baker highly regards Kumin's work and points out that "it is nature that evokes her most passionate, exact writing, and provides a significant model for her to instruct or explain people to us."]
Maxine Kumin is, and for a long time has been, one of our most widely praised poets. Her tenth collection of poems, Looking for Luck, is representative of her accomplishment, style, and vision. She writes like a lot of poets these days; or, more likely, many try to write like her. Her poems are never qualified by anything less than maturity, grace, and sureness of touch. It's as if her strong, good poems were found rather than composed. As if. Altogether appropriate for an ars poetica is Kumin's favorite figure of the horse, as companion and model:
Whenever I caught him down in the stall, I'd approach.
At first he jumped up the instant he heard me slide
the bolt. Then I could get the door open while
he stayed lying down, and I'd go in on my hands
and knees and crawl over to him so that
I wouldn't appear so threatening. It took
six or eight months before I could simply walk in
and sit with him, but I needed that kind of trust.
I kept him on a long rein to encourage...
(The entire section is 1046 words.)
SOURCE: "'Keeping Our Working Distance': Maxine Kumin's Poetry of Loss and Survival," in Aging and Gender in Literature: Studies in Creativity, edited by Anne M. Wyatt-Brown and Janice Rossen, University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 314-38.
[In the following essay, George examines how Kumin confronts the loss of friends and family and her own mortality in her later poetry.]
To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world's night utters the holy.
A decade ago I began a sustained reading of modern and contemporary women poets on the subjects of memory, mortality, and aging in the literature of the life cycle. Exploring Denise Levertov, May Sarton, Marie Ponsat, May Swenson, and Muriel Rukeyser, I found that the writing of women poets on aging is confrontational, angry, tender, and unashamed. Their works indicate that they wish to do the work of aging, and of facing their own deaths, with fearlessness. But their poetry records the process of confronting their fear rather than the accomplishment of having defeated it. Theirs are poems of death and loss, and they would permit me no wishful projection that mature poets of demonstrated achievement, and presumably personal wisdom, had come entirely to terms with...
(The entire section is 7390 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Connecting the Dots, in Publishers Weekly, June 3, 1996, p. 73.
[Below, the reviewer notes themes similar to those in Kumin's previous work, in particular examining relationships among people, animals and nature; and "observing the moral responsibility of daily life."]
The process referred to in the title—and final—poem of Kumin's 11th collection [Connecting the Dots] is the ability to take care of one's businesses, personal and metaphysical. Here, the poet is aware that her grown children, on their visits home, gently assess her ability in this regard. Kumin is indeed still taking care of the same business that has absorbed her throught her career: noting the connections among family members; tracking the relations among people, animals and the natural world; and observing the moral responsibility of daily life. Her customary candor and irony are still present, as in her recollection of her youthful religious imagination and the demands her faith might make on her: "I didn't know how little risk I ran / of being asked to set my people free… I didn't know the patriarchy that spared me / fame had named me chattell, handmaiden." Although some poems are less substantive than others ("Vignette" is little more than its title suggests), others are memorably strong, particularly the poems about her mother and a number of vivid elegies. In "New Year's Eve 1959," Jack...
(The entire section is 292 words.)
Gearhart, Jean B. "Courage to Survive—Maxine Kumin." Pembroke Magazine, No. 20 (1988): 272-75.
A brief overview of Kumin's life and work.
Gould, Jean. "Anne Sexton-Maxine Kumin." In Modern American Women Poets, pp. 151-75. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1984.
Relates Kumin's career and life only by way of her friendship with Anne Sexton.
(The entire section is 53 words.)
George, Diana Hume. "Itinerary of an Obsession: Maxine Kumin's Poems to Anne Sexton." In Original Essays on the Poetry of Anne Sexton, pp. 243-266. Conway: University of Central Arkansas Press, 1988.
Examines five of Kumin's poems to illustrate that after Anne Sexton's death, Kumin adopted some of the strengths of Sexton's poetic voice.
Kumin, Maxine. To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living, pp. 68-155. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1979.
A compilation by Kumin containing personal interviews, essays, and lectures about poetry.
George, Diana Hume. "Kumin on Kumin and Sexton: An Interview." Poesis 6, No. 2 (1985): 1-18.
Kumin comments on her lifestyle before discussing her former relationship with Anne Sexton and its influence on both poets' writing.
Additional coverage of Kumin's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Authors in the News, Vol. 2; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4 (rev. ed.); Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 8; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 1, 21; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 5, 13, 28;...
(The entire section is 177 words.)