Maxine Kumin Questions and Answers

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In the poem "How It Is" by Maxine Kumin, explain the use of all metaphors, lexical deviations, grammatical deviations and semantic deviations found in the poem. How do these contribute to the meaning of the poem? What are examples of parallelism (lexical, sound, grammatical) found in the poem, and how do they affect the meaning of the poem? Is "they swell like wine bags" a semantic deviation?

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Mary Sutton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Let's start with Kumin's deviations in language and grammar, which are numerous. I also think that we can talk about lexical and semantic deviations simultaneously. There is, after all, the field of lexical semantics, which deals specifically with the meanings of words and phrases in text.

To illustrate the feelings of the narrator in the wake of a loved one's death, Kumin upturns our traditional understanding of what words mean, what they ought to do, and how they ought to be organized. This reshuffling of language parallels the reorganization that occurs in life in the aftermath of a loved one's death.

The first example of semantic deviation occurs at the end of the first stanza: "My skin presses your old outline. / It is hot and dry inside." The narrator has reduced her old friend's jacket, the one she wears "a month after [her] death," to an "old outline." The reference to an outline is especially macabre, as we know that the police make chalk outlines of the deceased in homicide...

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