Maxine (Winokur) Kumin 1925–
American poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and author of children's books.
Kumin is best known for her poetry, which often portrays the simple workings of day-to-day life at her 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 qualities of the natural world. Her writing has been compared to that of her friend, Anne Sexton, and in some aspects to the work of Sylvia Plath. Like Sexton, Kumin writes personal poems which focus on the inner lives of her characters. Unlike Sexton or Plath, however, she does not dwell on despair.
Since the publication of Halfway (1961), her first collection of poetry, Kumin's verse has generally been praised by critics. Many feel that her work is impressive both technically and in its portrayal of deep feelings and emotions. Although sometimes faulted for sentimentality and forced metaphors, among other things, Kumin's poetry is often described as authentic, believable, and refreshing in its affirmation of life.
Kumin's recent collection of poetry, Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982), continues her exploration of the importance of personal relationships and human ties to nature. This work introduces into Kumin's poetry her increased awareness of the process of aging and death and the fleeting nature of life. Critics praise the intensity this awareness has added to her work and applaud her refusal to submit to despair. Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief is assessed as the honest and mature work of a poet sure of herself and her craft.
(See also CLC, Vols. 5, 13; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1; Something about the Author, Vol. 12; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 5.)
Maxine Kumin is an accomplished and professional poet of what might be called the Bishop-Lowell-Sexton school. More important, when she has a subject she can write moving and memorable poems. The best of those in her second book, The Privilege …, are a series of evocations of childhood. In "The Spell," for example, that enchanted garden we can all remember (and which has been popping in and out of modern verse for quite some time now) suddenly becomes startlingly real and alive with supernatural presences, including a mother who seems like the God in Genesis. (pp. 29-30)
One can see in [some of the poems collected in The Privilege a] witty manner which—along with striking descriptions evoking unexpected senses—is Mrs. Kumin's main way of making poems. Sometimes she seems grimly determined to be witty, and this can distract one from a good poem, as with "The Praying Fool." At other times her manner seems to keep her from finding her subject. In "The Appointment," for example, there is vividness; there is experience behind the vividness; but the poem, one feels, is needlessly coy about that experience. In other poems the tangible part of a metaphysical conceit works loose and develops a life of its own, and again the subject tends to get lost.
But with so many fine poems (there are some excellently lush love poems in the final section that makes me think of The Song of Songs), one musn't quibble too much about a few Mrs. Kumin is a real poet. (p. 30)
Richard Moore, "A Poet Who Needs His Poem," in Saturday Review (© 1965 Saturday Review Magazine Co.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLVIII, No. 52, December 25, 1965, pp. 29-31.∗
[The Privilege contains] intensely felt poems about deep-reaching family relationships, sharply realized memories of childhood, and odd, ambiguous, and elusive emotional experiences of adulthood. Miss Kumin's clipped, nervous verse line (even when run-on), which seems unusually consonantal in sound, proves highly various and adaptable, easily meeting the demands of the sonnet form, of which the poet provides far too few since she produces a most authentic contemporary
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