Maxine Kumin

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In addition to poetry, Maxine Kumin (KYEW-muhn) has written novels, including Through Dooms of Love (1965), The Designated Heir (1974), and Quit Monks or Die! (1999), a murder mystery involving animal experimentation. She has published a collection of short stories, Why Can’t We Live Together Like Civilized Human Beings? (1982), and collections of essays, including To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living (1979) and In Deep: Country Essays (1987). More contemplative works are Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (2000), which is notable for its depictions of modern country life as well as the author’s ruminations on poetic craft, and Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (2000), recounting Kumin’s difficult recuperation from a July, 1998, accident during a horse-riding competition that left her, at the age of seventy-three, with two broken cervical vertebrae. With Deborah Brown and Annie Finch, Kumin edited Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics (2005). She has published numerous volumes of children’s literature, several coauthored with Anne Sexton.


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Most recognized for her poems about rural life, Maxine Kumin received a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her fourth volume of poetry, Up Country. She is applauded for her positive tone, her affirmation of life; for this life-affirming quality, her work is often contrasted to that of Sexton and Sylvia Plath, in whose work critics find the negation of life. Among other awards, she has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1966), a National Council on the Humanities Fellowship (1967), the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry (1972), an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1980), an Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1985), and the Levinson Prize (1986). Kumin was consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (poet laureate) in 1981-1982. Awards garnered in the 1990’s include the Poets’ Prize (1993) and the Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry (1995), both for Looking for Luck; the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Award (1996); and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize (1999), one of the largest monetary stipends awarded in the United States. She was honored with the Harvard Arts Medal (2006), the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America (2006), and the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement (2006 and 2008). Kumin has received honorary degrees from Centre College, the University of New Hampshire, Dartmouth College, and other institutions. She also served as the poet laureate of the state of New Hampshire from 1989 to 1994 and became elector for the Poet’s Corner, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in 1990. She has published consistently throughout her career, in the most prestigious magazines in the country, including Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.


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George, Diana Hume. “’Keeping Our Working Distance’: Maxine Kumin’s Poetry of Loss and Survival.” In Aging and Gender in Literature: Studies in Creativity, by Anne M. Wyatt-Brown and Janice Rossen. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. An excellent study of Kumin’s poetry focused on the issues of memory, mortality, and aging. The chapter analyzes the relationship between Kumin and Sexton and the effects of that relationship on Kumin’s poetry and concludes with an interview with Kumin.

Gioia, Dana. Review of Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief. Hudson Review 35 (Winter, 1982/1983): 652-653. Although short, this review is valuable for its critical assessment of Kumin’s poetic achievement as reflected in a volume containing work from six previous volumes of poetry. Gioia suggests reasons for Kumin’s popularity but argues that her poetic facility with language is limited.

Grosholz, Emily, ed. Telling the Barn Swallow: Poets on the Poetry of Maxine Kumin . Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997. Contains essays dealing...

(This entire section contains 380 words.)

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with Kumin’s works from various points of view. Includes bibliographical references.

Rothschild, Matthew. “A Plenitude of Poetry.” Review of Jack, and Other New Poems. The Progressive 70, no. 2 (February, 2006): 50-51. While brief, Rothschild’s review focuses on one of the collection’s predominant themes: mortality, by way of war.

Sexton, Anne, and Maxine Kumin. “A Nurturing Relationship: A Conversation with Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, April 15, 1974.” Interview by Elaine Showalter and Carol Smith. Women’s Studies 4 (1976): 115-136. In this rather lengthy, informal interview, Kumin and Sexton discuss their friendship and how each of them has influenced the other’s work. Although both poets insist that they do not try to influence the other’s voice, they do look at each other’s work with an eye toward improvement. Of particular interest is Sexton’s revelation that she suggested Kumin write a collection of country poems and that it be titled Up Country.

Sexton, Elaine. Review of Jack, and Other New Poems. Prairie Schooner 79, no. 3 (Fall, 2005): 175. Sexton speaks in honor of the rugged simplicity of Kumin’s poetry, and reviews the collection in the context of the poet’s biographical characteristics—from early writing that came at a time when gender lines were still thick to the poet’s septuagenarian treks through the landscapes about which she writes.


Critical Essays