June 6, 1925-February 6, 2014
She wrote as well as she was able,
But when she tired she used the stable
On her farm — that way, of course,
She sometimes grew a little hoarse.
Although she was born Jewish in Philadelphia in 1925, Maxine Kumin went to Catholic schools and Radcliffe College in Boston from which she received a B. A. in 1946 and an M. A. in 1948. She married an engineer, Victor Kumin, and raised a family of two daughters and a son. She studied poetry writing with John Holmes at the Boston Center for Adult Education where one of her classmates was Anne Sexton who became her friend and with whom she lunched the day before Sexton committed suicide. She became a colleague of Holmes at Tufts University in the late ‘fifties and the ‘sixties. Like Sexton and Holmes both, Kumin originally wrote in the standard academic formalist forms and style.
Maxine Kumin's subject matter in her first book, Halfway (1961), was the same as that of the other Confessional Poets, that is, life as it must, not ought to be lived, but somehow this insight often got lost in the observation, even in a poem titled "The Moment Clearly" after the first simply described opening quatrain:
The pipes thump in the still house.
A mouse scratches behind the stair.
I hear the rise-and-fall of sleeping children
Calibrating the quiet and the night.
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.
And this is ours.
Love moves about, opening the doors.
One of the things Kumin never forgot how to do, however, is to tell a story in this and subsequent books. The Privilege appeared in 1965 and was followed five years later by The Nightmare Factory. Some critics compared Kumin with Elizabeth Bishop rather than with Sexton because often her poems, as in The Long Approach (1985), were exceptions to the egopoetic rule-of-thumb. Although they logged the subjective voyages of the heart, they never excluded the reader from their narratives through excessive privacy, for the reader was always shown the compass, the latitude and the longitude of those voyages, and immersed in particulars. If the poems in this book that made the strongest impression were those that were longer-lined, those that approached, and sometimes achieved, the condition of verse, and the weaker poems were line-phrased prose, nevertheless this was a strong collection, one that gave sustained pleasure to the reader. This condition remained a characteristic of Kumin’s poems throughout her career as was shown clearly in her Selected Poems 1960-1990.
Over the years Maxine Kumin continued to write some of the best poetry of her school, and she branched out into fiction and nonfiction as well. She was honored with a volume edited by Emily Grosholz, Telling the Barn Swallow: Poets on the Poetry of Maxine Kumin, in 1997.
The epitaph, "R.I.P. Maxine Kumin" is from Wesli Court’s Epitaphs for the Poets, by Lewis Turco, Baltimore, MD: BrickHouse Books, (www.BrickHouseBooks.com) 2012, paperback, ISBN: 978-1-938144-01-1; the essay "Maxine Kumin" is from Dialects of the Tribe: Postmodern American Poets and Poetry, by Lewis Putnam Turco, Nacogdoches, TX: Stephen F. Austin State University Press, www.tamupress.com, 2012, 336 pp., ISBN 978-1-936205-30-1, paperback, both are copyright © and all rights reserved by Lewis Turco and may not be reprinted anywhere in any manner or form without the written permission of the author.