NH News
10:10 am
Fri February 7, 2014

Poet Maxine Kumin Has Died At Age 88

Credit Poetry Foundation

The Pulitzer-winning poet Maxine Kumin died Thursday at her home in Warner, where she and her husband lived for almost four decades. 

Born in Philadelphia, Maxine Kumin taught at Universities in Boston.  But, hating the city, Kumin and her husband moved to a farm in Warner, which they called the “Pobiz” farm. They lived together there for almost four decades, where they raised horses and grew vegetables. 

From 1981-1981, Kumin served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in Washington DC, a role now called the US poet laureate.

In an interview on NHPR’s The Exchange from October of 2007, Kumin recalled bringing a bit of home with her to Washington: a horse.  She says she kept the young mare in Potomac.

And I went out every morning in my truck, against the traffic out the George Washington Parkway, and fed and watered and groomed my young horse. And then I got back in the truck, and barreled back into Washington and there was no traffic at all because it was 10 o’clock by then!

Deborah Brown is a longtime friend of Maxine Kumin. She also lives in Warner, not far from the Kumins’ farm. She’s is a poet and an English professor, who teaches Kumin’s work at UNH Manchester.

Brown says Kumin’s work is often referred to as “pastoral,” but:

That’s a very limiting term it makes it sound like her work was only about the trees or the garden, it wasn’t.  It was about life, human life, it was deeper than that. I think she wanted to be remembered as a poet who had a broader range than that.

Kumin also wrote bawdy and political poems both formal and free.  Born in 1925, she published her first book in 1957.  According to Brown, Kumin pushed back against the sexism of the time.

She talked about what a chauvinist world the world of publishing was and is, and she has written articles about this, about how intensely chauvinist the world was. But she would argue that it is still true now, most of the power in the publishing world is in the hands of men.

Obviously, that never stopped Kumin. She published numerous volumes of poetry, childrens’ books, essays, short stories, claiming prizes including the Pulitzer in 1973 for her book, Upcountry: Poems of New England.

NHPR's Sean Hurley spoke to New Hampshire's Poet Laureate, Alice Fogel, about Kumin's life and work.

Pultizer prize-winning poet Maxine Kumin published numerous books of poetry, essays and children’s books in her lifetime.  Her first book of poems came out when she was 36 and living in Boston.  As an artist she was inspired by her close friend and fellow poet Anne Sexton.  Years later after Sexton’s suicide, Kumin wrote a number of poems about her, including “How it is.”

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.   
 

Kumin's poetry was often confessional.  But she also wrote in the plain-spoke style of Robert Frost about her life on a horse farm in Warner.

New Hampshire's Poet Laureate Alice Fogel says it wasn't just Kumin's poetry that was powerful. 

Because when I came of age strong women role models were pretty rare but having someone like Maxine out ahead of me was such a blessing because she was so fiercely dedicated to poetry and her New Hampshire lifestyle, and her family and her life. 

Come, Aristotle, Maxine Kumin 

On April 4, moving
the pea fence to 
another row
we unearth forty
perfect parsnips
that had spent
the coldest winter since 
the seventies
condemned like leeches,
Aristotle says,
to suck up whatever
sustenance may flow
to them wherever
they are stuck.

Abandoned, overlooked.
Our good luck.

We ate them
in groups of fours
braised with a little brown sugar
(though they were sweet
enough without)
paler than cauliflower
or pearls, inverted fleshy angels
pried from the black gold
of ancient horse manure.
Pure, Aristotle.

Come, philosopher.

___________________________________________________________

NHPR celebrated our 25th anniversary in 2007, that year the Exchange spoke with 25 Granite Staters who had significant impact on our state culture and environment, Kumin was one. Here she is speaking with Laura Knoy

Back in 2001, Kumin joined us on the Front Porch after The Long Marriage, her 13th book of poetry, was published. She spoke with John Walters about her life and work.

In 2005, Kumin was again in our studios as the Exchange led a discussion about the landscape of New Hampshire, especially as it appears in Kumin's poetry.

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