Maxine, or Max to friends and family, was nothing if not a pioneer. A Jewish woman poet at a time when it wasn’t exactly fashionable to be any of those things, she knew firsthand how to make room for herself in hostile terrain. Even her farm (which she affectionately and ironically named Pobiz, after the perilous mixing of poetry and business) had to be imagined and then made out of brambles and hard labor over a period of fifty years. Her poetry represented both an alertness to and an investment in the sanctified details of the natural world, a love of the music of the commonplace. Her desire to experience and take note was unlike anyone else’s I know.Dan Piepenbring:
Her precision earned her plaudits, though she was sometimes chagrined by the extent to which her gender tinted her reception; she said in 2005, “I so resented being told by male poets, ‘You’re a good poet. You write like a man.’ When you drove them to the airport to catch that flight at the last minute: ‘You did a good job. You drove like a man.’ It was such a different world. The expectations were so different … I was not influenced by women writing poetry. There weren’t any women to admire. I could admire Marianne Moore, but I certainly couldn’t write miniaturist poems like her. And I admired Elizabeth Bishop, but she was very classical and held everyone at a distance. Mentor was not a verb at that time. I certainly wasn’t being mentored by anybody.”
Kumin wrote deceptively straightforward poems. The "below surface" artistry of these poems lay in their ability to transform familiar experience to precisely calibrated insights, couched in a quietly elegant style. She served up tart helpings of pure joy—but she could do "dark" as well as the gloomiest poets.
Like the horses she raised on her farm in New Hampshire, Maxine Kumin was a thoroughbred. She belonged to the line in American poetry that may be traced back through Robert Frost to Mistress Bradstreet. Her poems have the virtue of being meticulously observed and of dealing plainly with the things of the world.Don Share:
The land got into her writing so deeply that when someone called her “Roberta Frost,” she accepted it as a compliment. Her sense of place sustained her and her poems, which now sustain us. “Poetry’s like farming,” she wrote: “It’s/ a calling, it needs constancy.”