The stereotypical sensitive, tortured poet is still out there, but I think we’ve finally moved on from the time when we saw this kind of personality as a necessity for those who want to write verse. God, I hope so. I know enough sensitive, tortured souls in real life, and mostly they’re kind of boring.
Maxine Kumin certainly doesn’t fit that mold. In her we have a positive person, in love with life, horses and poetry. She’s reflective in a way that magnifies our existence, rather than making us want to slit our wrists. I love these lines from The Word:
my horse thinking his thoughts, happy
in the October dapple, and I thinking
mine-and-his, which is my prerogative
Here’s a link to the full text of the poem.
Kumin was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in a neighborhood that was both Catholic and Jewish. Her life’s story lacks drama: she studied literature at Radcliffe, married and had children, moved to the farm in New Hampshire where she still lives. Throughout her career, she’s dabbled. In addition to sixteen books of poetry, she has published everything from picture books to mystery to memoir.
Her ties to her adopted home in New England are obviously very deep. Much of her poetry connects with land, farming, weather, and such. She even jokes about her reputation as a pastoral poet: “I have been twitted with the epithet ‘Roberta Frost,’ which is not a bad thing to be.”
My following poem:
Great horned owl, beset by crows
What have you done to them,
that this clamor of crows
dives at you, at the brink
of an indigo winter dawn?
What did you say to them,
to set off this clash of sillouhettes
at the boundary of grass and skeleton trees
where the last glazed stars fade?
What have you taken from them?
Swiped away a shred of survival with one talon,
draped a soft wing over the rim of night,
or stolen the red hearts of their children?
As your head swivels in my direction,
and your eyes flash tracers,
and your white throat gleams in a splinter moon,
you say: Tell it to you, tell it to you.
You’ve evolved into the night
with a grace of warning
like some mindful goddess
who would pierce your enemies with compassion.
See how black they are, these children of the sun.