Remembering Maxine Kumin


In Memoriam


Photograph: Water Street Books.

Maxine Kumin died last week, at eighty-eight. A Pulitzer winner and former poet laureate, Kumin perfected a style that was direct, piercing, and gimlet-eyed—her verse was economical, maybe, but never austere. As the Times notes, “Though her poems and essays centered on the New England countryside, she trafficked in none of the sentimental effusions of traditional pastoral poets.”

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.”

The Paris Review published one of her short stories, “Another Form of Marriage,” in 1976, and a poem, “Going to Jerusalem,” in 1981. The latter begins:

Bedecked with scapulars,
heavy with huge crosses
and crying out abroad,
Death to the Infidel!
the Franks swept by in waves
riding their stone horses,
big-barreled stallions
deemed brave enough for battle

You can read the poem in its entirety here.