For Maxine Kumin, 'Writing is my salvation'
Bouncing back after an accident, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet has renewed passion for 'poems that matter.'
Three weeks ago, winter still clung to central New Hampshire, where poet Maxine Kumin and her husband, Victor, live on Pobiz Farm. The sky was gray, snow banks stood more than three feet tall, and the couple's long, dirt driveway was covered with several inches of white from a recent storm. A visiting reporter had to abandon her car 3/10s of a mile from the farmhouse.Skip to next paragraph
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Maxine Kumin, whose awards include the Pulitzer Prize, noted the sky after leading her visitor into the living room. Then she turned her attention to Virgil, her energetic hound-mix, who jumped onto the sofa, onto her lap, and then onto her guest's lap. "Virgil has no manners," she explained with a shake of her head. "Pretend he isn't here; he's an invisible dog."
The scene illustrated so much about Kumin, whose poems include many of the strays she has saved and whose spirit seems as indomitable as that of her "invisible" hound, who was escorted out of the room five minutes later. Kumin, in her early 80s, has no intention of slowing down, regardless of what the weather or the calendar might suggest.
That becomes evident as she describes upcoming readings at Tufts University, the University of New Hampshire, the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival (the largest poetry event in North America), and on "A Prairie Home Companion" with Garrison Keillor. She also teaches in the low-residency MFA program at nearby New England College, and will teach in Provincetown, Mass., this summer.
"Writing is my salvation," she says. "If I didn't write, what would I do?"
The question brings to mind Kumin's horse-driving accident in 1999, which left her with a broken neck. But Kumin, who has regained most of her mobility, despite doctors' predictions to the contrary, doesn't dwell on the past.
She's focused on the poems she's writing – about nature, the war in Iraq, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge – and on the necessity of remaining vigilant as a writer. "I've reached a point in life where it would be easy to let down my guard and write simple imagistic poems. But I don't want to write poems that aren't necessary. I want to write poems that matter, that have an interesting point of view."
Kumin did just that in her newest collection, "Still to Mow," released last fall. The book included poems about her farm and her family – familiar topics – as well as "torture poems" that were equally praised and panned by critics.
"I want readers to take away a better understanding of what's going on in the world," she says of the grittier work. "I can't believe what is happening in the US. It feels as if we've turned the clock back to the Middle Ages."
Excerpt from Virgil by Maxine Kumin
He came, a dogauspiciously namedVirgil, homeless, of unknownbreed but clearly houndbarking at scents, arousedby hot ones to bugle.... He knew not sit or stay, hasstill to take in that chasing sheep andhorses is forbidden....He longs for love with all hispoet's soul....We save our choicest foodscraps for his bowl.