Authors: Maxine Kumin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works

Poetry:

Halfway, 1961

The Privilege, 1965

The Nightmare Factory, 1970

Up Country, 1972

House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, 1975

The Retrieval System, 1978

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief, 1982

Closing the Ring: Selected Poems, 1984

The Long Approach, 1985

Nurture, 1989

Looking for Luck, 1992

Connecting the Dots, 1996

Selected Poems: 1960-1990, 1997

The Long Marriage, 2001

Long Fiction:

Through Dooms of Love, 1965

The Passions of Uxport, 1968

The Abduction, 1971

The Designated Heir, 1974

Quit Monks or Die!, 1999

Short Fiction:

Why Can’t We Live Together Like Civilized Human Beings?, 1982

Nonfiction:

To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living, 1979

In Deep: Country Essays, 1987

Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry, 2000

Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery, 2000

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Sebastian and the Dragon, 1960

Spring Things, 1961

A Summer Story, 1961

Follow the Fall, 1961

A Winter Friend, 1961

Mittens in May, 1962

No One Writes a Letter to the Snail, 1962

Eggs of Things, 1963 (with Anne Sexton)

Archibald the Traveling Poodle, 1963

More Eggs of Things, 1964 (with Sexton)

Speedy Digs Downside Up, 1964

The Beach Before Breakfast, 1964

Paul Bunyan, 1966

Faraway Farm, 1967

The Wonderful Babies of 1809 and Other Years, 1968

When Grandmother Was Young, 1969

When Mother Was Young, 1970

When Great-Grandmother Was Young, 1971

Joey and the Birthday Present, 1971 (with Sexton)

The Wizard’s Tears, 1975 (with Sexton)

What Color Is Caesar?, 1978

The Microscope, 1984

Miscellaneous:

Women, Animals, and Vegetables: Collected Essays and Stories, 1994

Biography

Maxine Kumin (KYEW-muhn) is best known for her work as a poet and received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1973 for her volume Up Country. She was born Maxine Winokur in Philadelphia. She attended Radcliffe College, where she received an A.B. in 1946 and an A.M. in 1948. On June 29, 1946, she married Victor Kumin, and they had three children.{$I[AN]9810001710}{$I[A]Kumin, Maxine}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Kumin, Maxine}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Kumin, Maxine}{$I[tim]1925;Kumin, Maxine}

Maxine Kumin

Although Maxine Kumin began writing poetry when she was eight years old, she did not publish her first book of poetry, Halfway, until 1961, when she was thirty-six. The collection established many of the important themes that she continued to explore in her later work. Kumin is a poet firmly connected to the natural world, and Halfway includes poems that speak to the cycles of life and death. By using her own family history and personal experience, she emphasizes the universality of the human condition.

Like many poets of her era, Kumin has at times been a teacher of English. From 1958 to 1961, she was an instructor and lecturer at Tufts University, and in the spring of 1975 she was an adjunct professor of writing at Columbia University. She has also served as a visiting lecturer at Washington University, Princeton University, and the University of Massachusetts, among many others. Unlike many other poets of her generation, however, Kumin has not relied solely upon the university system for her financial security. Her work as a writer of children’s books and novels, although not critically acclaimed, has provided financial remuneration in ways poetry simply cannot.

Over the course of her career, Kumin has received numerous awards in addition to the Pulitzer Prize. In 1960, her work was recognized with the Lowell Mason Palmer Award, while in 1968 she was given the William Marion Reedy Award by the Poetry Society of America. She has also been honored with the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry magazine in 1972 and the Levinson Prize from Poetry in 1986. In addition, she is a past recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant and has held the position of poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.

As a poet, Kumin makes great use of form. In an interview collected in To Make a Prairie, Kumin explains that in poetry “there is an order to be discovered–that’s very often true in the natural world–but there is also an order that a human can impose on the chaos of his emotions and the chaos of events. That’s what writing poetry is all about.” Therefore, unlike most contemporary poets, Kumin works very little in free verse. She has explained that the more difficult the subject matter, the more important that she find a traditional form that will allow her to deal with it.

Kumin’s subjects range from her love of swimming–she swam competitively–to her dealings with horses and the chores required by farm living. At all times, even in those poems that celebrate the act of living, there is a sense of the transitory nature of existence, an awareness that each moment must be slipping forever into the next. Yet Kumin does not seek solace in religion; as she once explained, “Words are the only ‘holy’ for me. Any God that exists for me is in the typewriter keys.” By writing, she investigates her own mortality. An equestrian herself, she often uses her work with animals to investigate the human condition. In “The Excrement Poem,” Kumin wryly praises the life cycle she finds in the horse excrement that she carts from the stalls to the manure pile outside.

Kumin had a close working relationship with poet Anne Sexton, but her poetry does not exhibit the confessional qualities of Sexton’s work; in fact, Kumin’s poetry may best be characterized as “writerly” and dignified. The brilliance of her art comes not in any single poem, but in a life lived well. It is Kumin’s attention to detail in the world that surrounds her that transforms her life into an art of linguistic transcendence.

BibliographyGeorge, Diana Hume. “‘Keeping Our Working Distance’: Maxine Kumin’s Poetry of Loss and Survival.” In Aging and Gender in Literature: Studies in Creativity, by Anne M. Wyatt-Brown and Janice Rossen. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. An excellent study of Kumin’s poetry focused on the issues of memory, mortality, and aging. The chapter analyzes the relationship between Kumin and Sexton and the effects of that relationship on Kumin’s poetry and concludes with an interview with Kumin.Gioia, Dana. Review of Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief, by Maxine Kumin. Hudson Review 35 (Winter, 1982/1983): 652-653. Although short, this review (in contrast to typical, merely descriptive ones) is valuable for its critical assessment of Kumin’s poetic achievement as reflected in a volume containing work from six previous volumes of poetry. Gioia suggests reasons for Kumin’s popularity but argues that her poetic facility with language is limited.Grosholz, Emily, ed. Telling the Barn Swallow: Poets on the Poetry of Maxine Kumin. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997. Essays form varied points of view dealing with Kumin’s works. Includes bibliographical references.Sexton, Anne, and Maxine Kumin. “A Nurturing Relationship: A Conversation with Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, April 15, 1974.” Interview by Elaine Showalter and Carol Smith. Women’s Studies 4 (1976): 115-136. In this rather lengthy, informal interview, Kumin and Sexton discuss their friendship and how each of them has influenced the other’s work. Although both poets insist that they do not try to influence the other’s voice, they do look at each other’s work with an eye toward improvement. Of particular interest is Sexton’s revelation that she suggested Kumin write a collection of country poems and that it be titled Up Country.
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