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February 6, 1979 Guggenheim Museum From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

On June 6, 1925, Maxine Kumin was born in Philadelphia. She received her BA and MA from Radcliffe College.

She has published numerous books of poetry, including And Short the Season: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014); Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 (W. W. Norton, 2010); Still to Mow (2009); Jack (2003); The Long Marriage (2003); Bringing Together (2003); Connecting the Dots (1996); Looking for Luck (1992), which received the Poets' Prize; Nurture (1989); The Long Approach (1986); Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982); House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975); and Up Country: Poems of New England (1972), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize.

She is also the author of a memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (W. W. Norton, 2000); four novels; a collection of short stories; more than twenty children's books; and five books of essays, most recently The Roots of Things: Essays (Northwestern University Press, 2009) and Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2000).

She has received the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sarah Joseph Hale Award, the Levinson Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, and the National Council on the Arts.

She has served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She died on February 6, 2014.

Purgatory

Maxine Kumin, 1925 - 2014
And suppose the darlings get to Mantua, 
suppose they cheat the crypt, what next? Begin 
with him, unshaven. Though not, I grant you, a 
displeasing cockerel, there's egg yolk on his chin. 
His seedy robe's aflap, he's got the rheum. 
Poor dear, the cooking lard has smoked her eye. 
Another Montague is in the womb 
although the first babe's bottom's not yet dry. 
She scrolls a weekly letter to her Nurse 
who dares to send a smock through Balthasar, 
and once a month, his father posts a purse. 
News from Verona? Always news of war. 
  Such sour years it takes to right this wrong! 
  The fifth act runs unconscionably long.

Copyright © 1965 by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems: 1960-1990 by Maxine Kumin. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1965 by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems: 1960-1990 by Maxine Kumin. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Maxine Kumin received the Pulitzer Prize for her book Up Country: Poems of New England

by this poet

poem
How pleasant the yellow butter
melting on white kernels, the meniscus
of red wine that coats the insides of our goblets

where we sit with sturdy friends as old as we are
after shucking the garden's last Silver Queen
and setting husks and stalks aside for the horses

the last two of our lives, still noble to
poem
is vertical:
garden, pond, uphill

pasture, run-in shed.
Through pines, Pumpkin Ridge. 

Two switchbacks down
church spire, spit of town.

Where I climb I inspect
the peas, cadets erect

in lime-capped rows,
hear hammer blows

as pileateds peck
the rot of shagbark hickories

enlarging last 
year's pterodactyl
poem
Up attic, Lucas Harrison, God rest
his frugal bones, once kept a tidy account
by knifecut of some long-gone harvest.
The wood was new. The pitch ran down to blunt 
the year: 1811, the score: 10, he carved
into the center rafter to represent
his loves, beatings, losses, hours, or maybe
the butternuts that taxed