Saturday, February 8, 2014

The death of a poet

My friend Maxine Kumin died Thursday. The tribute I wrote to her for the Concord Monitor begins thus:

Maxine Kumin, the city girl who found a house
on a hill in Warner, N.H., and farmed it for
all the poems she could write. (1995 Concord
portrait by the great Ken Williams.) 
Maxine Kumin knew what she was looking for. “A little island on top of hill” was the way she put it during an interview nine years ago. She found it in Warner – a rundown farm on land thick with brush and brambles. Over the years, through cash and hard labor, she and her husband Victor turned Pobiz Farm into a 200-acre paradise with pastures for their horses, a manmade pond for skinny-dipping and gardens where Maxine grew asparagus, corn and tomatoes.

In turn the farm transformed Kumin into the poet she wanted to be. “I loved the isolation,” she said. Free of the urban and suburban lives she knew, she began to see the natural world around her and to plumb the restless world within her. Soon, she said, “I was writing more intimately about what I saw and what I felt. 
And little by little the language that I used changed.” It became less academic and more muscular.

Kumin, who died Thursday at the age of 88, leaves 17 books of poems written beginning in 1963, when she and Victor bought the farm for $11,500. Along the way she served as U.S. poet laureate and won the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Late in life, she continued to publish new poems long after she first swore she was finished writing them.

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