Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Friday, June 6, 2008

Maxine Kumin: To Live Gracefully

In a recent article at the “Harriet” blog on the Poetry Foundation’s web site, Major Jackson discussed his habit of offering recognition to poets on their birthdays: “Once, for a whole year, I organized my reading life according to whose birthday occasioned a visit to the bookshelf. Normally I would choose the poet’s most recent work and honor them with an oral reading, voicing their existence and vision. Other times I would reacquaint myself with a favorite poem or seek some theretofore-unappreciated poem from an older volume. By no means did I do this everyday, but only when fancy struck.”

As can be attested by a number of posts at “One Poet’s Notes” the past couple of years, I also frequently like to acknowledge the birthdays of poets and take advantage of these annual reminders to recommend readers revisit the authors’ works, as well as familiarize themselves with relevant details from the poets’ biographical information. (For those interested, a fairly comprehensive calendar of poets’ birthdays can be found at Andrew Christ’s informative blog, “Birthdays of Poets.”) On some occasions such an exercise simply seems to refresh the reader’s appreciation of a poet’s contributions to our literary history. However, in other instances one obtains an opportunity to glimpse again another’s rich life and grasp some of the complexity or texture a mixture of someone’s personal experiences and observations has lent to the wisdom evident in the written word.

Today, as I pay tribute to Maxine Kumin on her 83rd birthday (born June 6, 1925), I also note that this year marks the tenth anniversary since her near-fatal accident in July of 1998, when a horse bolted during a carriage-driving incident. In the ten years since that traumatic event, Kumin has written in her memoirs and her poetry with a spirit that displays even greater appreciation for each day and that savors what life has to offer, especially in the form of nature’s gifts. Indeed, she relishes life of any kind, as can be discerned in her recent overtly political (though admittedly, at times somewhat less successful) poetry and can be observed in some of her stronger poems addressing unfortunate behavior towards nature and animals, as well as those increasingly frequent poignant and perceptive pieces in her latest books concerning life, aging, death, and an acceptance of one’s own mortality.

Maxine Kumin has published sixteen volumes of poetry, five collections of essays or memoirs, numerous children’s books, and a handful of novels. She has received various awards over the past four decades, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and she once served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that now carries the title Poet Laureate of the United States.

As I mentioned over a year ago in my review of Jack and Other New Poems (W.W. Norton, 2005), when encountering Maxine Kumin’s poetry one can sometimes become lulled by the steady and resolute direction of her unpretentious sentences. Whether guided by traditional forms and a regular rhyme or filled with the more relaxed sense of free verse, Kumin’s work normally ends up engaging the reader as she steers the content toward a determined end. Even the patterns in her poems, deliberate meditations on nature or mortality and dramatic pieces reflecting personal or political perspectives, rarely seem very surprising and are hardly suspenseful. Yet, this poet’s usually careful control of language and overriding tone frequently prove persuasive enough to enlighten and enrich.

Moreover, in her more formal poems she still manages to present a relaxed or informal voice, one with a lyricism that invites listeners and with a rationale that reassures readers. Now in her eighties, Maxine Kumin often maintains a lively and engaging monologue in which one witnesses a mixture of her wisdom and her wit.

The wisdom arrives from a lifetime of noticing the relationship between humans and nature. Like Robert Frost and Elizabeth Bishop, Kumin has learned the lessons provided by elements in her environment. Although at times expressing herself in the urbane and sophisticated language one might associate with the Philadelphia or Boston of her early years, she now clearly seems more a product of rural New Hampshire, the location which she adopted as her home in the mid-1970s when she and her husband bought a farm for breeding horses. In fact, Kumin served as the New Hampshire Poet Laureate from 1989 to 1994.

A couple of months ago, in an April issue of the Christian Science Monitor, Elizabeth Lund presented a perceptive portrait of Kumin among her New Hampshire surroundings: “For Maxine Kumin, ‘Writing Is My Salvation.’” The profile suggests an author whose life has been devoted to writing, particularly poetry, because of her love for the craft and a feeling of necessity to express her ongoing wonder at the world around her. As Kumin asks when interviewed by Lund: “If I didn’t write, what would I do?” Kumin also confides: “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.”

In the Christian Science Monitor piece Lund reports Kumin has recovered remarkably from the broken neck she received in the accident ten years ago. Indeed, despite doctors’ prognosis, she now has regained most of the mobility she had lost. Perhaps partially influenced by the restrictions she has had to endure in recent years due to her physical limitations, the farm stands even more significantly as a place of safety and security. Lund also comments about the poet’s tendency to take in stray animals—dogs, horses, a cat—so that they too find refuge on Kumin’s property, curiously and comically named Pobiz Farm.

Maxine Kumin’s latest collection of poetry, Still to Mow (W.W. Norton, 2007), contains work worth examining for the continuation of Kumin’s use of nature for metaphor and her resumption of contemplations on life, aging, and death. Certainly, Kumin does not heed the famous advice of baseball player Satchel Paige: “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” Instead, the concluding section in the volume, titled “Looking Back,” displays a few poems recalling a life lived with vigor and vision, including a glance back at a long and loving relationship: “Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand, / flesh against flesh for the final haul, / we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand, / lover and long-legged girl” (“Looking Back in My Eighty-first Year”).

In “The Final Poem” Maxine Kumin again looks back and shares with her readers those words of advice once heard from Robert Frost, the New England author of nature metaphors with whom she is often associated by critics, when she was a young poet attending a Bread Loaf session sitting among the “happy few at his feet.” The old poet is described by Kumin: “Magisterial in the white wicker rocker / Robert Frost at rest after giving / a savage reading // holding nothing back, his rage / at dying, not yet, as he barged / his chair forth, then back . . ..” By the closing line of the poem, Frost delivers a last piece of wisdom for the apprentice poets: “Make every poem your final poem.”

Nevertheless as exemplified by an epigraph at the opening of Still to Mow drawn from a comment by the late novelist John Gardner in an interview—“When you look back there’s lots of bales in the field, but ahead it’s all still to mow.”—at age 83, Kumin still seems to be looking forward as much as she looks back. Surely, the magnificent final work (“Death, Etc.”) of her new volume peers forward with a startlingly frank attitude about the frailty of life, and the poem focuses as far ahead as death itself: “We try to live gracefully / and at peace with our imagined deaths but in truth we go forward // stumbling, afraid of the dark, / of the cold, and of the great overwhelming / loneliness of being last.”

Yet, even in meditating on death and the end of everything we know, much of Kumin’s poem connects fluently with colorful images of nature in an agile and lyrical language evoking the environment on Kumin’s farm, as well as the surrounding pastures where her horses or dogs might roam for exercise and the vegetable garden: “I’m not being gloomy, this bright September / when everything around me shines with being: // hummingbirds still raptured in the jewelweed, / puffballs humping up out of the forest duff / and the whole voluptuous garden still putting forth // bright yellow pole beans, deep-pleated purple cauliflowers, / to say nothing of regal white corn that feeds us / night after gluttonous night, with a slobber of butter.”

Remembering Kumin’s remark in the line that appears in the book’s penultimate stanza (“We try to live gracefully . . .”), maybe an appropriate way to begin today’s celebration of Maxine Kumin’s birthday and to honor her place—both the picturesque location of her Pobiz Farm and, more importantly, her prominent position as one of our pivotal contemporary poets who has produced a number of “poems that matter”—would be for readers to visit the Christian Science Monitor’s excellent audio slideshow. The presentation offers a delightfully lively reading of elegant poetry by Kumin accompanied by lovely photographs of her farm and some of its inhabitants, demonstrating a bit of the graceful manner with which this poet lives.


Patricia Fargnoli said...

Thank you for this Ed! As you know, Maxine Kumin is among the best of New Hampshire's treasures. And she DOES live with grace. We are so lucky to have her among us.

Your blog entry is an earned honor!

with thanks once again for the good work you do,


Paticia Fargnoli, NH Poet Laureate

Julie R. Enszer said...

Thank you for this lovely tribute. I have been a fan of Maxine Kumin's work since college when I happened upon her first selected, _Our Ground Time Here Will Brief_. Each of her books have delighted me. I was struck in Still to Mow at her political anger and how she she tempers it with the natural world. I thought, as it should be, as it should be.