RIP Maxine Kumin, 1925 – 2014

maxine kumin

Maxine Kumin has died at age 88, ABC reports. Kumin, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for Up Country, wrote clear-eyed, introspective poetry confronting mortality, nature, and human relationships. She was a close friend of Anne Sexton, who she met when studying poetry with John Holmes at the Boston Center for Adult Education in 1957. Kumin lived in Warner, NH with her husband, Victor, where the two bred horses, a lifestyle vividly detailed in her late work, particularly in 2001’s The Long Marriage. Her last book was 2010’s Where I Live: New and Selected Poems.

In addition to the Pulitzer, Kumin won a number of awards:the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, the 1994 Poets’ Prize (for Looking for Luck), an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for excellence in literature (1980), an Academy of American Poets fellowship (1986), the 1999 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and six honorary degrees. She served as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1981 and made headlines in 1998 with Carolyn Kizer when the pair resigned their posts as chancellors of the Academy of American Poets “to protest the absence of blacks and other minority groups on the academy’s board of chancellors.”

Here is her poem “Purgatory”:


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.

from Selected Poems: 1960 – 1990, W.W. Norton & Company