I'm very happy to be with you this week as guest blogger on the Best American Poetry website; many thanks to the trusting souls who invited me…
I’d be remiss not to note here the recent death of Maxine Kumin at 88. Although her passing is a sad occasion, it’s also an opportunity to celebrate her extraordinary life. Ms. Kumin won virtually every important literary honor during her long career, and in 1981–1982 served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (a post which later became Poet Laureate of the United States).
She began teaching at Tufts in 1948, after finishing her masters at Radcliffe. That year she was one of the first two women ever hired by the English department, but she and her colleague were limited to teaching freshman comp to physical education majors and dental technicians. That experience inspired a life-long, passionate advocacy on behalf of women in higher education and publishing. (In 1998 she gave up a seat on the board of chancellors of the Academy of American Poets to call out the need to include more women and minorities in leadership positions.)
Maxine Kumin was never interested in poetic fads and fashions. Her work was direct and spare, often informed by the beauty of her adopted New England, and she unapologetically described herself as “a story teller.”
Next to poetry her great love was horses. She was an accomplished rider, and for years she and her husband Victor bred Arabian and quarter horses on their New Hampshire farm. But one day in 1998 while in Vermont training for a riding exhibition, she was thrown from her carriage, which the spooked horse then dragged over her. She suffered massive internal injuries, many broken bones and a broken neck, and spent nearly a year in a "halo," a metal cage that immobilized her head and neck.
None of her doctors expected her to live, and assumed that if she did survive she'd spend the rest of her life as a quadriplegic. But she staged a remarkable comeback, and like an alchemist—transforming suffering into beauty—wrote about the experience in a compelling journal: Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery.
In Spring of 2005 I had the great honor of interviewing this giant of twentieth-century letters for Colloquy, the magazine of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. We talked about all the above, as well as many other aspects of her personal and professional journey. During our conversation she offered, with generosity and humor, a glimpse into her restless, inquisitive mind.
You can read that interview here. (It starts on page six.)
Many thanks, Ms. Kumin... and safe passage.