Friday, September 21, 2012

Poetry by Maxine Kumin

I've been reading WHERE I LIVE, New & Selected Poems 1990-2010, by Maxine Kumin, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1973.  I met her many years ago when she visited my alma mater for Writer's Week and wrote letters to her a couple of times, and she very generously wrote back.  I have always enjoyed her poetry, not just because of Kumin's superior skill with words, but because her poems offer such a strong sense of place and are often about horses, dogs and the rural lifestyle.  Her memoir Inside the Halo and Beyond is about her experience recovering from life-threatening injuries after a horse and cart accident.

While reading this latest purchase, I kept finding these wonderful lines within poems that made me smile and I know will make you smile too...


...But some wicked
Wednesday I'd like to see

Her Majesty, entourage and all
in the saddle.

from CREDO

...I believe in the gift of the horse, which is magic,
their deep fear-snorts in play when the wind comes up,
the ballet of nip and jostle, plunge and crow hop.

I trust them to run from me, necks arched in full
swan's S, tails cocked up over their backs
like plumes on a Cavalier's hat...


...It was all horses then, she says,
combing the filly's mane with her fingers,
soothing and kneading with practiced hands
from throatlatch to sensitive poll to withers.
All horses.  Heavenly.  You understand...


...I hope there's no bedding, no stalls, no barn

no more repairs to the paddock gate the horses
burst through when snow avalanches off the roof.
Although the old broodmare, our first foal, is his,
horses, he's fond of saying, make divorces.
Fifty years married, he's safely facetious...


We ride up softly to the hidden 
oval in the woods, a plateau rimmed
with wavy strands of gray birch and white pine,
my horse thinking his thoughts, happy
in the October dapple, and I thinking
mine-and-his, which is my prerogative...


...Always the annual
hay supply comes
at suppertime
on the hottest day
of August...

This one cracked me up because when I lived in the Eastern Sierra, my hay was always delivered in high winds right when a storm front was moving in, so that we had to struggle to get a tarp over the stack before the rain hit.  I used to get so angry with my hay farmer for always procrastinating until the last minute to deliver at the worst possible time for us.


...where the last two horses of our lives
are at their day-long work reducing
the lightly frosted grass of mid-October

to manure...

from DEATH, ETC.

...I keep up my two old horses, wiping insect deterrent

on their ears, cleaning the corners of their eyes,
spraying their legs to defeat the gnats, currying burrs
out of their thickening coats.  They go on grazing thoughtlessly

while winter is gathering in the wings...

Of course, it pays to read the whole poem, but I don't have permission to reprint.  These are just teasers for horse lovers, so that anyone intrigued enough by the snippets will buy the book.  WHERE I LIVE is a compilation of several smaller books the Kumin printed between 1990 and 2010.


Strawberry Lane said...

So happy to hear from you! Those snippets were definitely teasers. Need to get that book!

Bill Fosher said...

It may interest you to know that the woman in The Confidantes was my grandmother. And she went a very very long time without washing her hair after her encounter with that filly, just as she said she would.