Editorial: This year, a focus on the dean of poets
New Hampshire, a state smaller than all but four others, is nonetheless rich in renowned poets. The dean of them all, in age if not in tenure in the Granite State, is 88-year-old Maxine Kumin of Warner. She is a former state and national poet laureate, a Pulitzer Prize winner, the recipient of numerous awards and, most important, a poet whose words have moved readers and provoked thought for decades. Kumin’s works are also this year’s choice for Concord Reads, the one-community-one-book program, which is now in its 12th year.
The program this year should more aptly be called one-community-one-author, for Kumin is a writer of poems, essays, children’s books and more. Her work is accessible and often, particularly when writing about animals, deeply emotional. People who aren’t naturally drawn to poetry, or who fear they won’t understand it, will “get it” when they read Kumin – especially if they’ve ever loved a dog, marveled at the mystery of tracks in the snow, been thrilled by the beauty of horses, battled weeds in a garden or thought about death.
Kumin is a Massachusetts native who, with her husband Victor, a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project, came to New Hampshire in 1961 in search of peace, nature and the rural life. They bought what was called the Old Harriman Place in Warner. They were weekenders until 1976, when they came to live on what Kumin named “Pobiz Farm,” an acknowledgment that her 1972 Pulitzer Prize for a collection of poems called Up Country made full-time residency possible, while money earned in the poetry business helped them bring an all-but-abandoned farm back to life.
In “The Hermit Prays,” a poem from Up Country, Kumin describes a bird’s nest found in spring:
I hold in my hand this cup
this ritual, this slice of womb
woven of birchbark strips
and the wooly part of a burst cocoon
all mortared with mud and chinked
with papers of snakeskin.
I hold in my hand this carcass
this wintered over thing
What they are made of, these string
sacks, these tweezered and gluey cells
can only be said of a house,
of plumb bobs and carpenter awls.
God of the topmost branch
god of the sheltering leaf
fold your wing over,
Keep secret and keep safe.
Kumin has published 17 collections of poems, books of essays including Women, Animals and Vegetables, a mystery and three children’s books. Animals, horses and dogs mostly, but other creatures too, figure prominently in her life and work. She writes about them, the tamed and the wild, in a way that allows readers to share their world, yet she does not anthropomorphize them. They never lose their “dogness” or “horseness” in her words.
The 2013 Concord Reads programs celebrating Kumin’s works are still being developed, but they will include book group discussions, readings, perhaps by well-known residents and authors, and other events. The Concord Public Library, the main sponsor of Concord Reads, will have a calendar of events on its website, and they will be accessible through the Monitor website as well. The library has stocked up on copies of Kumin’s works. So have bookstores. The decision to celebrate poetry marks a first for Concord Reads. Join in, meet your neighbors, savor great writing and participate in Concord Reads programs, which will begin in the fall. They are one of the city’s best bargains because events are free.