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February 06, 1979Guggenheim MuseumFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

On June 6, 1925, Maxine Kumin was born in Philadelphia. She received her BA and MA from Radcliffe College.

She has published numerous books of poetry, including And Short the Season: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014); Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 (W. W. Norton, 2010); Still to Mow (2009); Jack (2003); The Long Marriage (2003); Bringing Together (2003); Connecting the Dots (1996); Looking for Luck (1992), which received the Poets' Prize; Nurture (1989); The Long Approach (1986); Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (1982); House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975); and Up Country: Poems of New England (1972), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize.

She is also the author of a memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (W. W. Norton, 2000); four novels; a collection of short stories; more than twenty children's books; and five books of essays, most recently The Roots of Things: Essays (Northwestern University Press, 2009) and Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2000).

She has received the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sarah Joseph Hale Award, the Levinson Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, and the National Council on the Arts.

She has served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She died on February 6, 2014.

Woodchucks

Maxine Kumin, 1925 - 2014
Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.

Ten minutes later I dropped the mother.  She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next.  O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.

There's one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form.  I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.

From Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief, by Maxine Kumin, published by Penguin Books. Copyright © 1972, 1982 by Maxine Kumin. Used with permission.

From Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief, by Maxine Kumin, published by Penguin Books. Copyright © 1972, 1982 by Maxine Kumin. Used with permission.

Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin

The author of numerous collections of poetry, Maxine Kumin received the Pulitzer Prize for her book Up Country: Poems of New England

by this poet

poem
is vertical:
garden, pond, uphill

pasture, run-in shed.
Through pines, Pumpkin Ridge. 

Two switchbacks down
church spire, spit of town.

Where I climb I inspect
the peas, cadets erect

in lime-capped rows,
hear hammer blows

as pileateds peck
the rot of shagbark hickories

enlarging last 
year's pterodactyl
poem
How pleasant the yellow butter
melting on white kernels, the meniscus
of red wine that coats the insides of our goblets

where we sit with sturdy friends as old as we are
after shucking the garden's last Silver Queen
and setting husks and stalks aside for the horses

the last two of our lives, still noble to
poem
You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
--you won't know till you get there which to do.