How rare is this for a very famous poet with decades of achievements? More rare than Sam Brownback crushing on Hillary Clinton. But that’s the kind of person Maxine Kumin was. When I contacted her in 2010, asking her to write a blurb (little endorsement for the back cover), of An Endless Skyway: Poetry from the State Poets Laureate of America (co-edited with Marilyn L. Taylor, Denise Low and Walter Bargen), she said, “yes.” She was the only one of two (Ted Kooser as the other one) of many very well-known poets to do this; all the others either didn’t answer or were too busy. While I respect a person’s safeguarding of his/her writing time, it turns out that even more, I respect a person being kind and generous when there’s nothing in it for him or her. “This vigorous anthology deserves a place in every library,” she wrote, and then shared her favorite examples of great lines in four poems.
A few years later, when I invited Maxine to participate in a state poet laureate renga (she was a the New Hampshire as well as the U.S. poet laureate), she said, “yes” again. Here is her wonderful contribution to the anthology The World Keeps Turning to Light: A Renga By the State Poets Laureate of America.
Audubon asked me so I counted:
ninety to a hundred finches on
their way to turning gold crowding
the feeders full of blackoil sun-
flower seeds; both kinds of nuthatches;
a few titmice; clots of chickadees;
woodpeckers: one hairy male;
one female downy; two sparrows
dipped in raspberry juice
all dispersed by a blue jay bombardier.
When I wrote her a month ago, asking permission to reprint this in Poem on the Range, my forthcoming poet laureate memoir, she also agreed.
Her generosity of spirit and in action, her poetry of place and timeless connections with the other-than-humans around us, and her voice in print and aloud made our world glow with vitality. Her writing, like the music of Pete Seeger, goes on beyond a lifetime. Thank you, Maxine Kumin.
Listen to a delightful interview with Maxin Kumin (and poetry reading) on Prairie Home Companion (she speaks about 12:00 into the audio).