Listen to Maxine Kumin read “After Love,” “Summer Meditation,” and “The Final Poem.” She challenges all our assumptions about what we categorize as “nature poetry.”
In Mardi, Herman Melville wrote, “As well hate a seraph, as a shark. Both were made by the same hand.” Melville had worked on a whaling ship. He knew from first-hand experience that William Wordsworth’s “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her” was an unrealistic romanticized view.
Maxine Kumin, too, having worked a farm most of her adult life and survived a near-fatal riding accident, knows that sudden violence and death are constants in nature. Yet she discovers, in poem after poem, that we don’t have to deny nature’s brutality to love it.
Kumin introduces, “Summer Meditation” as “a farm poem.” Yet, from the startling first line, “It isn’t gunfire that wakes me,” through the revelation that one of the farmhand’s sons is fighting in Iraq, to the closing speculations on the experience of death, the poem meditates on concerns that extend far beyond the boundaries of the little farm.
Or do they? Perhaps the larger violence of war is as much a part of nature as the killings of insects is a fact of daily life on the farm. Kumin refuses to turn a blind eye to anything she sees, but she also refuses to surrender to hopelessness. Her careful observations and her own experiences have shown her that nature is also the place of constant rebirth and repair.
“After Love” appears in Selected Poems, “Summer Meditation” in Jack and Other New Poems, and “The Final Poem” in Still to Mow. Visit the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival Poet Pages for a biography of Maxine Kumin.
Be sure to return for upcoming Poetry Fridays, when we will feature many poets from past Dodge Poetry Festivals in the weeks ahead, including, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, C. D. Wright, Franz Wright and others.