Kumin, Maxine 1925–

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Kumin, Maxine 1925–


Born June 6, 1925, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Peter (a businessman) and Belle "Doll" Winokur; married Victor Montwid Kumin (an engineering consultant), June 29, 1946; children: Jane Simon, Judith Montwid, Daniel David. Education: Radcliffe College, A.B., 1946, M.A., 1948.


Home—Warner, NH. Agent—Curtis Brown, 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected].


Poet, essayist, children's author, and fiction writer. Tufts University, Medford, MA, instructor, 1958-61, lecturer in English, 1965-68; Radcliffe Col- lege, Cambridge, MA, scholar of Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study (now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study), 1961-63. University of Massachusetts—Amherst, visiting lecturer in English, 1973; Columbia University, New York, NY, adjunct professor of writing, 1975; Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, Fannie Hurst professor of literature, 1975; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, visiting senior fellow and lecturer, 1977, visiting lecturer, 1979, 1981-82; Washington University, St. Louis, MO, Fannie Hurst professor of literature, 1977; Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Lynchburg, VA, Carolyn Wilkerson Bell visiting scholar, 1978; Woodrow Wilson visiting fellow, 1979-84, 1991-94; Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, poet-in-residence, 1983; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, visiting professor, 1984; Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, FL, master artist, 1984; University of Miami, Miami, FL, visiting professor, 1995; Pitzer College, Claremont, CA, visiting professor, 1996; Davidson College, Davidson, NC, McGee professor of writing, 1997; Florida International University, Miami, visiting professor, 1998-2000; Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, VA, Doenges professor, 2002; New England College, Henniker, NH, distinguished poet-in-residence in M.F.A. in poetry program, 2003—. Member of staff, Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, 1969-71, 1973, 1975, 1977, and Sewanee Writers' Conference, 1993-94. Traveled with U.S. Information Agency's Arts America Tour, 1983. Elector, the Poet's Corner, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1990—; chancellor, Academy of American Poets, 1995-99.


Poetry Society of America, PEN, Authors Guild, Writers Union, Radcliffe Alumnae Association.


Lowell Mason Palmer Award, Poetry, 1960; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1966; National Council on the Arts and Humanities fellow, 1967-68; William Marion Reedy Award, 1968; Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize, Poetry, 1972; Pulitzer Prize for poetry, 1973, for Up Country: Poems of New England; Borestone Mountain Award, 1976; Radcliffe College Alumnae Recognition Award, 1978; Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1979-80, 1991-93; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award for excellence in literature, 1980; Consultant in poetry to Library of Congress (later renamed U.S. poet laureate), 1981-82; Academy of American Poets fellowship, 1985; Levinson Prize, Poetry, 1986; named poet laureate of the state of New Hampshire, 1989-94; Sarah Josepha Hale Award, Richards Library (Newport, NH), 1992; Poets' Prize, 1994, and Aiken Taylor Poetry Prize, 1995, both for Looking for Luck; Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Award, 1996; New York Times Notable Book designation, 1997, for Selected Poems; New Hampshire Writers Project Lifetime Achievement Award, 1998; Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, 1999; Charity Randall Award, 2000; Robert Frost Award, Plymouth State College, 2001; Arts Medal, Harvard University, 2005; Robert Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America, 2006; Paterson Award for sustained literary achievement, 2008, for Still to Mow. Honorary D.H.L. from Centre College, 1976, Davis and Elkins College, 1977, Regis College, 1979, New England College, 1982, Claremont Graduate School, 1983, University of New Hampshire, 1984, Keene State College, 1995, Bowdoin College, 2001, State University of New York at Brockport, 2003, and Dartmouth College, 2006.



Halfway, Holt (New York, NY), 1961.

The Privilege, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.

The Nightmare Factory, Harper (New York, NY), 1970.

Up Country: Poems of New England, New and Selected, illustrated by Barbara Swan, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.

House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.

Progress Report (sound recording), Watershed, 1976.

The Retrieval System, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems, Viking (New York, NY), 1982.

Closing the Ring: Selected Poems, Press of Appletree Alley, Bucknell University (Lewisburg, PA), 1984.

The Long Approach, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

Nurture, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 1989.

Looking for Luck, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1992.

Connecting the Dots, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1996.

Selected Poems, 1960-1990, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1997.

The Long Marriage, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

Bringing Together: Uncollected Early Poems, 1958-1988, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2003.

Jack and Other New Poems, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.

Still to Mow, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2007.


Through Dooms of Love (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1965, published as A Daughter and Her Loves, Gollancz (London, England), 1965.

The Passions of Uxport (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1968.

The Abduction (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1971.

The Designated Heir (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1974.

Why Can't We Live Together Like Civilized Human Beings? (short stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1982.

Quit Monks or Die! (mystery novel), Story Line Press (Ashland, OR), 1999.


Sebastian and the Dragon, Putnam (New York, NY), 1960.

Spring Things, Putnam (New York, NY), 1961.

A Summer Story, Putnam (New York, NY), 1961.

Follow the Fall, Putnam (New York, NY), 1961.

A Winter Friend, Putnam (New York, NY), 1961.

Mittens in May, Putnam (New York, NY), 1962.

No One Writes a Letter to the Snail, Putnam (New York, NY), 1962.

(With Anne Sexton) Eggs of Things, Putnam (New York, NY), 1963.

Archibald the Traveling Poodle, Putnam (New York, NY), 1963.

(With Anne Sexton) More Eggs of Things, Putnam (New York, NY), 1964.

Speedy Digs Downside Up, Putnam (New York, NY), 1964.

The Beach before Breakfast, Putnam (New York, NY), 1964.

Paul Bunyan, Putnam (New York, NY), 1966.

Faraway Farm, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1967.

The Wonderful Babies of 1809 and Other Years, Putnam (New York, NY), 1968.

When Grandmother Was Young, Putnam (New York, NY), 1969.

When Mother Was Young, Putnam (New York, NY), 1970.

When Great-Grandmother Was Young, Putnam (New York, NY), 1971.

(With Anne Sexton) Joey and the Birthday Present, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1971.

(With Anne Sexton) The Wizard's Tears, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1975.

What Color Is Caesar?, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1978.

The Microscope, illustrated by Arnold Lobel, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.

Mites to Mastodons: A Book of Animal Poems, Small and Large, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

O Harry, Roaring Book Press (Brookfield, CT), 2009.


(Author of introduction) Carole Oles, The Loneliness Factor, Texas Tech University Press (Lubbock, TX), 1979.

To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1980.

In Deep: Country Essays, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.

Women, Animals, and Vegetables: Essays and Stories, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1994.

Diane Ackerman and Maxine Kumin Reading from Their Work (sound recording), Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 1994.

Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry, Copper Canyon (Port Townsend, WA), 2000.

Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

(Editor, with Deborah Brown and Annie Finch) Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 2005.

Former columnist, Writer. Contributor of poetry to New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Saturday Review, and other periodicals. Contributor to over a dozen poetry readings recorded by Library of Congress.

Manuscripts held at the Bienecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT.


Although her honors range from coveted fellowships to literary honors such as the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Maxine Kumin's works have yet to be the subject of serious study by academics. A former poetry consultant for the Library of Congress and a staff member of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Kumin has remained active in teaching and writing during a career that has spanned over three decades and includes verse collections, novels, essays, the memoir Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery, and a long list of children's books. Despite the necessity of traveling away from home to lecture at schools and universities around the United States, she has retained close ties with her home in rural New Hampshire; in an interview with Joan Norris published in Crazy Horse, the poet disclosed: "Practically all of [my poems] have come out of this geography and this state of mind." Among Kumin's most notable works are the verse collections Up Country: Poems of New England, Looking for Luck, and Selected Poems, 1960-1990, the last published in 1997.

Kumin is often referred to as a regional pastoral poet as her verse is deeply rooted to her native New England. "I have been twitted with the epithet ‘Roberta Frost,’ which is not a bad thing to be," she told Western Humanities Review interviewer Karla Hammond. In other efforts to classify her work, critics have also described Kumin as a transcendentalist, like Henry David Thoreau, or a confessional poet, like Kumin's friend and coauthor, the late Anne Sexton. New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani found her works to be most like those of Galway Kinnell, since both are "concerned with human mortality, with the love shared between parents and their children, with the seasonal patterns of nature and the possibility of retrieving and preserving the past," as Kakutani wrote.

Despite efforts at comparison, some critics point at Kumin's uniqueness. "In a period when most contemporary poetry reflects a chaotic and meaningless universe, Kumin is one of a handful of poets who insist upon order," Susan Ludvigson maintained in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

Kumin's "well-made poems and stories are two ways of coming at the same immemorial preoccupations: aging and mortality," wrote Nation critic Clara Claiborne Park, the reviewer calling Kumin's work "the fiction and poetry of maturity." Her poems are mature for still another reason: Kumin did not begin to write and publish until mid-life, although she had shown an inclination to write poetry much earlier. During high school, she wrote what she considered to be the very poor poetry of a late adolescent. Later, as a freshman at Radcliffe, she presented a sheaf of poems to an instructor for his comments. As she recalled to Norris: "He had written on the front: ‘Say it with flowers, but for God's sake don't try to write poems.’" By the time she once again braved verse, seven years had passed; she was now the wife of an engineer, the mother of three children, a resident of a Boston suburb, and acutely miserable. Writing became a kind of therapy, and she found encouragement in workshops at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

Kumin's early poems recall her childhood in a home on a hill "between a convent and a madhouse." In these poems, wrote Ludvigson, she displays "an early mastery of technique" and "deals skillfully with subjects that she continues to explore throughout her career: religious and cultural identity, the fragility of human life, loss and the ever-present threat of loss, the relation of man to nature." Many of these early works were collected in Halfway, which was published in 1961 when its author was thirty-six years old. Another outgrowth of the Boston workshops was Kumin's friendship with Anne Sexton. Both homemakers with children when they began their literary careers, their friendship produced four children's books and support for each other's development as a writer. "Maxine, a Radcliffe graduate, possessed a technical expertise and an analytical detachment that balanced Anne's mercurial brilliance," explained Linda Gray Sexton and Lois Ames in Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters. The two poets "often communicated daily, by letter if separated by oceans, otherwise by telephone. They supervised each other's poetry and prose, ‘workshopping’ line by line for hours."

Although some critics have suggested a strong mutual influence, both Kumin and Sexton denied one. Ludvigson noted: "In a 1974 interview in Women's Studies, each claimed she never tampered with the other's voice, and each offered, according to Sexton, ‘to think how to shape, how to make better, but not, how to make like me.’" Nonetheless, there were some significant exchanges. As Kumin related in Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics, Sexton had written several poems based on fairy tales that later became part of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book Transforma-tions. Sexton "had no thought of a collection at first," said Kumin. "I urged and bullied her to go on after the first few poems—to think in terms of a whole book of them." Kumin also suggested the title. "We had been talking about the way many contemporary poets translated from languages they did not themselves read, but used trots or had the poems filtered through an interpreter, and that these poems were adaptations. It struck me then that Anne's poems about the fairy tales went one step further and were transformations." Sexton reciprocated by suggesting the title for the book that was to become Kumin's Pulitzer Prize winner. "In that same conversation Annie was urging me to collect the ‘pastoral’ poems I'd written, and I said, ‘but what would I call it?’ and she said, ‘Up Country, of course.’"

"It is the tie between Kumin and Sexton that fascinates many readers," Ludvigson noted, and the public's interest peaked when Sexton committed suicide in 1974. Yet, despite her connection to Sexton, Kumin's work shows little signs of being included in the confessional school. Rather, observed Monroe K. Spears in the Washington Post Book World, "much of her poetry throughout is openly autobiographical, and the reader becomes acquainted with her family …, her Frostian New Hampshire neighbor Henry Manley, … and so on." The "loss of the parent" and the "relinquishment of the child" are two central themes Kumin openly explores in her work, as she noted in a lecture on her work given at Princeton in 1977 and reprinted in To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living.

"Transcendental" is another label sometimes applied to Kumin but in a modified sense; while Kumin's poetry may call up images of Thoreau and "insist on man's affinity with the natural world," Ludvigson noted that it falls short of suggesting the "merging of the self with nature" that transcendentalism requires. Joyce Carol Oates wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Kumin's 1972 work Up Country "acknowledges its debt to Thoreau" but provides "a sharp-edged, unflinching and occasionally nightmarish subjectivity exasperatingly absent in Thoreau." Ludvigson suggested that "her unsentimental relationship with nature … allows Kumin to write poems … which are ostensibly ‘about’ the necessary killing of woodchucks and mysterious tracks in the snow, but which chill us with her portrayal of man's capacity for brutality." Brad Crenshaw considered it "a major plus" that Kumin "is not much addicted to transcendental escapes." Rather, as he elaborated in a Parnassus review of 1982's Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems, "the voice of the poems is that of a strong woman. In an unforgiving environment, Kumin neither flinches at the strenuous physical labors that comprise her usual responsibilities, nor quails before her emotional disappointments. She's mentally tough. Her poetry records how she stands up to the disasters of weather, disease, difficult births and lamentable deaths, and how she's confident she'll remain standing until the very end."

Whereas critics debate Kumin's similarity to Thoreau, they unanimously recognize how her work resembles that of Robert Frost. The works of both poets show a close attention to the details of life in rural New England. "I particularly observe things in nature because they interest me," Kumin told Hammond, "but I don't think of it as observing. What I'm always after is to get the facts: to be true to the actuality." Attention to nature provides Kumin with images well-suited to her themes of loss and survival.

Kumin's preference for traditional verse forms presents critics with another similarity to Frost. Not only is there an order "to be discovered … in the natural world," as the poet told Martha George Meek in a Massachusetts Review interview, "there is also an order that a human can impose on the chaos of his emotions and the chaos of events." Kumin achieves this order by structuring her poetry, controlling the most emotional subjects by fitting them to exacting patterns of syllable count and rhyme. As she told Hammond: "The harder—that is, the more psychically difficult—the poem is to write, the more likely I am to choose a difficult pattern to pound it into. This is true because, paradoxically, the difficulty frees me to be more honest and more direct."

"Kumin writes as well as ever in her customary modes," Robert B. Shaw said in his Poetry review of The Long Approach. Many critics concur with Shaw's assessment, yet some also criticize those poems in which she examines world problems such as pollution, religious persecution, nuclear holocaust, and famine. These poems "are aimed resolutely outward," wrote Washington Post Book World contributor Wendy Lesser, the critic maintaining that these "issue" poems "founder on their opinion making." When Kumin turns to life on her New Hampshire farm, Kumin "reverts … to what is close, ordinary,… [upon] which she can meditate with X-ray gaze," as Harold Beaver explained in his New York Times Book Review of The Long Approach. In Poetry, Shaw suggested that "if Kumin wishes to venture into public terrain, perhaps her voice, which is essentially private, needs to adjust itself to … new and very different demands…. It can be assumed, at any rate, that a poet of her intelligence stands an even chance of solving the problems involved."

"Exhaustive in their sorrow," according to New York Times Book Review contributor Carol Muske, the verses in Nurture "are predominantly short, brutal elegies for the natural world." The poems in this 1989 collection reflect the author's trademark environmental consciousness and her anger at the devastation wrought by humans on the natural world. Diane Wakoski, reviewing the collection for the Women's Review of Books, found Kumin's "issue" poems to be "bitter, overstated, trivial," but praised the more personal poems in which Kumin's "goddess voice and stance returns." The more-recent Looking for Luck leaves behind some of the bitterness and anger in exchange for "cheerful, chatty bulletins from the New Hampshire farm where she gardens and raises horses," commented Lisa Zeidner in the New York Times Book Review. In Connecting the Dots, a 1996 collection, Kumin similarly "reexamines the familiar materials of her previous books with her far-ranging eye and technical skill," according to Fay Weldon writing in the Boston Book Review. While Zeidner noted that "sometimes the emotions seem too politely underplayed" in this work, Weldon commended Kumin's "linguistic brilliance and formal excellence" and stated that in Connecting the Dots the poet "commands the nuances and music of rhyme and slant-rhyme as powerfully as any living poet."

Extending from her first volume, Halfway, through 1989's Nurture, Selected Poems, 1960-1990 was praised by Judy Clarence in Library Journal for allowing the reader the opportunity to "move slowly, meanderingly, deliciously through the stages of Kumin's poetic life." Noting that the poet's "unsentimental affinity for animals has been her divining rod for locating and observing the natural world's seemingly inexhaustible beauty and mankind's terrifying willingness to destroy it," a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the collection for illustrating this through Kumin's "plain style," "surprising imagery … and recurring reflections." Praising the collection for its accessibility by the average reader, Richard Tillinghast commented in the New York Times Book Review that Kumin's poems "bracingly remind us of several enduring virtues valued by anyone who reads verse for pleasure…. She has the versatility to build an orderly, measured structure in rhyme and meter, or to adopt the easier virtues of free verse for a more transient, informal effect." Furthermore, Tillinghast maintained, these poems are about something; they tell a story that carries the reader into the world Kumin creates and leads to a satisfying conclusion.

In The Long Marriage, the poet celebrates her five-decade marriage to her husband, Victor Kumin, their life together in New Hampshire, and nature. Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, stated that Kumin's observations are "crisp" and added that the poet "moves surefootedly" in her work. New York Times Book Review contributor Megan Harland similarly called the poet's observations "earthy" and "practical," and declared that in The Long Marriage "Kumin's tonal clarity is transformative."

In contrast to The Long Marriage, Jack and Other New Poems "serves up a startling refreshment … a bracing mix of persona poems, elegies, and lyric narratives, the stuff of biting paradox and stark self-appraisal," noted Elaine Sexton in the Prairie Schooner. Sexton went on to observe that "in this collection, every poem is a portrait of the poet's fierce hold on life." The book features a collection of simply worded poems, each written in the voice of a different type of person, from a rapist to a hospice worker, to someone looking back on history. Booklist contributor Donna Seaman found the work to be a group of "well-turned, neatly well balanced poems" and a "radiant testimony to life attentively witnessed and cherished."

In addition to voicing her disillusionment with U.S. policy with respect to the Middle East, Kumin reflects on ageing as well as on rural life in Still to Mow. The structure of the villanelle, which she uses in several selections, stands in contrast to her topics, particularly activism and public protestation. Writing that her verses in this collection "weave their likable, confident way" through readers' imagination, a Publishers Weekly contributor added that the poems in Still to Mow "are formally assured, never obscure and committed at once to social protest and to the facts of a memorable life." In a discussion with Christian Sci-ence Monitor interviewer Elizabeth Lund, Kumin remarked on her increasing willingness to mix personal reflections with political statements. "Twenty years ago, I thought Denise Levertov was wrong to write political poems, that she would lose her lyrical impulse," the poet explained. "But I've changed my mind; I didn't write my poems because I wanted to, they were wrung from me. I had to write them."

During the 1960s and 1970s, Kumin wrote several books of children's poems, including a verse account of the invention of the microscope by Dutch scientist Anton Leeuwenhoek. After an extended hiatus she returned to children's literature in 2006 with Mites to Mastodons: A Book of Animal Poems, Small and Large, a volume of nineteen poems that range, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, from "whimsically anthropomorphic to factually accurate." Noting that the book relies on many basic conventions of children's poetry, the reviewer nevertheless found "much that's fresh and subtly challenging" in the book. Nina Lindsay, writing in the School Library Journal, felt that Mites to Mastodons did not compare favorably to the work of other eminent children's poets. Acknowledging that some poems in the book just "meander along" without linguistic distinction, a contributor to Kirkus Reviews pointed out that many pieces in the collection "are small, polished gems."

When Kumin finds she has more to say than a poem's structure will accommodate, she approaches her subject again in fiction. "I tend to steal from myself," she said in an interview published in To Make a Prairie. "The compass of the poem is so small and so demanding, you have to be so selective, and there are so many things that get left out that you feel cheated. So you take all those things … and they get into fiction." Comparing Kumin's work in both genres, Chicago's Tribune Books contributor Catherine Petroski commented that the writer's "practice of poetry buttresses her practice of short fiction: The turns of phrase and points of view come from a poet, not a recorder of events. Similarly, the concerns of fiction—the chains of cause and effect, the explorations of character, the sense of scene—have much to do with the power of Kumin's best poems." Spears summed up his review by commenting: "One of the pleasures of reading Kumin is to see the same experience appear differently in the different forms of poems, stories, and novels."

If there is one experience Kumin confronts in all her works, it is loss. The poet talked about her obsession with mortality in a Country Journal article in which she reflects on the death of a foal. "A horse-friend from New York State writes me her condolences," she writes. "She too has lost not one foal, but twin Thoroughbreds…. According to some astrological prognosticatory chart, we are both sixes on the scale. Sixes, Mary Beth writes, practice all their lives to die well, ‘act as Morticians of All Life and hold private burying rituals in their hearts.’" Accordingly, Kumin wrote, she believes "very strongly that poetry is essentially elegiac in its nature, and that all poems are in one sense or another elegies." She explained to Hammond, "Love poems, particularly, are elegies because if we were not informed with a sense of dying we wouldn't be moved to write love poems."

Kumin's prose collection Women, Animals, and Vegetables offers insight into the author's pastoral life on her farm in New Hampshire. In essays and short stories, she "describes the pleasures of raising and riding horses, of gardening and mushrooming, of learning how in the country ‘things have a way of balancing out,’" explained Christopher Merrill in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Anne Raver, writing in the New York Times Book Review, averred that some of the material in the book pales in comparison to Kumin's poetry, which covers many of the same themes and issues "more brilliantly." "It is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet's misfortune, perhaps, to be judged harshly by the standards she herself has set," Raver observed, while Merrill dubbed Women, Animals, and Vegetables "a book many readers will find companionable."

One of several book-length novels authored by the poet, Quit Monks or Die! is an unusual tale centering around the disappearance of a pair of monkeys at a testing lab and the murder of the lab director. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the novel's plot a "masterpiece of construction" and declared the book "one of the best mysteries of the year." In the New York Times Book Review, Laura Jamison commented that Kumin's character sketches are "effective" and that she is "a capable stylist." While Jamison was disappointed in the mystery's outcome, she commended Kumin for her "highly original prose" and was captivated by the poet's "provocative analysis of human nature."

When Kumin was seventy-three she suffered an accident while preparing a horse for competition. In the accident, she broke her neck and sustained serious internal injuries, injuries that kill ninety-five percent of those who receive similar ones. She was able to make a successful recovery, however, and in Inside the Halo and Beyond she describes her convalescence. Anne Roiphe, writing in the New York Times Book Review, described Kumin's language as "precise and spare." As her poetry deals with everyday life, so does her memoir. Roiphe noted that although Kumin is a poet, the prose in Inside the Halo and Beyond "is rarely poetic in the usual sense of heightened metaphor or compacted image." Rather than an autobiographical tell-all, the work describes her experiences during recovery and the people and emotions she encountered during the healing process. Roiphe likened the tenet "to a dignified prayer of thanks" that resonates "wisdom while announcing a triumph of body and soul." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that while the memoir can seem "uneven and overlong," Kumin's fans will find Inside the Halo and Beyond "irresistible."

The same year Inside the Halo and Beyond was released, Kumin also published Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry, a collection of prose and poetry describing Kumin's daily life as a poet. She includes interviews, diary entries, and keynote addresses, as well as selections of verse. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly characterized Kumin's life as "wonderful[ly] poetic," and Library Journal contributor Doris Lynch asserted that the essays encapsulate "a kind of grace."


Maxine Kumin contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:

I once read something Wilfrid Sheed wrote about the "self-importance problem" that is "endemic to all autobiographies." On guard against it, a good Jewish Calvinist, I have until now resisted telling my own story.

What changed my mind was an invitation in the fall of 1987 to read my poems at Radford University, formerly a small women's college, now a thriving part of the Virginia university system. My mother was born in Radford in 1895, number six in a family of twelve children. Her father, Abraham Simon, was a merchant—indeed, the main merchant—in town. His name, as she had once pridefully informed me, was carved in stone over the door. Just this year, a kind soul in Radford sent me photographic evidence dated 1911.

My uncle Saul Simon, the only one of the clan who neither married nor left his native heath, served with the cavalry in World War I. He was a spectacular joiner of organizations, an excellent horseman, a super patriot, and quite possibly the most caring man in that corner of rural Virginia. His reputation in Radford as unofficial ombudsman for veterans of his and all subsequent wars, as silent philanthropist to the needy, as friend to the lonely or the housebound, persists in the community. Because of him I was very warmly received in Radford. So were my poems, particularly the ones that dealt with what I like to call tribal material. It is out of that tribal feeling, and to tell the little tale of my origins, that I now undertake this account.

Everyone deserves a flamboyant ancestor and it seems to me, even upon superficial inquiry, that everyone has one. I hereby lay claim to Elias Rosenberg, my maternal great-grandfather. Possibly half of what I know about him is fiction, embroidered by his daughter, my grandmother, Pauline Rosenberg Simon, as told to my mother, Belle (Doll) Simon Winokur. Certainly I have added to the fiction in my own retellings.


Good friend, from my province what is there to
My great-grandfather left me here
rooted in grateful guilt,
who came, escaped conscript
blasted out of Europe in 1848;
came, mourned by all his kin
who put on praying hats
and sat a week on footstools there;
plowed forty days by schooner
and sailed in at Baltimore
a Jew, and poor;
strapped needles up and notions
and walked packaback across
the dwindling Alleghenies,
his red beard and nutmeg freckles
dusting as he sang.
There are no abolitionists in my past to point to.
The truth is that this man,
my only link with that event,
prospered in Virginia, begat
eight young and sewed eight years
on shirts to get them bread.
When those warm states stood up to fight,
the war made him a factory
in a pasture lot where he sat,
my part-time pacifist,
stitching uniforms for the Confederates.
The gray cloth made him rich;
they say he lived to lose it all.
I have only a buckle and a candlestick
left over, like old rhetoric,
‘from his days’
to show how little I belong.
This is the way I remember it was told,
but in a hundred years
all stories go wrong.

The facts in the poem are unvarnished, except for the buckle, which I added in the interest of thickening authenticity. The candlestick is actually a brass menorah my ancestor is reputed to have carried in his pack as he traveled, shank's mare, from Baltimore to Virginia. Much mended, it does appear to be of an honorable antiquity, "but in a hundred years / all stories go wrong."

Great-Grandfather reappears in "For My Great Grandfather: A Message Long Overdue." The actual letter that gave rise to the poem hangs framed on my study wall. I marvel at the lavish language it contains, and at the anguished effort this man is making in his non-native tongue to heal a family rift. The rupture was apparently occasioned by his remarriage to a woman said to have been the same age as his oldest daughter.

"It was a cold relentless hand of Death robbing us of wife and Mother that broke up the home Circle and scattered us abroad," he writes from Newport News in September of 1895. The reconciliation centered on my mother's birth the preceding June. My grandmother has apparently sent a picture of some sort, certainly not a snapshot—"it is impossible for me to gaze on the picture before me as portrayed by the Artist and not be impressed with the realization that they are My People and to pray that God in His Infinite Mercy may bless them even as he blessed Jacob." In return, Elias Rosenberg, Rosenberg the Tailor, a Full Line of All the Latest in Suiting and Pants, as his bill of sale attests, sends his new wedding picture.

I remember his second wife, my step-great-grandmother, who lived her last years in the Sinai Home for the Aged in Baltimore and came by train once or twice a year to Philadelphia to stay with us. Most vividly I remember her recounting her own fondest childhood recollection, that of sitting on her father's shoulders to catch a glimpse of Abraham Lincoln passing by on parade. The setting was Baltimore. Is this historically possible?

My grandmother, I know, went by horsecar every Friday afternoon in her girlhood to buy the Sabbath bread. She was born on Fayette Street in Baltimore, home of many of the Jewish families that came by ship from Hamburg. But Great-Grandma's story thrilled me. How American it was! How deep my roots! It never occurred to me to fault my opportunistic ancestor for sewing Confederate uniforms. A tailor-forebear—no wonder, years later, I loved Ciardi's description of his own father, who was "born with a spade in his hand and traded it / for a needle's eye to sit cross-legged on tables / till he could sit no more." How easy it was to write, at the close of the poem for my great-grandfather, "Welcome, ancestor, Rosenberg the tailor. / I choose to be a lifetime in your debt."

It is hard to reconcile the grande dame my mother became in my view of her with the simple small-town childhood she had had. When she could be induced to talk about it, her story was an idyll of chickens and rabbits, a family pony, and her father's matched pair of Saddlebreds. My earliest visions of my mother place her in an evening dress, about to depart in a cloud of French perfume for an important social event—gala evening at the symphony under Stokowski's baton, the opening performance of a stage play featuring Katharine Cornell or the Lunts, or some anniversary party. She wore an evening cape of black velvet, its full length sprinkled with what looked like multicolored nonpareils. As she swept out the door in it, I was suffused with longing to look in on what it was the grown-ups did on these occasions. I knew they drank foamy concoctions called Brandy Alexanders or Grasshoppers, for I had tasted these and found them unbelievably bitter. But did they play Going to Jerusalem? Twenty Questions? Monopoly? What kept them out so late? I remember how hard it was to fall asleep until the parents, those Olympians, were once again safely under the same roof as we. And after the Lindbergh kidnapping, when my father had iron bars installed on my bedroom window overlooking the porch roof, sleep was even more elusive.


I never knew either of my grandfathers. My mother's father died long before I was born. My grandmother Simon came to live in Germantown, a suburb of Philadelphia, in an apartment not far from our house. I remember her pet Pekingese which she carried about everywhere, like a mandarin lady, lacking only the full sleeves and the pillow. I remember that she was quite hard of hearing, though I seem to have invented the ear trumpet (see "The Chain"). Nothing else about her comes back to me, except her somewhat imperious manner. I suspect children often misread this trait into adults who are not intimate with them. She was grandmother to seventeen progeny, and she had been notorious, according to my mother, for her inability to call her own dozen children by their correct names the first time, so it is not surprising that it fatigued her to sort us all out.

I was named for my father's father, Max Winokur, who died shortly before I was born. His naturalization papers, dated the fifteenth of September, 1888, stating he was formerly a citizen of Russia, hang on my study wall under the great-grandfather letter. In the text, he renounces forever "all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, state or sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly to the CZAR OF RUSSIA."

My mother, who was not given to hyperbolic praise, apparently adored him, for she eulogized him to me often as a scholar and a gentleman. His widow, my paternal grandmother, Emma Bachrach Winokur, spoke an accented English that rang wryly on my ear.

Max Winokur ran a shirt factory in Philadelphia at Eighth and Dauphin streets; Emma was his forelady. When the employees went out on strike, he shut down the enterprise and went into the pawnbroking business. My oldest brother, Fred, reports that he wore shirts custom-made by our grandmother for his growing frame until he was a teenager.

Grandma Winokur died in 1937 when I was twelve. Visits to her apartment in Atlantic City still rank among the high points of my life. As I remember it, my brother Peter, three years my senior, and I were packed off with our fräulein to spend the entire summer in the salubrious ocean air. From Grandma's living-room window a child could peer up and down the Boardwalk for miles. On a clear day the Steel Pier was visible jutting out into the Atlantic. A vista of sand and waves was reinforced by the ceaseless throbbing.

We children—often, our two cousins, Jimmy and Billy, were also in residence—lived only to go to the beach each day. Although lifeguards were stationed up and down the strand and huge ropes ran out into the surf to guard unwary bathers against being caught in the undertow, we were never allowed to roam free. The hardest task I had at age four, five, six was to contain myself until the dilatory adults were ready, seldom before 11:00 A.M., to mount the daily safari to Paradise.

For the sand offered infinite, inventive pleasures. Drip castles, packed castles, tunnels, holes, turrets and moats, traps, multilayered dungeons added to the exquisite joys of lurking under the Boardwalk in the suspiciously pungent, slatted shade, overhearing snatches of conversation as the boulevardiers passed by overhead.

The adults lounged in elaborate folding chairs under umbrellas. They came encumbered with reticules from the depths of which emerged towels, handkerchiefs, rubber bathing slippers, bathing caps, ointments and creams, and sometimes, swathed in white linen towels, lunch. Each encampment loomed, a veritable oasis, on the sand. Bent double under his great square pack, an ice-cream man could be seen approaching in the early afternoon, picking his way from group to group. Popsicles were three cents, an ice-cream sandwich a nickel.

On weekends, when hundreds of fathers appeared, pale, stern, important figures conveyed by train from the city, we children were often forced into roller chairs with a parent or grandmother or stray great-aunt, to be pushed along the Boardwalk by a cheerful, sweating black man. Even then, this seemed at least odd to me, in some way degrading to both of us. I detested having to sit still so long and I loathed even more the white dress, white socks, and freshly whitened shoes I had to wear in observance of these occasions.

A few times, I remember being taken further down the Boardwalk to the man with the ponies, and I suspect this is where it all began. Young as I was, I knew these were sad, tattered creatures who stood about all winter in a dark stable, barely tended to, and that they were hauled here by open truck to spend the warm months wearily plodding round and round with screeching, stupid children on their backs. My fantasy then was to kidnap them all and carry them off to the Wild West to run free on the prairie. Somehow the vision of horses running free had already taken root in me. Almost half a century later, those dreams came true. Much as I delight daily in turning out our mares and youngsters on spacious, well-tended pasture, I treasure even more the abuse cases we have rehabilitated.

My grandmother loved the perpetual auctions that took place each afternoon along the Boardwalk. I remember several dreary rainy sessions spent in storefronts watching the grown-ups bid on Oriental rugs, objets d'art, and various painted renditions of the ceaseless surf. Left to ourselves, we children played overheated rounds of a new game called Monopoly, in which all the place names were geographically correct Atlantic City sites. Tiring of the cheating and wrangling that invariably overtook the board game, in which the Banker became as ruthless as the "CZAR OF RUSSIA," we would turn to working on our shell collection.

Scallops, clams, and angel wings were painstakingly sized so that they nested by species in my father's cast-off wooden cigar boxes. The entire collection was housed in the hall closet, neatly labeled by my second oldest brother, Herbert, who was quite good at lettering. The full cigar boxes were kept in a humidor, an imposing piece of furniture done in dark walnut. Every evening after supper my father would select a cigar to take into the living room to his reading chair, where he drowsed over the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. We children waited, surreptitiously counting the number of cigars left in the box, for the day when it was at last empty and we could take possession. The names on the lids, Ramon Allones, or Havana Roma, were another romance, to be rolled over the tongue, conjuring up foreign places. Best of all, a little metal clasp shaped like a comma held the lid tight. One could keep any secret in such a box.


My father was a funny mixture of sybarite and Calvinist. He left school at the age of thirteen in order to help in his father's pawnbroking establishment, Federal Loan, while his older brother, Joseph, to whom he remained devoted the rest of their lives, became the family scholar. Joseph went on to college and law school at the University of Pennsylvania, but he was never financially successful. Behind the scenes, my father continually made up the difference, which surely contributed to the tension between the wives.

"Early to bed and early to rise," my father used to say with a wink, "and you never see any of the regular guys." Nevertheless, he was up at dawn every day except Sunday. He worked long hours without a lunch break, pausing only for a milk shake at noon, never returning home before 6:30 Monday through Friday. On Saturdays the store stayed open until 10:00. Sometimes my mother and I would drive to South Philadelphia to meet my father as the store was closing and the heavy metal guard gates were being locked. We then drove to a section of the city known as Strawberry Mansion, where, in my father's favorite delicatessen, we enjoyed a late supper of whitefish, exotic sturgeon, Swiss cheese, half-sour pickles, and cream soda. The wooden booths were worn and chipped. There was sawdust on the floor. Outside, on warm spring evenings, a bearded old man sat on an upturned keg and played his violin quite mournfully. I was told he played to usher out the Sabbath. How blessed I felt in this safe harbor!

But my mother was racked with ambivalent feelings. First of all, she, of proud German-Jewish origins, had married a latecomer, a descendant of Russian Jews, and this virtually constituted a mixed marriage. Her mother-in-law still kept a kosher house except when the grandchildren came to visit and milk magically appeared on the table next to the boiled flanken. This old lady still spoke Yiddish, a forbidden tongue in our upwardly mobile household, although my father insouciantly peppered his speech with Yiddishisms. My mother was clearly uncomfortable with my father's profession because of its Shylockian stereotype and she hid it in conversations with strangers, referring to him as a "broker" or "merchant."

According to my oldest brother, who remembers him vividly, our grandfather Simon was a deeply religious Orthodox Jew who laid tefillin every morning of his life. Doubtless this accounts for the twelve children. Theirs was the only Jewish family in Radford; every fall they journeyed forty miles to Roanoke to attend synagogue for the High Holidays. But my grandfather countenanced my mother's playing the organ for all Methodist church events on grounds that some form of worship was better than no worship.

My father was the least self-conscious man I have ever known. Everything about him conveyed the sense that he was very much at home with himself and with his appetites. He believed in salvation through hard work, and while he drove himself and others mercilessly, salvation consisted not only of living well but also of extending a benevolent hand to selected unfortunates. He was a generous giver to public charity and a quiet philanthropist on the side. Years after his death I continued to be confronted by strangers in Philadelphia who, upon hearing that I was Pete's daughter, had still another tale to tell of a crushing mortgage being lifted, a medical bill paid, a college tuition contributed to, and so on.

My father had great scorn for parsimony. He delighted in pointing out to me a bank president or corporate executive who had pledged only a hundred dollars to the Community Chest. When I looked at these florid, important men, it was like seeing a secret stain. For a long time I thought "a blot on the escutcheon" was a kind of birthmark the stingy wore under their white shirts.

My father was generous with himself as well. He ate well, he loved to host big parties at which the best liquor flowed in unlimited quantities; he and my mother stayed, on their infrequent trips, in the best hostelries. He was generous with his own mother, providing her with a live-in companion, a spacious apartment, and an allowance that covered her little forays to the afternoon auctions. When the Depression struck and my mother's two youngest brothers moved in with us, my father, I suspect, hustled jobs for them

in addition to providing room and board. The chalk marks on the sidewalk that led to the back door of our house on Carpenter Lane indicated that ours was a good handout. One of my earliest memories is of two or three men down on their luck sitting on the steps of the back porch, eating enormous sandwiches.

My parents met at a Saturday-night party on Tulpehocken Street in Philadelphia in 1914. According to her account, my mother, then a student at the Combs Conservatory of Music in Philadelphia, was playing the piano when my father burst in jovially and had to be shushed so that the concert could continue.

"Who is this haughty dame?" my father is said to have inquired, while my mother glared daggers in his direction. It didn't seem a propitious beginning, but they were married soon thereafter and remained a very loving couple until my father's death in 1962.


Four of us children arrived, at quite explicit three-year intervals, beginning with Frederick William in 1916, followed by Herbert Simon, succeeded by Edward Elias, who so resembled my father that he was dubbed Little Peter (despite a Jewish injunction against naming a child for a living person, his name was legally changed to Peter Winokur, Jr., when he was six). I was the last of the line, alternately cosseted and resented by my older brothers, and the only child who was actually born in the house on Carpenter Lane that featured so large in my early life.

Built in the last decade of the nineteenth century for a wealthy invalid—this accounted for the circuitous sloping brick walk that would allow a wheel chair to be pushed from the street curb to the back door—152 Carpenter Lane was essentially a Georgian Colonial set atop an imposing brick terrace above two sets of stairs. A round portico supported by Ionic pillars sheltered the front entrance. A huge side porch looked into the second-story windows of the house on the down slope. On the other, uphill side a privet hedge with numerous useful gaps in it divided our land from the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

The house had six chimneys, all elaborately mantled and tiled, an ornate divided staircase with curving balustrades we were forbidden to slide down but frequently did, a dark, paneled back hall and back staircase where I was certain bears lurked, a cavernous stone cellar with coal bins and terrifying storage compartments full of the skeletons of bad children who had preceded me. On the third floor my oldest brother and, for a time, my two youngest uncles lived, next to a huge attic room equipped with a Ping-Pong table. There were three bedrooms and three baths on the second floor. Everything about the house, it seems to me now, was on the grand scale. The ceilings were high, all the doors were imposingly heavy and the hardware was equal to the task. The dining room held a massive dark-walnut table and at least eight chairs. On family occasions this configuration could be extended and added onto, stretching out into the front hall to accommodate up to thirty diners.

The kitchen, apparently rebuilt in the twenties, was restaurant-size. The stove stood on its own raised brick hearth and contained warming ovens, baking ovens, a griddle, and six gas burners. The range and depth of the glassed-in cupboards matched the prodigious stove, as did the refrigerator, a converted four-door icebox powered by a compressor in the cellar. Wedged between the kitchen and the dining room, a breakfast room served as the true heart of the house. It was sunny, cozy, and abutted the walk-in pantry from which each of us children regularly filched supplies. My brother Peter was an inveterate tippler of vinegar, which seemed a simple gluttony to me then. One of my two oldest brothers was a raisin devourer, the other, nuts. I stole sugar lumps, though not for myself—I fed them to every horse that passed up or down the steep lane, delivering bakery goods, milk, or hauling the garbage wagons.

Just outside the back door grew what I believed was the only ginkgo tree in Germantown. Every fall it dropped squashy, odoriferous fruits that had to be raked up and disposed of. I admired this tree greatly for its antiquity and Oriental origin. On the other side of the house a spreading copper beech provided a leafy bower of privacy for my cousin Barbara, who lived just two backyards away, and me. It was a favorite climbing tree until one of my boy cousins, who also lived nearby, fell out of it and broke his arm. Climbing the tree joined the seemingly long list of things forbidden us.

In the lower garden my mother maintained stiff beds of peonies, delphinia, roses, and other perennials, and a wide cutting bed of zinnias, cosmos, asters, and petunias. A gardener named Clinton came each week to look after the lawn and garden beds, but my mother was there frequently, decreeing which flowers to cut, and carrying in great basketfuls of blooms for her "arrangements." She had some rigid opinions about what constituted a proper bouquet and would not tolerate mixed species. Every night at bedtime the great glass vases of flowers were removed from the living, dining, and music rooms and were stored in the front vestibule to preserve their freshness.

Behind the formal garden there was enough space left for badminton, croquet, and, all fall and winter, football. Because there were never enough boys to make up two teams, I was frequently pressed into service as center for both squads. After I had spun the ball between my legs to the waiting receiver, I had to run to the sidelines until the play was completed. It was just barely better than not being allowed to take part at all.

At the very back of the yard, brambles, lilacs, and unnamed greenery made a good cover for violets, Johnny-jump-ups, and lilies of the valley, which I picked carefully in separate bunches for my mother. In the deepest corner of this tangled growth, my brothers had built a tree house which Barbara and I burgled regularly. We stole peanut butter and comic books and forbidden jackknives and buried our treasure under the lilacs, where some shards may still remain.

Germantown then was a smug and sleepy sort of suburb, upper-middle-class Protestant in tone, although several Jewish families, even some not related to us, had invaded the precinct. Saturdays and any day when school was out, I could take a sandwich and an apple and go hiking in Carpenter's Woods, which abutted Fairmount Park. There were miles of trails in the woods and park, a good, deep creek bed, little frog ponds, shallow caves in the rock outcroppings, providing a rich playground for resourceful kids on their own.

Grown-ups went horseback riding in the park from several livery stables that ringed it, and the Park Guards, an elite group in splendid uniforms, patrolled the area on horseback. Every man was responsible for his own horse and they were beautifully turned out. Sometimes, although it was against regulations, a favorite guard would let a child sit on his horse as it stood dozing in the sun. These halcyon moments fed my lifelong obsession.

Out-of-doors, away from the constraints of a Germanic household, my childhood was untrammeled. Dogs followed me home (with a little persuading) but I was never allowed to keep a stray. A succession of dogs scarred my home life. One, a German shepherd, was poisoned. Another, a wire-haired fox terrier, developed an incurable mange and had to be destroyed. A favorite Irish setter wandered off and was never found.

Cats were forbidden. My mother didn't trust them, for they jumped into perambulators and sucked the infants' breath. My grandmother had a canary, which sang ceaselessly, nourished on what were very likely marijuana seeds. And my great-aunt, my grandmother Winokur's step-sister, had a pet monkey, which seemed to me the ne plus ultra of house pets. I vowed I would fill up my adult life with animals; this has proved extremely easy to do.

Inside, however, life was quite regimented. In addition to the live-in cook and butler and the once-a-week laundress, my mother hired a "governess" to look after my brother Peter and me, although she was not called by that title. A young German girl who had immigrated to the States in 1920, she came to live with us a few years before I was born. My mother addressed her as Agnes, other adults, Fräulein, but we four children called her Froy. She shared my room, sleeping in the other twin bed until I was seven years old, when she left to marry a German restaurateur, and she was a constant, favored visitor in our house as long as I can remember. We stayed in touch faithfully. After I was married, I continued to visit her. Victor and I took the children—the youngest was still in arms—to see her in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. I was quite taken aback by her permissiveness, for I had remembered her as kind, but strict.

Nothing in my childhood surpassed my love for Froy. She was truly my mother. Her departure left a deep wound which was almost unbearable for many years; somehow I had become convinced that she had gone away because of a flaw in my character. My mother, who had little patience with children and a busy social life of her own, reinforced this notion by exclaiming at least once a day that I had "changed" since Froy departed.

I lost my ability to speak German almost instantly, although it had been my mother tongue. I lost completely the considerable vocabulary I had had, and over a lifetime I have never regained it. Froy's brother had been a U-boat captain in the First World War. Her parents still lived in Bremen. With the news coming from the Fatherland in the early thirties, it was hard not to think dark thoughts of her rejection. And what about her husband? Someone with the same last name was a member of the German-American Bund. These and other false rumors swirled around my head. Years later, I learned how painful this period had been for Froy and her family.


At the age of five, over my father's mild objections, my mother sent me next door to the nuns to attend their kindergarten. It was immensely convenient; I ducked through a gap in the privet and managed to arrive at my place in line (we were sized by height before marching into our classroom) before the bell had stilled. Moreover, I felt very much at home in the convent, as I was a frequent guest on Sundays after Mass, when the sisters enjoyed a lovely brunch. The mother superior of the order, Mother Rosarine, spoiled me outrageously—I heard this repeated at home, almost daily—and I usually sat on her lap at the table. My schooling continued at the convent through second grade, at which time the crucifixion of Jesus became as much an issue for me as animal cruelty. No matter that I was told, on one side of the hedge, that the Romans had done that to Him. On the other side, quite matter-of-factly and without casting blame on my innocent state, it was the Jews who had fastened Him to the Cross. A larger-than-life-size replica of the crucifixion hung in the main corridor of the schoolroom; daily there was no escaping this piteous sight.

The Jesuits are reputed to say, "Give us a child until he is eight and he will be ours always." I was deeply touched by my early experience at convent school, but the final effect of my bifurcated religious education was quite simply to feed my skepticism. Jesus became for me a symbol of goodness and humility that I never quite relinquished, a very human figure in an otherwise quite mysterious faith full of saints available for special intercessions.

The appeal of the nuns was their seemingly neutral gender; they, most surely, were not troubled by the itch of sexual feelings. Indeed, in their black habits and starched white fronts, their stiff wimples beneath which not even one hair showed, they appeared to me to be seamless, all of one skin, like a fish. The nuns were good neighbors. In 1934, when my brother Herbert lay gravely ill with pneumonia, they came in pairs to sit day and night at his bedside. The doctor put him on a new, still-experimental medication called sulfanilamide and he recovered, claimed equally by science and religion.

It was hard not quite to belong in that calm, faith-centered world next door. Voices were not raised there, nor doors slammed. There were no late parties which grew boisterous as the alcohol circulated. No father furious over department-store bills, no constantly bickering brothers tormenting each other to the point where my exasperated father made them put on boxing gloves and pummel each other mercilessly. Then, hating each other more than ever, they were forced to shake hands and declare an end to combat.

To be a Jewish child in Germantown in the thirties was sometimes painful. More than once I was pursued with cries of "Christ-killer." Even harder to sort out was the omnipresent but invisible line that divided Jews from non-Jew-hating Christians. Both of my parents spoke with pride of their "good Christian-friends." Rut it was clear that this level of friendship differed from friendships within the brotherhood. There were things they didn't say in front of "the Gentiles." There were in-group jokes, sprinkled with Yiddishisms, which could only be told in the right company, and there were tacit admissions of abhorrent traits.

My mother, for example, was driven wild by any of us gesticulating in the course of a conversation. "Don't talk with your hands!" she hissed. "You look like an immigrant." Until I was in my teens I believed that only Jews used gestures or stood close enough to breathe on each other as they conversed.

All of us attended Sunday school at Temple Rodeph Shalom during the reign of Rabbi Louis Wolsey. Here, too, we received a double message. We were exhorted to be proud of our Jewish heritage but enjoined savagely from Zionism. We were not in favor of planting trees in (then) Palestine. As late as 1940, we were required to write an essay titled "America, Not Palestine, My National Homeland."

Reform Jews in that congregation did not learn Hebrew beyond the alphabet and a few simple prayers. These were taught by rote; there was no effort to treat Hebrew as another language with its own grammar. Pronunciation was still old-style Ashkenazi. There were no chuppahs, no yarmulkes, certainly no stamping on glasses at weddings, which we were told was a leftover paganism. The services at Rodeph Shalom were almost indistinguishable from Unitarian services—we even sang some of the same hymns—but in our house we did light candles every Friday night and say the Sabbath blessing. We celebrated Hanukkah, we ate homemade Hamentashen at Purim, and we held enormous Seders—one night only, of course—attended by all of the Simon family within reach, as well as by my father's brother, with his wife and two sons, two sets of courtesy aunts and uncles, and an occasional stray, someone stranded in Philadelphia over the holiday. It was a family practice always to include one or two "good Christian friends" to celebrate Passover with us. Somehow I felt we were actors performing a famous play for their edification.

My mother spent days getting ready for this dinner party of all dinner parties. The best damask linen, the best Bohemian cut-glass goblets, the family silver, huge and heavy. My father bought the wine—Chablis and cabernets, for he could not abide the sweet taste of Concord grape wine—and there was grape juice for the children who were young enough to prefer it. He was in his glory at the head of the table, a benevolent patriarch given to jokes and raillery throughout the service.

The gefiltefish was made according to my maternal grandmother's recipe, German style, which involved stuffing the ground fish back into its skin before poach- ing it, a terrible penance for the cook. The matzoh balls, klaes, they were called, were also prepared à l'allemande, and they were magically light. Dessert was always a kistorte, an enormous confection made of meringue in the shape of a castle, the fallen center larded with fresh strawberries suspended in whipped cream. And during Passover week, my mother, who cooked nothing else, made fahnkuchen, skillet-size pancakes of matzoh meal, sugar, and egg whites, which puffed up during the baking and melted on the tongue.

Not that we were deprived of Christmas. For many years we had a tree, somewhat hidden from view, on the upstairs landing, complete with winking lights, tinsel, and ornaments. We children got presents, as did the cook and her husband. But our Christmas was a private, almost shamefaced celebration informed by the sneaking sense that we had no right to it. We lived in a Christian world; we were in it, if not of it. Unfortunately, we were not exactly "of" the world in which we did belong.

These dichotomies pursued me into adolescence, and I think my experience was not atypical for American Jews of my generation. Parents made great efforts to assimilate into the suburban culture, but only up to a point. They went to their own country clubs, they organized their own dancing classes for their offspring (and these, in my circle, were further stratified into most desirable, less, and least, a hierarchy based on elusive criteria of social standing). They did not approve of mixed dating, which led to mixed marriages, but they desperately wanted their sons and daughters to go to Ivy League or Seven Sister colleges, where they were most easily enticed away from their parochial views.

Hardest of all, there were gradations of Jews. We were expected to observe these as rigorously as we observed certain behavior when in the company of Christians. These injunctions were laid down by my mother, who was extremely conscious of origins and income. In the case of, for example, the Mendeses, who were descended from Sephardic Jews (this term in its earlier version referred to Spanish Jews who came to the New World before the American Revolution) and were, in my mother's euphemism, "not well-off," origins canceled out income. The Mendes family was not only acceptable, but sought-after company. In the case of (here I will invent a name) the Glitskis, who owned a department-store chain and lived garishly in a mansion, income overrode origins and they too were written into the canon, But the vast land between these two extremes was pocked with pitfalls: nouveaux riches who were too nouveaux for polite society, Sunday-school classmates whose Russian and Polish surnames indicated their families were recent arrivals, and so on. Philadelphia Jewish society, it seems to me at this safe remove, was as intricately structured and as frail as the towers my brother Peter built with his Erector Set.


Third grade commenced for me at the public school a mile away. Peter was assigned to walk with me for the purpose of seeing me safely across half-a-dozen intersections. Since I was not allowed to accompany him the length of the blocks for fear of subjecting him to the ridicule of his peers, we were a strange pair leapfrogging along, he waiting for me to catch up at the cross streets, I admonished to stay back while he strode ahead unencumbered by a little sister.

In private, Peter and I were best friends and confidantes. Within a fairly boisterous and aggressive family we were each other's bulwark, a sympathetic contract that continued through our mutually dreadful adolescences and into early adulthood.

While many of the children in our neighborhood were sent off to Germantown Academy, Friends Central, or Penn Charter, all four of us attended public schools. My father did not approve of private-school education; it did not prepare you to meet the real world. In many ways he was fiercely plebeian, proud of his humble beginnings, his decision to leave school early (he finished high school by attending night classes) while his older brother stayed on. I suspect it was not need but restlessness that impelled my father to drop out of school. An autodidact, he was something of a mathematical wizard. He used to astonish us children by doing enormous sums in his head. He could multiply and divide, carry decimals into six places, split percentages into splinters without benefit of pencil and paper. Alas, I did not inherit any of his mathematical genes.

Our grammar school was notable for its principal, a little, white-haired spinster who conducted bird walks in spring and fall and managed, she boasted, by judi- cious use of transfers, to keep black children out of her classrooms. I was a model of scholarship and deportment. In fifth and sixth grades, however, I met my nemesis in the form of the sewing teacher. I could not master coordination of the treadle sewing machine; my thread invariably broke, requiring me to start over rethreading. I can still see that menacing chart on the wall with incomprehensible instructions of steps one through eight. I have managed to live my life relatively free of needle and thread. The men in my family sew on their own buttons.

Germantown had a good public library, the Lovett Memorial, within bicycling distance for me. A child could borrow six books at a time, which fitted nicely into the basket strapped to my handlebars. The library smelled wonderful. The aroma was a mixture of varnish and white paste, newsprint and ageless dust. The librarian was kind and let me take out Paul de Kruif's Microbe Hunters, even though it was not in my age category.

I don't remember learning how to read, but I know I could do so before I went next door to kindergarten, because this fact was much remarked by the nuns. After A.A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame and the Bobbsey Twins, I finished all my brothers' Tom Swifts. British books were better than American ones, I decided, basing this on my two most favorite texts, The Bastable Children, by E. Nesbit, and a long-lost horse book called Silver Snaffles, by Primrose Cumming. I didn't care for the Walter Farley books; they were too violent. Black Beauty was too sad. But I was writing a horse book of my own, and managed three chapters in a lined copybook before I ran out of steam.

Writing poetry was much more to my taste. I was a facile rhymer, and effusive nature poems came forth almost unbidden. My brother Herbert illustrated a sheaf of these when I was eight, which gained me even more notoriety. Within the family I was alternately respected and mocked as a budding intellectual.

My aunt Bea—my father's sister-in-law and my mother's archrival—began to take an interest in me as I emerged into adolescence. She gave me her own set of Louisa May Alcott novels. Until then, I had read only Little Men, Little Women, and Jo's Boys. Little by little she fed my romantic nature with Edna St. Vincent Millay and Elinor Wylie, Willa Cather and Ellen Glasgow. The mother of two sons, she was lonely for a daughter. My mother, who was, I thought, fiercely critical of me for not conforming to her standards of femininity or social grace, was nevertheless reluctant to share me.

But I was not the prime battleground between these two strong-minded women. Aunt Bea fancied herself a linguist. She had spent several years in Paris during a period when her mother had made a disastrous second marriage, and she was of course fluent in German, for her mother had been born in Berlin. Moreover, Aunt Bea had a college degree and many of her friends were educated women. My mother had left the conservatory at nineteen in order to marry my father. She had grown up in a small town in Virginia among chickens and cows, not cathedrals and museums. Although she had won an elocution prize for reciting "The Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight," although she had played the organ for the Methodist Church every Sunday, she had not sojourned in Paris nor set foot in the Louvre. And while she maintained a lavish table and raised abundant, bright flowers, her bookcases did not wrap around the living room, crammed with alphabetized authors, many of whom had signed their volumes. This undeclared vendetta sustained these women well into their old age.

I remained in the vortex of the little tempest they generated. Each time I returned to Germantown from college, I reentered Aunt Bea's cloister like a celebrity. She mixed and served, in place of tea, a Dubonnet-and-gin concoction that was sweet enough to drink and powerful enough to induce giddiness. My mother so fulminated against these visits that, twenty-five years later, when each of them was widowed and lived a few blocks apart in central Philadelphia, I had to resort to considerable subterfuge to continue to see my aunt. It was a terribly sad ending; little by little she grew senile and toward the end recognized no one. I think even my mother, who longed for revenge against her lifelong adversary, was shocked by this ignominy.


Looking back over my long tenure in the Germantown public schools (elementary school then included seventh and eighth grades), it seems to me that I fared quite well. Sewing class was the major trauma of those years. Cooking classes in the final two years were delightful excursions into white sauce and bread pudding, skills I have never since used.

Once a week, after school, I ran uphill to Ross-Del Riding Academy, where I was allotted my one, one-dollar-an-hour lesson. I earned others by staying late to feed and muck out, groom horses and clean the muddy, worn tack, but I lied about these activities. My mother, who had doubtless seen a good deal of menial stable duty in her girlhood, did not approve. Sometimes I stayed overnight with my best friend, Nancy Farquhar, who lived in a tidy row house on Germantown Avenue across from the fire station. Our favorite activity was spying on the lives of the firemen, whose second-floor dining and rec. rooms were clearly visible from an upstairs window. Less often, Nancy stayed at my house. In retrospect it seems odd to me that my mother did not disapprove of this friendship, for it met none of her social criteria. Often, though, she surprised me with little acts of largesse and affection which tapped into the immense reservoir of love I felt I had always to hold back.

The summer I turned eleven I was sent off to Camp Watitoh in Becket, Massachusetts, directed by the de Sola Mendes family of New York City. Unlike my brothers, who had had for the most part to settle for two weeks at a time at Boy Scout or Y camps, I enjoyed a full eight-week season in the Berkshires. This setting was to become the safe house of my stormy adolescence. (Indeed, my husband likes to say that he married me to rescue me from summer camp.) Long before Earth Science and Environmental Studies became worthy categories, camps like Watitoh were focusing on what was known as Nature. Here too I became a proficient swimmer, earning, as the years advanced, all the American Red Cross certificates, including that of Water Safety Instructor. And here, for the first time since my relationship with Nancy Farquhar, I formed some abiding friendships with bunkmates.

Camp Watitoh was a coeducational camp for Jewish boys and girls. Friday-night services were held in an outdoor amphitheater; candlelight combined with the strong aroma of citronella to create the appropriate ambiance. Campers were encouraged to write their own services. At Watitoh I fell out of the bosom of the Almighty into the strong arms of Pantheism. I wrote reams of purple prose in praise of the Oversoul, although I did not know that far more systematic thinkers had preceded me.

The Mendes family members were Sephardic Jews (old-style Sephardic) and ardent Zionists. I felt as though I were in the enemy camp, where coins were collected to plant the very trees in Palestine that our Philadelphia rabbi had vigorously denounced. As my skepticism grew, Jesus looked more and more temperate to me by contrast.

It wasn't just the Zionist issue. I didn't know much about the Spanish Civil War, but I knew we sided with the Loyalists. The rise of Nazism in the thirties colored all our lives. My father had always been a news hound. Now he followed the Fascist acquisitions of the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia with worried interest. The America Firsters outraged him. Neville Chamberlain was a traitor. As the dreadful truths began creeping out of Nazi Germany, my father received a spate of letters from relatives, or relatives of relatives, in Poland, begging for his assistance. One of my most vivid memories from this period is of coming upon my powerful parent, uncharacteristically seated at the dining-room table long after the dishes had been cleared away, with crumpled pages of a letter spread before him. His head was in his hands and when he looked up at me I saw that he was in tears. It was a wordless moment, but I understood. Finally he spoke.

"They will all die," he said. "This is the pogrom to end all pogroms."

For long before it was public information, news of the concentration camps had sifted into the Jewish community. No one else seemed to care. Even my father's beloved Roosevelt failed him. I began having horrendous nightmares of being pursued and captured by the Nazis: just as after the Lindbergh kidnapping I had had nightmares of pursuit and capture by the mailman, who stuffed me into his mail sack and carted me away. A deep sense of guilt over having been born a safe American Jew haunted me. By an accident of fate I was to survive while millions went to labor camps—we did not quite know about the ovens yet. Out of sympathy with my father I began to share his news broadcasts. I was educated in the root causes and outbreak of World War II by such radio commentators as Raymond Gram Swing, H.V. Kaltenborn, Elmer Davis, Max Lerner, and Fulton Lewis, Jr., who boomed into our living room telling the same tale over and over but from divergent viewpoints.

At the close of eighth grade, my future became the subject of parental debate. My mother, to her credit, argued that I not be sent to Germantown High School, where my brother Peter, lacking the athletic prowess of his two older brothers, was having a miserable time. My father, adamantly opposed to private schools, at length compromised. I was sent out of the township to Elkins Park Junior High, where I repeated the eighth grade and thus grew a year closer to my proper age-group. (I had skipped twice in elementary school and was two years younger than most of my classmates.) The tuition in Elkins Park for commuting students was two hundred dollars a year. I continued from junior high to Cheltenham High School, a participant in the final group of the experimental Columbia Eight-Year Study Plan. In this program students proceeded at their own rate, retaining the same teachers, through the various curricula. Dutifully I plodded through plane geometry, but in Latin and English classes my soul leapt up.

I have written elsewhere about Juanita Mae Downes and Dorothy Lambert, two heroic figures who made a profound difference in my life. With Miss Downes I studied Latin year by year, moving from Caesar's Gallic War through Cicero to Virgil (including the forbidden chapter set in Dido's cave; Miss Downes was a purist and omitted nothing). My senior year in high school was largely devoted to translating Ovid's Metamorphoses into matching hexameters. In Mrs. Lambert's English class I read all of Dostoevsky and, for ballast perhaps, Hopkins, Arnold, Housman, and Hardy. This wonderful teacher believed as devoutly in the rules of prosody as any of my nuns had believed in the Second Coming. Once again, I was an enthusiastic convert.

Scholastically, the switch to another township was a sound move. Psychologically, however, it nearly destroyed me. Because I commuted both ways by trolley and train—an hour each way—I had little or no social life involving my peers. The passage through adolescence was a lonely, involuted time for me. None except other outcasts—a paraplegic boy crippled by polio, who reported sports events for the school paper; an epileptic black girl who played in the orchestra—held out a hand in friendship to me. Although I was on the staff of the school newspaper and the literary magazine, I had no one to eat lunch with, and took my sandwich to the locker room, where I pretended to be busy writing an article.

Forced to attend dancing class on alternate Saturday nights, where all of the popular girls were indifferent students in my French or history section, I hid in the ladies' room until the ordeal ended. I think I was enabled to survive this dreadful period of isolation, if not ostracism, by the underpinning of my happy Other Life in summer. In July and August I became someone else. The other ten months of the year, shut out by the snobbism and cliquishness of my classmates, I took refuge in scholarship.


Although I had applied to Wellesley College, which not only had a fine swimming pool but also an underwater observation room for analyzing swim strokes, I was not accepted. For while they did not openly practice the quota system, virtually all the top colleges and universities at that time sharply limited the number of Jews and other minorities they accepted. Instead, I attended Radcliffe, where the basement pool wasn't even regulation size. Nevertheless, I swam for the team all four years and captained it in my senior year. I also stood lifeguard duty—the pay was a dollar an hour—and taught swimming to those few students who had somehow never mastered the rudiments. One could not then receive a diploma without passing a simple swimming test in deep water.

At Radcliffe epithets with which I had been branded—bookworm, greasy grind, brain trust—now became a badge of honor. Dorm life brought me into contact with girls from vastly different backgrounds and geographies. Hemmed in by rigid parietals, we quite

easily fell into the pattern of late-night bull sessions in the smoking room. Politics, the war, our public and personal aspirations all came under scrutiny. And boys; although they called us girls, we called them men. Cambridge was full of uniforms. The navy was turning out ensigns at the business school; they were known as ninety-day wonders. The army had language training programs in Russian and Chinese at Harvard. Because of the war, Cliffies no longer had to attend separate classes, but were finally integrated into the regular lectures in Harvard Yard.

At Radcliffe my parochial Jewishness fell away. Unself-consciously, I found friends of varying beliefs and hues, some in the camaraderie of the swimming team and the freshman crew, my new sports enthusiasm, others through proximity in the dorm, and still others in the course of developing a social conscience.

In 1942, the Fore River shipyard workers went out on strike in an effort to vote in a union of their own. With a few other Cliffies, most of them juniors and seniors, I rose at dawn, caught the 6:00 A.M. subway to Ash- mont, where an antique station wagon belonging to the CIO met us, and reached the factory gates in time to hand out leaflets as the shift changed. Later, after breakfast in a diner (my first diner!), we helped with the writing and layout of the union newspaper, a weekly. My high-school experience with layout served me well; I became the chief headline composer.

I did not report this new activity in my weekly letters home; some uncharacteristic caution caused me to withhold my enthusiasm, even though my father was a Democrat and believed firmly in the New Deal. To my astonishment I received a furious phone call from him. My father had never before initiated such contact. He demanded that I stay away from Fore River and give up all union activities. The FBI had taken out a dossier on me. An agent had paid my father a personal call alerting him. The union effort, he said, was being marshaled by Commies and fellow travelers.

Even now, I don't really understand from what reservoir I drew the strength to argue back.

"I'll yank you out of that fancy college so fast your head will spin!" shouted my irate parent at extra-decibel level. Just talking long-distance always caused him to raise his voice across the miles, but this time he was bellowing. "You hear me?"

"You do that," I said. "My grades are all A's. I'll just apply for a scholarship and a work-study job and stay right here."

He never broached the subject again.

The following summer—1943—I applied for a job on the assembly line making weather balloons for the army at ninety cents an hour, nonunion. I planned to share an apartment in Cambridge with three classmates who had signed on for similar jobs, but at the end of May I came down with a mysterious fever. Initially diagnosed as polio, only after an anxious week of chills and delirium did it resolve itself as a severe case of measles. I don't remember how I passed the three weeks I had to spend in a darkened room, forbidden to read, but my relief at having been spared the paralysis everyone dreaded is still fresh in my mind.

Once I had recovered I went back to Camp Watitoh. Shorthanded because of the war, the directors were glad to take me back.

The balance of physical and intellectual activity seemed to be something I not only craved but required. That pattern has persisted. I still find that three hours at my desk leaves me keyed up and restless and that to go to the garden or to the barn restores my sanity.

My undergraduate years were brightened by such notable professors as Albert Guerard, Jr., Michael Karpovich, F.O. (Matty) Matthiessen, and Harry Levin. I wrote my senior honors thesis under Professor Levin's benevolent eye. He and my oldest cousin, Joseph Hyman, had been Rhodes scholars together, which gave me an extra edge.


In April of 1945, on a blind date, I met an army sergeant, Harvard '43, Victor Kumin. Our mutual infatuation was instant and headlong. In June I rushed out to Amarillo, Texas (two days by train, via Chicago), ostensibly to visit my cousin Barbara, who was working as a clerk at the air-force base where her father was a colonel. Victor, one of George Kistiakowsky and Oppenheimer's soldier-scientists, who had been whisked out of their other geographies in a highly secret deployment, was stationed at Los Alamos. He was able to wangle a three-day pass and hitchhiked across the desert to see me. At the end of this all-too-brief liaison, my uncle Sam managed to reserve a hotel room for us in Albuquerque, which was as close as civilians were permitted to come to the facility at Los Alamos. If Victor signed back in at camp, he could get another forty-eight-hour release, so we set off by bus. This conveyance broke down midway. Everyone disembarked and we spread blankets and pillows on hummocks of sand and admired the cactus roses by moonlight.

Although I had been offered a fellowship for the fall of 1946 to study at the University of Grenoble, passion prevailed. We were married in June of 1946, just after I graduated and Victor was mustered out of the army; we set out for Woods Hole, where he was employed by the Oceanographic Institution. In the late

fall we came back to Boston, and, after a dreary period of working as a general factotum for an organization called United Service to China—Chiang Kai-shek's China, that is—I returned to graduate school.

By the summer of 1948 I had completed all the requirements for an M.A. in comparative literature, except for the ancient-language proficiency exam, which I flunked to my chagrin. Harry Levin interceded for me. I was by then visibly pregnant. On grounds that I was not planning to press on for my Ph.D. at that time, he had the requirement waived and the degree was conferred. Lucky for me, as some ten years later the M.A. enabled me to get a job at Tufts University teaching freshman composition to the dental technicians, engineers, and phys-ed majors. I was not considered qualified to teach liberal-arts students there.

In the ensuing five years we had three children, moved several times, and finally bought a modest house in a suburb of Boston so that we could take advantage of the highly touted Newton public schools. During this period I freelanced as a medical writer for a variety of ambitious, busy physicians, doing research at the Boston Medical Library whenever the babysitter came, and settling down at night to ghosting articles for my employers.

In the fall of 1952, pregnant for the third time, I began to suffer from a terrible anomie, a sense of rootlessness and futility. I wasn't what could be called clinically depressed, but I felt woefully unfulfilled.

The life I was leading was the post-World War II life I had been programmed to lead: suburban housewife, mother, active in PTA and community organizations, supposedly keeping the intellectual flame alive by way of Great Books discussions (I was a workshop leader) and my own underground poems. These I shared with no one. For hadn't The Famous Writer who taught my English A-1 class told me in my freshman year that I had no talent in this arena? Nor was I writing the book reviews and intelligent articles on trends in modern literature that I had vaguely fantasized would make my debut as a writer. I had not found the courage to strike out on my own, like Conrad's Secret Sharer, in search of a new destiny.

On impulse I sent away for a little text by Richard Armour called Writing Light Verse. I made a pact with myself that if I had sold nothing by the time this baby was born I would turn my back on the Muse and find a new vocation.

From articles in the Writer, I deduced that magazines and newspapers had their own advance timetable for poems. What I needed to do, in the early winter, was to think about spring. On March 17, 1953, I finally sold a seasonal quatrain to the Christian Science Monitor, and soon I was appearing in the Monitor on a regular basis. My filler verses ran in the Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Herald Tribune, and a dozen smaller periodicals. By the end of the year I had set up a card file of markets and established a cottage industry that netted me 1,200 dollars, all without neglecting—the buzzword of the fifties—husband and children.

But my discontent and my guilt over these feelings continued to nag me. I wanted to write real poems. I haunted the Grolier Book Shop in Cambridge on my

one day off each week from motherhood. I read all the post-World War II poets, only subliminally aware that there were virtually no women among them. I skulked around the fringes of poetry readings at various universities. I went on writing poems in the dark, keenly aware that I lacked focus, lacked direction; I did not then understand that I needed a mentor.

The winter of 1956 I heard about a poetry workshop at the Boston Center for Adult Education, to be conducted by John Holmes, a poet and professor from Tufts. I believe the workshop first came together in January of 1957. Anne Sexton and I met in that group and there began the intense personal and professional friendship that sustained us both as we came of age as poets. Women poets, it seems important to add. I have written elsewhere about our relationship and my hard grief over her suicide in 1974, and about our very different associations with John Holmes, who won me my first teaching post at Tufts.

The rest of my life is an open book. Now, in my sixties, trying to balance the life of the mind against the physically taxing demands of our farm, it occurs to me that my discontent over my chronic inability to make the pieces fit neatly together is not unlike the angst I endured in the early years of my marriage. The women's movement did not yet exist. The notion of role models was not yet being explored. I probably could not have articulated my unease and resentment even if a sympathetic hearing had been provided.

The three adults who are still our children have informed and changed my life in more ways than they will admit to, but establishing a balance point is not one of them. It seems to me that I am forever pursuing the fulcrum. Since I suspect that this is the source of my creative energy, I pray it will continue to elude me for a long time to come.

Kumin contributed the following update to Contemporary Authors in 2007:

In the final paragraph of my original essay, I summed up rather hastily, saying, "The rest of my life is an open book." I had no idea how much more there was to tell but now, in my eighty-second year, I pick up the narrative I so hastily dropped in 1989.

The years from 1959 to 1974 were rich with the slow unfolding of my life as a poet in the suburbs. Anne Sexton and I conferred daily, sometimes hourly, by phone as we wrote. We each had a second line installed in our homes so that we could connect, work, whistle into the receiver, and get instant feedback on the poems in process. We were both stay-at-home mothers, though I was beginning to publish children's books. I confess I viewed these as a sort of at-home craft, like quilting. The women's movement had not yet arrived, but it was on the horizon.

Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex first appeared in English in 1953. She argued that men had made women into the Other in society and had surrounded them with a false aura of mystery. This stereotyping, she declared, became an excuse not to understand women or their problems. De Beauvoir preceded the feminist politics of Betty Freidan, whose The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, significantly enhanced the women's movement. I read it hungrily. Freidan was one of the founders of NOW, the National Organization for Women, in 1966, and in 1999 helped found NARAL, originally an acronym for the National As- sociation for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. As these new ideas filtered into the general consciousness women poets no longer hid behind their first initials. The poetry editors of major magazines and literary journals grew more hospitable to women poets seeking inclusion. The epithet "domestic poems" began to fall away and the poets themselves began writing with a surer vision about their bodies, pregnancies, emotions and social issues of every stripe.

Sexton and I both acquired a respectable list of journals for the acknowledgment pages of our first books. Mine, Halfway, appeared in 1961, as did Anne's, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, just a year before my father died. I'm not sure that he ever read the poems or my first children's book, Sebastian and the Dragon, which had been published in 1960, but he held both volumes in his hands. His pleasure was palpable. I had made him proud. His daughter a published writer!

To our mutual astonishment, that year Anne and I both received scholarships to the newly created Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, under the leadership of redoubtable Mary (Polly) Bunting, Radcliffe's president. Polly Bunting was an outspoken feminist; she was determined to realize Virginia Woolf's "room of one's own" for all women writers, artists and scientists. Whenever her porch light was on, students, alumnae and others were free to drop in. Thanks to her dedication we enjoyed two fruitful years of free time to write, read, and think, and to socialize with our fellow scholars who were artists, historians, physicists, and sculptors. Some long-lasting friendships were forged during this period, notably with poet Ruth Stone, sculptor Marianna Pineda, artist Barbara Swan, and historian Lily Makrakis. Equally important was the validation we received as poets. I remember Anne saying, "Now, when somebody calls me and I'm writing, I don't have to say, ‘I can't talk to you right now, I'm making gravy.’ I can say, I'm writing a poem."

In 1963, Victor and I bought an old New Hampshire farm of 125 acres for $11,500. We had gone in search of some property within a two-hour drive where we could take kids and dog for weekends and holidays. Almost instantly, we settled on an abandoned farmhouse, half a mile up a winding hill, in sorry need of repair, with an old dairy barn half caved in across the road and acres of brambles that had once been fields. Once the house was reroofed, it proved an ideal getaway. For several years it was not unusual for us to put up several enthusiastic teenagers, who helped cut back blackberry and sumac, dug for treasure in old cellar holes, coming up with old medicine bottles, and after a supper of spaghetti with sauce unrolled their sleeping bags on the living-room floor.

My second collection of poems, The Privilege, appeared in 1965 and in that same year, Harper & Row published my first novel, Through Dooms of Love. Four more novels and a collection of short stories were to come. In 1969, I had the good fortune to be invited by John Ciardi to join the staff of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Ripton, Vermont, for a lively two-week session of workshops, lectures and poetry readings.

At the same time, I was busily writing children's books. Title IV funds were widely available at that time and picture books were in great demand. G.P. Putnam asked me to try a story using a limited, easy-to-read vocabulary—their editor supplied the limited list of words and I was permitted to utilize a very short list of "outside" words of my own choosing. The strictures intrigued me. The rules were like the rules for poetic forms such as villanelles, pantoums, and sonnets. I quickly wrote four little stories about the four seasons—written in rhyming couplets and a limited vocabulary—which surprised and pleased my editor, who had not expected verse, and I was launched. I wrote a total of seventeen books for Putnam, many in rhyme. Two of them, Eggs of Things (1963) and More Eggs of Things (1964) in prose, using a limited vocabulary deemed appropriate for beginning readers, were written in collaboration with Anne. We had such a delightful and often hilarious time composing these that, a few years later, we undertook two storybooks in an unrestricted vocabulary, Joey and the Birthday Present (1971) and The Wizard's Tears (1975), both published by McGraw-Hill. (Alas, Anne did not live to see our wizard in print.)

At the same time, I continued to write my own serious poetry. It almost seemed that one stream fed the other. My fourth book, Up Country, won the Pulitzer Prize

in 1973. I was so shaken by the publicity that followed the announcement—local television trailers and spotlights invaded our quiet street in suburban Boston as two stations vied to get the bewildered poet on their six o'clock newscasts—that I fled the next day to our still-derelict farm in New Hampshire. I stayed away until the everyday flow of happenings overrode my instant celebrity. But the die had been cast. The Pulitzer initiated what I came to call "po-biz," an era of dizzying travel to almost every state in the nation to give poetry readings, or to teach for a semester or six to ten weeks.

Anne Sexton's suicide in October of 1974 came just after she had left our weekly lunch, a ritual at my house following her weekly psychologist's appointment. We had sandwiches. I mentioned Victor's and my upcoming trip to Tehran, where he was to consult for his firm on the feasibility of installing a subway system, of all things (!). I finished the leftover morning coffee. Anne had two vodkas, which was not unusual. I walked out to the car with her, we embraced, she waved, pulling away from the curb. I did not pick up on her state of mind. On the contrary, she seemed calmer and more at peace with herself than I had observed her in a long time.

After the fact, I've returned to our conversation following her penultimate attempt, which Anne had broadcast by turning her dogs loose and phoning a priest friend to ask him for absolution. The next morning in the hospital where she was recuperating from having had her stomach pumped, she bitterly asked me why I didn't let her die. I replied that if she was going to telegraph her intentions I had no choice but to try to save her. She closed the subject saying, "Next time, I promise you, you won't know. Nobody will know."

Now, thirty-five years later, I find myself thinking of Anne almost daily. I've written several poems to her and about her, poems I did not particularly want to write. The first, "How It Is," opens: "Shall I say how it is in your clothes? / A month after your death I put on your blue jacket…." and the most recent, "The Revisionist Dream," begins: "Well, she didn't kill herself that afternoon. / It was a mild day in October, we sat outside…." One can never fully recover from a best friend's suicide. A part of me went missing with her death. In 1981, at Houghton Mifflin's invitation, I wrote a twenty-page foreword to The Collected Poems of Anne Sexton, which describes in some detail the arc of our friendship.

I went back to Bread Loaf for five more sessions after 1969, each summer renewing my friendship with fellow poet William Meredith. We took great pleasure in co-conducting workshops. Rainy afternoons, Bill and I and a group of fungi enthusiasts went mushroom hunting. Later, we sautéed our finds in Treman, the faculty retreat, to accompany our preprandial Bloody Marys. I will resist the temptation to drop the names of the famous who were there those late August weeks, except to say that Robert Frost, a frequent and favored visitor, sometimes gathered us younger members of the faculty into late-night groups at his feet. I have vivid memories of this scene and have described it in "The Final Poem" in Still to Mow.

In 1976, we left our little house in the suburbs and moved permanently to our New Hampshire farm. For years we had camped out in it as-is. Now we left the comforts of central heating for wood stoves, dependable wattage for frequent outages due to storms, and shades in every window as well as downstairs curtains for a wide-open lifestyle. Drafts blew in from around the windows. There were drafty gaps between the baseboards and the floor. We were to spend the next forty years rehabbing house and barn, having a marsh turned into an appealing and swimmable pond, clearing pastures, digging fence-post holes, spading up a tentative garden that evolved into a 40-x-40-foot gated organic vegetable plot with raised beds, tending a succession of goats, sheep, and most important of all, breeding and raising horses.

Po-biz continued. Twice I was named Hurst Professor, once at Brandeis University in Massachusetts in 1975 and a few years later (1978) at Washington University in St. Louis. I taught for a semester at Columbia University, went to Washington, DC, to serve as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress in 1981-82, a post that was renamed poet laureate of the United States and taught four semesters in the writing program at Princeton, where I became friends with Joyce Carol Oates and her husband, Raymond Smith, and Alicia and Jerry Ostriker. I taught for two more semesters at MIT, where a lively writing program flourished among the engineers and scientists. Two Nobel laureates, Roald Hoffmann and Salvatore Luria, sat in on and often created chaos and laughter in my weekly workshop. I would gladly have stayed at MIT, but my contract was not renewed under mysterious circumstances that had something to do with the granting of tenure to a controversial woman whom I had championed.

In 1995, the University of Miami proved a memorable venue, both for its talented women students in my seminar—I have described the locus and feeling tone of our sessions in my preface to Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics (2005)—and the support of John Balaban, who was the chair of the department and my boss, and whose wife and daughter also welcomed me as a frequent guest.

In 1996, I went west to teach for a ten-week term at a small college in Claremont, California. The college provided me with such substandard housing and I was treated with such indifference by the administrators and faculty that I came very close to decamping. But with access to a remarkable five-college library and a borrowed IBM Selectric typewriter, I wrote at white heat my fifth and final novel, an animal rights murder mystery titled Quit Monks or Die!

As McGee Professor of Writing at Davidson College, in 1997 I was made to feel very much at home, and my active participation in po-biz culminated in a delightful term as Doenges Professor at Mary Baldwin College, where I was accompanied by my husband, in 2002.

At that time I vowed to undertake no more trips away from the farm. I was still suffering from the residual pains of a horrendous carriage-driving accident in 1998 in which I broke my neck in three places; it seemed the right time to call a halt to all but local po-biz. I should not have survived that accident. Indeed, my surgeon informed me that ninety-five percent of people with that fracture die in situ and of the five percent who live, five percent are quadriplegics. My guardian angel was a carriage-driving friend, who was observing that sunny July day. An emergency-room nurse, she ran out on the field to prevent anyone from turning me over, called 911 and insisted on a medivac helicopter to fly me to a nearby primary-care facility.

While I was still in that hospital's neuro unit I began, with my daughter Judith's help, an article that later grew into the memoir titled Inside the Halo and Beyond: Anatomy of a Recovery. Judith had taken a month's leave from her post with the United Nations to help look after me. Every day when she came with her laptop, I recounted my inchworm progress toward recovery. After three weeks I was moved to a rehab hospital and we continued our stealthy daily sessions (an anonymous patient, I did not want to rouse any

staff interest in me as a "writer"). The memoir was published by Norton in 1999, just a year after the accident. I remember objecting to the word recovery in the subtitle, as I was still struggling with neuropathic pain on my right side and still laboring to regain the use of the fingers of my right hand, issues that continue to dog me.

In July of 1976, when we were permanent residents of the farm, our first and most memorable foal, a filly, was born. We named her Boomer. Fifteen years later, that filly was a pregnant mare. As was my normal habit, I moved down to the barn a week before her due date and slept on top of the sawdust pile—in those days we bedded the stalls with sawdust, acquired free for the shoveling from the local mill. After three weeks of nights on the sawdust pile, that foal finally arrived, quite effortlessly, in the daytime. We named her Booms Praise Be, as in "Praise be, it's a filly" and I celebrated her arrival with a poem about her birth in Looking for Luck. Hers was the eighth in our ongoing commitment to raising our own horses: nine fillies and one colt. That very first foal, Boomer, now thirty-two, is still boss of the herd, reduced now to two middle-aged geldings, one our own and one a friend's. We have also enjoyed the long lives of a series of rescued dogs, most

recently a hound mix named Virgil, saved from Death Row nine years ago, and just this year a waif terrier found with a corpse and many other dogs in a kennel in Tennessee. With the hands-on help of my assistant, Suzy Colt, raising and putting up our own organic vegetables, pears, and raspberries has increasingly become my passion.

In 1976, I received my first honorary degree; it followed a semester as poet-in-residence at Danville College in Danville, Kentucky, a milieu that gave rise to several poems in The Retrieval System (1978). Eight honorary doctorates were to come. In 2006, wheelchair-bound by a fractured femur, I rose to the stage via the freight lift to join Jim Lehrer and Elie Weisel, who were also honorands.

The steady accretion of poems has continued. Still to Mow, my sixteenth collection, winner of the Paterson Award for distinguished achievement, was published in 2007 by Norton, with a jacket cover by Wolf Kahn, whose paintings have graced my book covers ever since 1992. Along the way, I have written three collections of essays, the most recent being Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry, but the first one, To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living (1980) is still in print!

I referred earlier to Lofty Dogmas, published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2005, but there is much more to say about it. I admit it was my brainchild but I came to regret my madness many times over. It took us three years to compile a textbook that crossed barriers of time and geography, ranging from Horace to T.S. Eliot, from Aimé Cesaire to Czeslaw Milosz, and then to search out a hundred reprint permissions from authors living and dead. Two fellow poets, Deborah Brown and Annie Finch, both professors, joined me in editing this paperback tome of 440

pages with a flying dog on the cover, and the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, where Professor Brown teaches, facilitated our work with grants as well as providing us with other invaluable assistance.

A year ago, as one of the subjects of Jeanne Braham's interviews with four New England poets, I had the good fortune to meet the artist Barry Moser, whose engravings accompany her book, The Light within the Light (2007). Moser's range is wide; he has illustrated over fifty children's books, several of which he has written. He asked me if I had any storybook manuscripts he could see. "O Harry," a story in verse that I wrote twenty years ago for my grandson Yann, instantly sparked his interest: "Harry the horse was a homely sort, / His ears were too long and his neck was too short…." It will be published in 2009 by Roaring Brook Press with twenty watercolors by Barry Moser. We are already putting our heads together over another story.

In 2010, Candlewick Press will reissue What Color Is Caesar?, ever so slightly revised, with illustrations by Alison Friend. I foresee that there will be more storybook projects. In the meantime, I participate in local po-biz, conducting a week of workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and serving as Distinguished Poet in Residence in the New England College low-residency M.F.A. program in poetry, twenty miles away in Henniker, New Hampshire. Now it is probably appropriate to say that my life is an open book. I hope there will be more of it to read.



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5, 1976, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 28, 1984.

Contemporary Women Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.

Grosholz, Emily, Telling the Barn Swallow: Poets on the Poetry of Maxine Kumin, University Press of New England (Boston, MA), 1997.

Kumin, Maxine, Halfway, Holt (New York, NY), 1961.

Kumin, Maxine, Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1999.

Kumin, Maxine, To Make a Prairie: Essays on Poets, Poetry, and Country Living, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1980.

McClatchy, J.D., editor, Anne Sexton: The Artist and Her Critics, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1978.

Sexton, Anne, Linda Gray, and Lois Ames, editors, Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 1977.


Booklist, August, 1999, Donna Seaman and Emily Melton, review of Quit Monks or Die!, p. 2035; May 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, reviews of Inside the Halo and Beyond and Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry, p. 1639; November 15, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of The Long Marriage, p. 542; January 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of Jack and Other New Poems, p. 804; October 1, 2006, Sheri Melnick, review of Mites to Mastodons: A Book of Animal Poems, Small and Large, p. 55.

Boston Book Review, July 1, 1996, Fay Weldon, review of Connecting the Dots.

Boston Herald, April 30, 2000, Elizabeth Hand, "Pain Purged on Journey; Kumin Heals from Horse Accident," p. 62; May 18, 2000, Stephanie Schorow, review of Inside the Halo and Beyond, p. 59.

Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 2008, Elizabeth Lund, interview with Kumin, p. 13.

Country Journal, spring, 1979, article by Maxine Kumin.

Crazy Horse, summer, 1975, Joan Norris, interview with Kumin.

Hudson Review, summer, 2001, R.S. Gwynn, review of Always Beginning, p. 341.

Kirkus Reviews, July, 1999, Margaret A. Smith, review of Quit Monks or Die!, p. 142; August 1, 1999, review of Quit Monks or Die!, p. 1176; September 1, 2006, review of Mites to Mastodons, p. 906.

Library Journal, June 15, 1997, Judy Clarence, review of Selected Poems, 1960-1990, p. 74; July, 1999, review of Quit Monks or Die!, p. 142; June 1, 2000, Doris Lynch, review of Always Beginning, p. 124; September 1, 2001, Judy Clarence, review of The Long Marriage, p. 184; May 15, 2003, Diane Scharper, review of Bringing Together: Uncollected Early Poems, 1958-1988, p. 93.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 6, 1994, Christopher Merrill, review of Women, Animals, and Vegetables: Essays and Stories, p. 13.

Massachusetts Review, spring, 1975, Martha George Meek, interview with Kumin.

Nation, July 24, 1982, Clara Claiborne Park, review of Why Can't We Live Together Like Civilized Human Beings?, p. 89.

New Hampshire Authors' Series, April 6, 2008, Rebecca Rule, interview with Kumin.

New Letters, summer, 2000, Jeffrey S. Cramer, "Peaceable Island," p. 61.

New York Times, June 26, 1974, Michiko Kakutani, review of House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate.

New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1982, Alicia Ostriker, review of Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems, p. 10; March 2, 1986, Harold Beaver, review of The Long Approach, p. 14; August 30, 1987, Adrienne S. Barnes, review of In Deep: Country Essays, p. 21; November 5, 1989, Carol Muske, review of Nurture, p. 32; March 21, 1993, Lisa Zeider, review of Looking for Luck, p. 14; August 28, 1994, Anne Raver, review of Women, Animals, and Vegetables, p. 12; August 3, 1997, Richard Tillinghast, review of Selected Poems, 1960-1990, p. 10; September 26, 1999, Laura Jamison, review of Quit Monks or Die!, p. 15; July 30, 2000, Anne Roiphe, review of Inside the Halo and Beyond, p. 15; September 3, 2000, Sunil Iyengar, review of Always Beginning, p. 15; December 9, 2001, Megan Harlan, review of The Long Marriage, p. 33.

Parnassus, spring, 1985, Brad Crenshaw, review of Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief.

Prairie Schooner, fall, 2005, Elaine Sexton, review of Jack and Other New Poems, p. 175.

Publishers Weekly, May 30, 1994, review of Women, Animals, and Vegetables, p. 41; June 3, 1996, review of Connecting the Dots, p. 73; January 6, 1997, "Telling the Barnswallow: Poets on the Poetry of Maxine Kumin," p. 58; April 28, 1997, review of Selected Poems, 1960-1990, p. 70; August 23, 1999, review of Quit Monks or Die!, p. 50; May 15, 2000, review of Inside the Halo and Beyond, p. 100; August 14, 2000, review of Always Beginning, p. 349; August 27, 2001, review of The Long Marriage, p. 75; October 23, 2006, review of Mites to Mastodons, p. 50; August 20, 2007, review of Still to Mow, p. 50.

School Library Journal, October 1, 2006, Nina Lindsay, review of Mites to Mastodons, p. 137.

Sewanee Review, winter, 1995, review of Women, Animals, and Vegetables, p. 141.

Washington Post Book World, February 2, 1986, Wendy Lesser, review of The Long Approach; November 22, 1992, review of Looking for Dots, p. 8.

Western Humanities Review, spring, 1979, Karla Hammond, interview with Kumin.

Women's Review of Books, October, 1989, Diane Wakowski, review of Nurture, p. 20; April, 2001, Judith Barrington, reviews of Always Beginning and Inside the Halo and Beyond, p. 6.


Atlantic Unbound,http://www.theatlantic.com/ (February 6, 2002), Erin Rogers, "The Art of Living."

Christian Science Monitor Online,http://www.csmonitor.com/ (May 15, 2008), "Maxine Kumin."

Maxine Kumin Home Page,http://www.maxinekumin.com (May 5, 2008).

Norton Poets Online,http://www.nortonpoets.com/ (May 5, 2008), "Maxine Kumin."

Prairie Home Companion Web site,http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/ (May 5, 2008), "Maxine Kumin."