First, a disclosure: Maxine Kumin is my friend and mentor. When I read D.H. Tracy’s review of her Jack and Other New Poems, I was horrified. But putting friendship and allegiances aside, I can’t understand how Tracy got it so wrong. He portrays Kumin as an upper-middle class feminine equivalent of the gentleman farmer, whose life is “rich with incident and modest stakes,” which she uses as fodder for her poemsnone of which, he complains, “encounters any psychic resistance.” Tracy claims familiarity with the whole body of Kumin’s work but seems to have allowed his assumptionthat an intellectually sophisticated woman couldn’t possibly live a rural lifeto get between him and the reading. Kumin’s poems tell the truth about her life on the New Hampshire farm, and those who have visited her there know that she hasn’t merely acted out a part. She and her husband Victor have laboreda labor of love, to be sure, but labor neverthelessfor decades now raising horses, mowing hay, mucking out stalls, planting and weeding the garden.
Tracy complains that Kumin “is enjoying the blessing of being happy and stable, and suffering the curse of not being able to turn this into a writerly asset.” The theme of Jack is aging and death, and there’s plenty of darkness in the poems. Kumin has suffered enough for several lifetimes (see her memoir Inside the Halo and Beyond: Anatomy of a Recovery) but she doesn’t bore us with self-pity or griping. Her wisdom is that she understands her place in the natural worlda world full of animals and vegetables and, happily, oblivious to the silliness of critics.