Alexs Pate, David Mura, Maxine Kumin, Annie Finch
Stonecoast 2009, photo by Suzy Colt

Bowdoin college campus. Cool perfect Maine summer night. The warm wake of a great reading---a strong and vivid event, Maxine Kumin and David Mura, each introduced with heart and thought by a Stonecoast student, and each reaching a powerful and somehow a shared place. Everyone else finally gone from the hall after the signings and the hugs and the photos, Max, her assistant Suzy, and I trail quietly up the staircase to the front lobby. I watch Max’s cane tapping repeatedly on the bricks of the steps as I slow my pace behind her. In the unaccustomed time I wonder for a moment why there are brick stairs inside, and first decide I don’t like them, and then that I do, and then we are at the top and Suzy says “we make a right up here.” “Hmmm,” I think, mostly just filling the wealth of time, “it doesn’t look like a turn to me,” but I don’t bother to say anything. Max, of course, does. “It looks like it goes straight to me,” she says. “Well, there was a small turn,” says Suzy. “A fork,” says Max, as we traverse the narrow corridor to the front door. “Two roads diverged in a narrow wood,” she says; “no, in a yellow wood.” “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood . . .” “ She always rambles like this,” says Suzy, a retired lawyer and horse-tender. I swallow a taste of shock. “It’s not rambling, it’s Frost.”

Undaunted, of course, Max goes on, as we approach the inner glass door (in Maine doors often come in twos), open it, and pass through a small dusky vestibule smelling of new rubber matting to the outer door. . . “and be one traveler, long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could, to where it bent in the undergrowth” . . . We walk through the door, I bending down close so as not to miss a word. We come through, at last, out onto the path under the dark waiting trees in all their height and night, “then took the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear; though as for that the traveling there had…oh no, now I’m losing it.” “Passing,” I say.” “Passing? Oh, passing. Yes, that’s it. Though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same. . .”

We have all stopped on the path now, under the trees, a few summer students passing dark in the distance. Max had read a poem about Frost during her reading, prefacing it with an anecdote (“I am old enough to have met Frost… he said, “you call yourselves poets?” and everyone scattered . . .those of us who were left sat at his feet. . . he told us to look up at the audience, to pause between poems, to say something about the next one. He said, “make every poem your last.””) “I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence,” she begins; “Yet knowing how way leads on to way,” I offer; she begins, I offer, we reject. There’s something else that comes before that. “We’ll both have to look it up,” she says. “Yes. We can recite it tomorrow,” I answer.

We say good night and, offering final thanks and congratulations, I walk down through the night and come to a monument I have passed by quickly before. This time I stop. For the war dead—World War II, Korea, Vietnam—has been carved a stanza from Longfellow’s “Arsenal at Springfield: “I hear even now the infinite fierce chorus, the cries of agony, the endless groan, which, through the ages that have gone before us, in long reverberations reach our own.” I sit there a while, then return to my hotel and Google the Frost poem to come up with the missing three lines. The next day, Max has them too. But for her they came back on their own, as she lay in her bed remembering.

Originally Published: July 20th, 2009

Annie Finch is the author or editor of more than twenty books of poetry, plays, translation, literary essays, textbooks, and anthologies, including the poetry collections Eve (1997), Calendars (2003), and Spells: New and Selected Poems (2012), and the long poems The Encyclopedia of Scotland (1982) and Among the Goddesses: An Epic...

  1. July 21, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Little Pop and Up Chaleekanha, my niece and nephew, 6 and 8, say all the time when we're going somewhere together, like to the earth market at the edge of the village or to look for ant eggs or pick lychees, "Let us go then, you and I..."\r

    They learned it from hearing me muttering words under my breath, I guess, as they don't speak a word of English.\r

    A beautiful piece of writing, Annie, and a profound reinvention of words that have become as well a touchstone for our language. If anyone ever wants to put together a one-person show on Maxine Kumin, or on Robert Frost, or on just what it means to live a long life as a poet, these words need no editing.\r

    Thinking of Pop and Up again, barefoot peasant children in a world they don't yet know is changing. I combine that thought with the ill-fitting memory that my father went to Bowdoin. He was from Westbrook right near you in Portland. It was still deep country during the 1st World War, which my father spent mostly trout fishing. When he got to Bowdoin he played polo.\r


  2. July 21, 2009
     John Oliver Simon

    Beautiful strory, Annie. Welcome back.

  3. July 28, 2009

    This is the second time I've tried to comment on your Maxine piece. I don't know why my first comment doesn't show. Nor can I figure out why the article hasn't generated more of a response. By golly it has soul. It has duende. And the way you tell your story is elegant in its humility. This might be the best vignette I've read here from a blogger.\r


  4. July 28, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Thanks for that too, Tere.\r

    I've been watching this thread because I like it so much too and couldn't understand why nobody else seemed interested. Indeed, this sort of concern seems to have entirely gone out of favor on Harriet, but then the stars do move and the planets change faces. But I find it sad, because it's this sort of article that I most value on Harriet,\r

    Since I'm here I'd like to add a footnote to my previous post. I know trout fishing sounds like polo in our day, but in my father's trout fishing meant what you did in the spring and the summer and trapping all the rest of the months of the year. My father was an avid trapper with snow shoes and steel traps swing over his shoulder.\r

    The polo was the tragedy from which I never recovered. But that's a story for winter.\r

    Be well, Annie. Come back often.\r


  5. July 28, 2009

    I haven't had a look in for awhile on Harriet and got a big shock just above...\r

    What you've written here is what I'm looking for, Annie, and trust you to deliver it. We're just going to have to go off and do this on our own in the end--and you'll know exactly where I mean. There don't have to be any red and green penises over there either, thank God.

  6. July 29, 2009
     thomas brady

    Robert Frost wasn't a very good reader, was he? I've got that CD collection of poets reading and Frost sounds awful.\r
    As a rule, the women poets read so much better, like actresses, while the men, as a rule, sound either too mumbling or too brittle. That Frost poem, "Out, Out-" which opens "Understanding Poetry" (3rd edition) I find to be in really, really poor taste. Why would you scare students with that godawful thing? Sometimes the 'mean ol' bastard' Frost, as he was reputed to be, DOES show up in his poems...

  7. July 29, 2009

    Lordy, Harriet. What is to dislike about my compliment of Annie Finch's vignette? I so don't get this thing.\r

    Anyway, Annie Finch I wanted to say that your piece has gestalt. And then I realized how the piece effortlessly threads its way through three generations of poets by means of a single poem. Like I said. Elegant.\r


  8. July 31, 2009


    Good story, well told. At first I feared the piece was going to veer off into sentimentality, but my fear was completely unfounded.

  9. August 1, 2009
     Annie Finch

    Thank you all. What a thing, to be part of a chain--one that has leapfrogged through 50 or more years at a stretch. I am taking Parini's bio of Frost to the woods with me and hope to gain my own sense of where the beginning of this chain leads. Sometimes I wonder if poetry is even more moving in this way than other arts...I think of the cultures where poems were/are passed down from voice to voice, nothing written. Perhaps this sort of brush with poetic lineage still evokes the simultaneous power and fragility of those original poetic chains.

  10. August 1, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    Reading first through Finch's post nearly a week ago, I felt disinclined to accord her A for a Reality of high viz respect: because the visual cue was held back. \r

    Only now it's been delivered for group hugs, does one appreciate just what it is about beat and timing four by four, that a latino Hellenes of Aeolia in Pagasetic perhaps - is the you new NRG Al (if you do, get the drift); currency of and in: linguistic meaning.\r

    The fave hot top for gas and goss shots in weighty glamour, one might say, non?.. undecided and eyeing the good from it: this very special gift and - further - indebted to Finch's colleagues in pob-biz home@work t/here in that quantum state of knowing how making it happens. The four Aeolian's energy consumption amounts to a bean counting hill of sub-linguino 4x4 all in the O and one of s/eh because, we flew alone, neither this school nor that camp. Hoss.\r

    No, NRG is happening with the celebrity (nonentities) of no amount but air, dust, rusting sculptures and ques for a spot on Pliny's shoulder to watch what's happening in a Square on of here and now hi-viz NRG on Friday night's happening in Hellenes where am Annie dearest deepest cano and anruth - Ollamh Al's just proven prophecy hit true Finch you star of Peace and belonging in the woods with cuckoos' tu-wit tu-wooing you don't know who s/he is: do you?\r

    A massive and smiling presence doing his own thing and not detracting nor adding any overall irregularity to what show-business one detects happening on campus there in a solid yet contemporary faux oak golden dusk of that corrider (is it please Ann?); where that photograph room's situated in Bowdoin mon femme souer M&Afk with mon amis, frère bro Al and D in Bowdoin, where all is cool and perfect on that summer night in Maine. \r

    The warm wake of a great reading–a strong and vivid event, Max.. and Dav.. introduced with heart and thought by a Stonecoast stude.., each reaching a powerful and somehow..shared place\r read six day back when I thought Finch had finally left; gone for good from the hall of Harriet learning: and lo and behold we're rewarded with this snap that shows (alas) nothing of the signings and REAL hugs happening that night in Bowdoin, several hours after the photo got took, i suspect.\r

    Hello Al Dave and Max: say Hi, i dare you darling dearest fair mob of po-biz old pros. Fantasy of thrown away snaps of Max, her assistant Suzy; and trailing quietly to the front watching Max off her brick caned and demolishing the staircase after losing her keys and booking a tripple A felony of cats all loaded and being mad as Jack and Al - the man doing prophecy t/here Finch, is - do you know? \r

    Fairly fantasy flowers coltsfoot; lilac lavender lillies, the fairest liveable call lived in a very glowing of each mili-secondary moment spun and spooling out of Bowdoin NOW in Suzy's picture here at t/here nemeton : beginning with a call to oaken college campus studes and staff agreeing it was made - right here, standing stock still and facing forward with confidence and love for all of us@home in work. Do you see mister Po armed oppo of resistance and excessive opportunity's in po-biz? \r

    Ques on tape of Dave asking Max and Ann up for a round of "Hmmm," or nea?” \r

    Stonecoast Suzy Colt 2009 photo: it is/was I think: mostly wo/man filling time/s out twice and saying\r

    " doesn’t look like a turn to me because you don’t bother to say anything about the course max. No way. Alexs Pate says.\r

    "It looks like it goes straight" to me and "...well, there was a small turn down there, but for gawds sake, fork off M@S, traverse a narrow corridor to the front door: let me take you into the confidence of these arms and..\r

    "Two roads diverged in a narrow wood," says Max, as Dave asks: "not in a yellow wood sing I; but in Bowdoin where two roads diverging into a gold rod of ancient wood and bells so old, only a tissue thin milisecond of our goodbye can alter the one lone travelers' long hello?\r

    Come I stood undaunted inside the travelling rod of noise soft 'n loud in a harmony of discordant sorries' Bowdoin: through and through travelling both for YOU and, like, S, a retired horse whisperer and lawyer tending bar; who swallowed a taste of the shock? \r

    "I'm rambling again, it’s not Frost, it's actually ME mad axe marm doin it 4 da YO's!! undaunted, of course, soldiering on as we approach an inner chamber where decision/s need be made for the good of a group hug remaining equal and showing favour only to those who move one so to glass maimed doors in Maine oftener and oftener until a sun swung back up left to us at dawn and we, who come in twos, open it and pass through a small dusky vestibule smelling of new to an outer door, where there is always the one lone travelers' long goodbye stood, looking up and down as far as one goes: on and on to where it curves up and under and walks a lone aided bent and worn undertrhumb of knowing time's growth is stroll in the woods, to wit: YOU who walks through a storm with your head held high, who don't be afraid of the dark. And at the end of the storm there's a golden star and the sweet silver song of a lark. So don't be afraid of the storm: walk on, through the wind; walk on, through the rain and your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on. Walk on, with hope in your heart - and you'll never walk alone. \r

    You'll never walk alone - our audience sung.

  11. August 5, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    This last post of Desmond Swords has sat there for almost a week now with not a single response, and I keep wondering, why not? Then it occurred to me that Americans may not be aware of just how important satire is not only to British homor but to its whole discourse, and on all levels of society, too, right from the building site on up to the House of Lords. If you can't do satire in Britain you're not going to get far in an argument what's more in a debate, and you're certainly never going to get elected to anything. You'd never get through any good school either, would be mincemeat at Parliament, and would be hung out to dry by the press.\r

    What Desmond Swords is building on, and enormously skillfully, too, is the core linguistic acrobatics of British comedy, "The Importance of Being Earnest," "Ulysses," "Playboy of the Western World," "A Clockwork Orange," and of course almost everybody Desmond drinks with in Dublin (how I'd love to be a fly on the wall!). But he's also engaged in the whole Monty Python affair, John Clease, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, etc. etc. Just at the moment the most brilliant in that whole constellation of very bright stars is the young comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, and particularly in his extraordinary, ethnic-what? straight-faced, mind-bender, 'Ali G' -- the interviewer in the TV hit, "Ali G indahouse." Hysterical, and a VERY uncomfortable but huge force for the good. \r

    Americans are starting to get to know just how unnerving this sort of comedy can be after having been exposed to Sacha Baron Cohen's journey through America interviewing, yes, you guessed it, you and me. The film is called "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," and I defy any American to stand up and say he or she hasn't at some point been keenly disturbed by some part of it -- I certainly have. And his new film, "Bruno," which has just been released, is even more in your (our!) face. It's purpose is to expose homophobia in America, a very good cause indeed, but it has hit an equally raw, indeed an agonizing, unacceptable nerve in the gay community itself. What an irony!\r

    When I read Desmond's last post I had this very funny idea of a new show called "Ali G indapoetryhouse," starring all of us on Harriet!\r

    I think Maxine Kumin would understand the humor of that -- what I find most moving about Annie Finch's account of her just above is how easily Maxine can laugh not only at herself but at poets!\r