Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Little Story of Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton

Maxine Kumin's current collection of poetry, STILL TO MOW, includes a poem that tells part of the story of her close friend Anne Sexton's self-imposed death, in "The Revisionist Dream."

When Kumin read at St. Johnsbury Academy last week, she focused on her "Selected Poems" and on STILL TO MOW and its predecessor, JACK. Most of the pieces she chose to read captured human frailty within the context of horses, dogs, the land; some grappled with G-d and Messiah; STILL TO MOW is also rich with poems of protest that argue forcefully against the conduct of the Iraq war.

She didn't explore the Sexton connection this time. But Galway Kinnell, introducing her reading, re-told the tender tidbit that Kumin has mentioned in earlier interviews: that the two young women were so devoted to each other and their work that they invested in a separate phone line, only to use for each other. They would place the call that tied them together and then each would lay down the receiver without disconnecting, so the rustle and tapping and scribbling would softly be conveyed over the open line. If one reached a point where she wanted to share her writing with the other, she'd whistle into the phone.

Galway Kinnell concluded his story with thanks to Maxine for responding to a "whistle" to come over to Vermont for the evening, from her New Hampshire farm. Judging by the response of the audience - which applauded after almost every poem, and continued long enough to earn an encore ("Seven Caveats in May") - the whole theater agreed: Thanks, Maxine Kumin!

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