Maxine Kumin

Winner of the 2006 Frost Medal

The Final Poem

Bread Loaf, late August, the chemistry
of a New England fall already
inviting the swamp maples to flare.

Magisterial in the white wicker rocker
Robert Frost at rest after giving
a savage reading

holding nothing back, his rage
at dying, not yet, as he barged
his chair forth, then back, don't sit

there mumbling in the shadows, call
yourselves poets?
but a handful scattered. Fate

rearranged us happy few at his feet.
He rocked us until midnight. I took
away these close-lipped dicta. Look

up from the page. Pause between poems.
Say something about the next one.
Otherwise the audience

will coast, they can't take in
half of what you're giving them.

Reaching for the knob of his cane

he rose, and flung this exit line:
Make every poem your final poem.

* * *

Poem by Maxine Kumin. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

William Louis-Dreyfus on Maxine Kumin

There is a tendency, perhaps especially in our times, to classify poets in groups of similarity and influence. So it has been said of Maxine Kumin that she emerges from the movement that gave us Sexton and Plath and Adrienne Rich, that she is a confessional poet like Lowell because of the autobiographical starting point of many of her poems, that she is, like Frost, attentive to the rural rhythms of life or like Elizabeth Bishop in the precision of her detail. All of that may have its relevance, but it is not a central truth. She is a poet whose womanhood is an expanse to her poetry not merely a subject of it. She resembles Frost in her clarity and she is confessional only by way of connecting narrow dots to the broad universe—that is, not at all. Good poetry defies definition. Perhaps it is what results from the degree of accuracy with which something is said—the more acute, the more concentrated, the more extreme the accuracy, the more superb the poetry and the more extreme is the good of the poetry. It is an honor for the PSA to award the Frost Medal to this extreme poet, Maxine Kumin.

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