In Her Own Words: Being Maxine Kumin

Maxine_Kumin_in_1974

I was a closet poet always. I didn’t stop writing poetry just because Wallace Stegner told me I was a terrible poet. I went underground.

I had exempted English A at Harvard, which was a big mistake. Everybody should take it. They bucked me up to a high-level class in creative writing. It was all juniors and seniors, and I was the only freshman. I was 17 and Wallace Stegner was maybe all of 23 when I gave him a sheaf of poems. They were sonnets, all in iambic pentameter, but they were terribly sentimental and romantic. And he wrote at the top, “Say it with flowers, but for God sakes don’t write any more poems about it.”

After that, I was writing serious poems in the closet, but I was writing light verse for the slicks. For $3.95 I bought this book by Richard Armour called Writing Light Verse. I took it all very seriously, and by golly I started selling all over the place – Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Baby Talk, New York Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, even the Wall Street Journal. I learned some things writing light verse. I learned how important closure is, and that has guided me ever since.

Maxine Kumin (1925-2014), as quoted in the Concord Monitor. Kumin was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1973 and  served as the United States Poet Laureate from 1981-1982. She passed away Thursday, at the age of 88. Some of Kumin’s work can be found at the Poetry Foundation. For further reading from the Longreads archive: 5 Great Stories on the Lives of the Poets.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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