As an act of self-promotion, suicide is hard to beat. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, most recently Amy Winehouse—their overdose deaths are part of their legend. And would we read Sylvia Plath or Ann Sexton with the same attention without their famous deaths? Of course, suicide is the ultimate desperate act–not a marketing gimmick.
The survivors have a harder time getting known. Maxine Kumin, a close friend and fellow student with Ann Sexton, has lived a more ordinary life: a long-term marriage, children, a farm in New Hampshire. Her poetry often refers to the cycle of growing things—horses, woodchucks, planting and harvesting, the crusty neighbors who last out the long winters. But it also encompasses the complexity of the modern world and struggles to affirm in full knowledge of its imperfection.
I’ve never met Maxine, but years ago I had the temerity to send her a version of her poem “Oblivion,” a poem about those who survive another’s suicide, with an altered ending. Instead of dismissing me as a crank, she wrote me back a gracious note, and we’ve corresponded off and on for several years. You can read or hear another of her poems on surviving her friend’s suicide. Her work, grounded in specifics, moves from these to the larger view the way a camera focuses and then moves back to show the full context.
I want to include three poems of hers in a brief tribute on this first Monday of the New Year. Continue reading “New Year’s Day Poems”