Maxine Kumin reads “Looking Back in My Eighty-first Year” (via Poems Out Loud)
I got to hear Maxine Kumin read this past autumn, and enjoyed the clarity and directness of her language – qualities particularly appreciated during a reading, I’m not gonna lie.
I’ve been zigzagging through her Selected Poems, 1960-1990 since then, and have enjoyed just about every one of her gardening poems and horse poems in particular, though her intensely meditative voice makes her personal poems generally excellent. Still underwhelmed on the political poems front.
To get back to the link at hand, “Looking Back in My Eighty-first Year” moves me to the point of being inarticulate about it, so I’m just posting the link and leaving it at that. Hope some of you will enjoy.
As this is still in copyright, I am figuratively glancing about surreptitiously and wondering if I’m allowed to post this – but I can’t resist.
Where Laughter Came From
Laughter was the shape the darkness took around the first appearance of the light. That was its name then: The Shape The Darkness Took Around The First Appearance Of The Light.
The light still keeps trying to touch its lips. The lips of darkness.
The light’s hand rises but the darkness is not there. Only laughter.
– W. S. Merwin
From his 2007 collection of prose poems, The Book of Fables.
I like it when poems are resistant to easy interpretation in a playful, secretive, mythological way, rather than being abstruse or strenuously allusive. (Although the latter kind are fun in their own way, especially when generously footnoted for the uninitiated.) I’m having a lot of fun putting my brain into origami pleats trying to grasp all of this one at once.
My knowledge of poets tends to be acquired in a desultory fashion, so I’d never heard of Frederick Seidel until I read “The Edge of Night,” an entertaining and well-written review of Seidel’s collected poems by David Orr of the New York Times. Seidel is an anomaly as a professional poet, in that he’s rich and disconnected from the literary-academic world; apparently he’s also “one of poetry’s few truly scary characters.” This may seem nonsensical to you unless you’ve ever read a poem that made you wince, or cringe, or hunch your shoulders and shiver and try to forget you ever read it (and I don’t mean in a that-was-so-bad-I-wish-it-never-existed way, which of course happens too, and more frequently); then you should know how viscerally emotional and disturbing poems can be.
The excerpts of Seidel’s work featured in the review seem menacing, meaty (in both sense of the word), and evilly funny. I’ve read some pretty horrifying poems – I’m thinking of some of C. K. Williams’ early, angry poems here, one of which I would quote but am embarrassed to – and many cringe-inducing poems (mmm, Sharon Olds*), but I’m not sure I’d be consitutionally capable of reading a whole collection of Seidel’s work. The full poem featured in the review made me feel as though someone with too-cold hands had run their fingers through my hair the wrong way. Brrr. Orr also provides some useful, interesting commentary on Seidel’s place in modern American poetry, particularly his early relationship with Robert Lowell’s work and his later parallels with Sylvia Plath. Orr also comments on Seidel’s none-too-infrequent exclusion from anthologies – a fact that would also explain my lack of knowledge of him.
Also, I love articles that send me off on multiple fascinating tangents generally culminating in a trip to Wikipedia – in this case, Orr’s reference in the review to the perhaps apocryphal funeral tradition of sin-eating. Too cool.
*Sharon Olds is disarmingly adorable in person. If she ever reads near you, go. I didn’t like her poetry until I got to see her read it.