cover image JACK


Maxine Kumin, . . Norton, $23.95 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-393-05956-4

This 14th outing from Kumin (The Long Marriage ) focuses on three subjects the poet knows well: first, the fauna (wild and domestic) in and around her New Hampshire farm; second, the troubles and lessons of advancing age; third, large-scale political history, "this century born in blood and bombs" as this Jewish-American poet has known it. Kumin's deftly accessible verse (sometimes rhymed, sometimes not) finds in her rural America both symbols, and consolations, for the disasters she sees in the public realm, as in "New Hampshire, February 7, 2003" (just before the start of the war in Iraq): "Snow here is/ weighting the pine trees/ while we wait for the worst." Several poems follow veterinarians to (and past) beloved pets' graves, or follow the spectres of relatives killed in the Holocaust; Kumin's Philadelphia childhood, her long-estranged brothers, and their children provide other recurrent threads. If some readers find her clean-cut forms and earnest attitudes predictable, others will certainly admire the generosity and the patience those attitudes model. Most of her strongest work (the title poem included) concerns elderly or deceased animals, obvious analogues for Kumin's ill, deceased or grieving human beings. "I oversee the art of dying," a hospice worker says in another poem; "art/ is what we try to make of it." At its best, Kumin's carefully wrought verse becomes part of that process. (Jan.)