From Publishers Weekly
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.
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Kumin's plainspoken poems embody the rhythms, landscape, seasonal shifts, and tamped-down drama of rural New England, although her consciousness and compassion are world embracing. In her last two books, this steadfast observer of animals human and otherwise wrote with great candor about her nearly fatal equestrian accident and her long, long recovery. Here Kumin gets on with life, more interested in what the dog chases up a tree and in how others cope with pain than in her own travails. She even writes in the voices of a rapist, an anorexic in rehab, and a hospice worker. Elsewhere Kumin looks to history for windows onto the mystery of human behavior, musing over a little-known edict of the Civil War called the Jew Order and marveling over the lives of Chang and Eng. She also writes about the women who worked for her mother, the death of a beloved horse, and war and patriotism, and expresses gratitude for the "zen of mowing" in her well-turned, neatly well balanced poems, radiant testimony to life attentively witnessed and cherished. Donna Seaman
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