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In Deep: Country Essays (Beacon paperback) Paperback – June 1, 1988
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In Deep has a loose, eclectic feel. It rambles between jubilant descriptions of the way horses move, journal entries, affectionate ruminations on Thoreau, and a disquisition on the parallels between poet and mule. She describes a poster in her kitchen which "advertises the virtues of the Andes stove, a porcelain monster foursquare on its black bowlegs. Makes poor cooks good and good cooks better, reads the unabashed slogan. Not an extravagant claim, its unvarnished declarations suits this country kitchen. Nothing fancy takes place here." The same cannot be said for her prose, which is often fancy. Kumin has an elegant, precise, pedantic style. She addresses us warmly in the mode of the traditional familiar essay, a kind of Oxford parlor talk. When her parlor talk treats of muck and mules, she takes a mischeivous pleasure in the dissonance. She likes to juxtapose the rustic with the cultured within a sentence, like "My favorite kitchen artist is a cookstove artist with birch and poplar chunks in the maw of his old ironsides." "Maw" takes us back to Beowulf; "Old ironsides" is jaunty Mark Twain vernacular.
Kumin finds the most amusing dissonance, however, within her own person. In her bib overalls, she comments that her son "would prefer a mother who dressed in matching beige sweaters and skirts and a single strand of pearls." She has discovered her place in life as a born-again farm matron as well as a New England establishment poet. As a result, she can take play with the rhythms and precise diction of formal prose without taking the prose or herself seriously.
Kumin refuses to preach, and she doesn't seek out mystery as much as other nature writers do. She is too busy melting the ice in her horses' drinking troughs and picking spaghetti squash. She is too busy marveling over the names and natures of funghi like "chicken-of-the-woods," the spiny-toothed "pig's trotter," and the "horn of plenty (otherwise known as the trumpet of death)." She relishes the particular, not for what it implies about the cosmos, but for itself. She writes, "Without religious faith and without the certitude such faith brings, I must take my only comfort from the natural order of things." Few of her readers find ourselves as rooted in the world as she is in her farm. We catch a glimpse, in her essays, of what physical contact with a place and its creatures over many years might feel like.