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Jack and Other New Poems Hardcover – January, 2005
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
"I love my work as a specialist in easement.
Death is the thing I know, its catch and gurgle."
Those of a certain generation are blessed with such reminiscences, be it yesterday or sixty years ago, each as fresh as the new morning. Perhaps this is the reward of old age, as visions spring complete from the mind, the passing years insignificant. But it is these memories that so endear Kumin's poetry, her incisive observations, without the taint of revision. In The Snarl, the poet reveals a bitter memory:
"...one of the clique that had snubbed me down to the bone
so that I ate my dry sandwich daily in a stall
in the john after Latin class"
The New England poet plants her feet squarely on the ground, knows her neighbor's names, takes nothing for granted and grapples daily with the disintegration of ageing bones. She gives no quarter and exposes her own foolish pretensions, bolstered by memories of old yearnings and bittersweet recollections. In sturdy Yankee phrases, Kumin writes of animals, dogs and horses as familiar as lifelong friends, their losses just as deeply mourned. In the title poem, Jack, Kumin writes of a long lost horse:
"Oh Jack, tethered in what rough stall alone
did you remember that one good winter?"
The endless cycle of death and the nature of ritual are familiar topics on a New England farm and Kumin lives each moment of this world, on intimate terms with its comings and goings. The subtle strength of these poems reaffirm Kumin's tenacity and appreciation for the living beings that surround her, their spirits as beloved as friends and family. Certainly, the world intrudes, but not with such great import as to erode the precious rhythms of farm life: "Let them slip through my hands/ weightless as the wind and fugitive as a dream" (Crossing Over). She does not withdraw from the world, but occupies a place where comfort is found and life is undeniable. Luan Gaines/2005.