The Profound Meaning Maxine Kumin`s Poem "Woodchucks"

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This eessay will address the importance of Maxine Kumin’s poetry and why it has made her a great author. Who Maxine was as a person, how her life and work have lead to her great poetry. 

Maxine Kumin was born with the last name Winokur in June, 1925. Her place of birth is a town known as Germantown, located in Pennsylvania. She had three other siblings but was the youngest of them all and was the only girl. She went to many schools and eventually in 1946 she obtained her bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College for history and literature. Later on she returned to her college and earned her Masters degree. It is important to know where Maxine got her education from and what essentially started her career as a talented writer and poet. Kumin was an author who wrote nearly twenty collections of poetry, with the first one dating back to 1961. Her first collection was published when she was 36 years old, and the last in 2014 after she passed away at the age of 88. She wrote poems based on her experiences in life as a child, adult, parent, and many other things that she became and has accomplished. Maxine was known to be a gardener, vegetarian, environmentalist, and overall a pro-life and anti-war activist with liberal views. She attended and participated in protests and demonstrations for women’s rights to abortion. She loved to travel because she was able to have a variety of experiences in different places, which fueled her writing and ideas with different view points and topics. One of Maxine Kumin’s many achievements are the numerous awards she earned during her lifetime. Among the many important awards she received are the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize for Poetry, the Pulitzer Prize, Aiken Taylor Award, Institute of Arts and Letters Award for excellence in literature, and a number of other prizes and honorary degrees. It is also important to mention she served as the poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Maxine is jewish and had jewish parents but was an atheist since she was 16 years old.

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In Maxine Kumin’s poems there are patterns that show how she uses her real life experiences to write her poems and her great ability to convert her emotions into imagery is what makes her work so great. Before Maxine passed away, she had two books on their way out to be published. Her last two books were printed after her death and were never seen by their author. Maxine was known for her unique writing style in her poems. She would reject abstractions when possible and would often find a form for a poem by identifying the central image and reordering it. By doing this she is able to correct faltering rhythms by adjusting a line or a phrase. This is part of her secret and writing expertise because she looks at many different points of a poem, like the structure and wording instead of just focusing on giving it a deeper meaning. For Maxine, a poem is built on the furniture that is inside it. What she means by this is that the nuts and bolts of poetry are the nouns and verbs which form the internal structure of a poem. Maxine is careful to select words that are sturdy, specific, and aesthetically appropriate to be poetically functional. She was very picky about what goes into a poem and would notice little details such as any missing pronouns. She was aware of her skills and it gave her inner confidence to write and critique others. Maxine was a bold person and always knew her self worth and the value she could bring to the table. She was also a gardener and had a small farm, which she has written about in some of her poems. This is an example of how her personal life reflects on her writing and where her ideas emerge from.

In poem by Maxine Kumin known as “Woodchucks”, Maxine gives the hunting of woodchucks a whole different meaning. At first glance the poem is about a farmer attempting to get rid of woodchucks that are invading his farm. This however is not what this poem is really about since Maxine gave it a much deeper and more cynical meaning. This poem begins with a description of how a farmer is attempting to annihilate a family of woodchucks from his garden by gassing them with poison. After the failed attempt, the farmer continued to try other methods. As he became more desperate, it came down to hunting each woodchuck individually with a rifle. What is remarkable in this poem is how Maxine is able to relate the woodchucks lifestyle to that of humans. She also showed a correlation between the behaviors of humans and woodchucks and how at the end of the day humans are not any better than animals. For example, Maxine has a line in the poem which says the woodchucks come back in the morning no worse for the cyanide than people for their cigars. Another example is within the description of how the woodchucks are taking over the vegetable patch for themselves, while the farmer is trying to kill them so he can have it for himself.

These connections in the lifestyle and behavior of the woodchucks to humans get worse near the end of the poem. Maxine saved the best line for last as she begins to describe how the farmer feels. The reader is put into his shoes and is able to understand how his empathy is replaced by anger as his mission becomes more difficult. The farmer is described through his thoughts and how he makes lousy justifications for the brutal killing of the woodchucks. The farmer is a pacifist, just like Maxine, but allowed his anger to take control over his morals and reasoning. Although in reality the hunting is quick and painless, Maxine is an animal rights activist and made this sound a lot worse in her poem. Maxine believes that war and violence are never the answer, and the farmer in the poem is a pacifist, yet he finds a justification for his actions though his anger. Making a point that anger and frustration can cause us to lose true reason and act out in a non ethical manner. At the end of the poem Maxine adds the final correlation between human behavior and that of the woodchucks, by saying they are being killed like the jews during the holocaust, the old Nazi way. This implies that her poem is really about how morals change and people can forget what is right and wrong and go back to their primal survival instincts and eradicate anything they feel does not belong. The poem “Woodchucks” is a good example of Maxine Kumin’s ability to shock the reader. As well as throw in a much deeper meaning that can be interpreted in many ways and cause many feelings but without confusing the reader. This is part of her great writing ability and it shows that she puts a lot of time and effort into her work.

In conclusion, Maxine Kumin is a great and respectable author of many great poems and books because of her sophisticated writing style. This research has shown why her life experiences have given her great ideas for poems, and how she develops her writing style and expertise with words to be so unique. This paper analysed three poems by Maxine and has used them as examples to show how she related her poems to life experiences and her thought process while structuring them. The secondary articles mentioned in this research were used to explain who Maxine was as a person and why her life mattered, as well as how her life experiences affected her writing. Who she was as a person played a huge role in her writing and certain life events are critical to understanding some of her poems. Her life is the origin of her ideas, her ability to write is fueled by her talent and knowledge she has obtained during her life as an activist. 

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