Tilting Fields: the Personal and the Political in Maxine Kumin’s Still to Mow

Still to Mow

Still to Mow
BY Maxine Kumin
(W.W. Norton, 2007)

Maxine Kumin is a poet who is present in the world, from the scrutiny of the garden to the realities of current politics — her purpose has been to observe and report. Her poetic gift that celebrates the natural world and the everyday is evident in her sixteenth collection, Still to Mow, as she juxtaposes these poems with the urgency of a political response.

Still to Mow opens with the poem “Mulching,” which covers a substantially wide array of subjects and social concerns — from dirty knees in the soil to horrors across the globe in AIDS and tsunamis, she uses language to methodically till words and experience. Her awareness of a life well-lived pervades the collection. Because of this, her voice and witness as a poet is critical, now more than ever, from both an individual and universal point of view. This poem sets us up for much of what she will cover in the book — celebration of the everyday, response to unrest both past and present, and the awareness of mortality. “Mulching” ends with the lines, “in this stack of newsprint is heartbreak, / my blackened fingers can only root in dirt, / turning up industrious earthworms, bits // of unreclaimed eggshell, wanting to ask / the earth to take my unquiet spirit, / bury it deep, make compost of it.”

The poet reflects her frustration at the world’s larger mistakes throughout the collection, but it is in her first section, “Landscapes,” that she celebrates being here now, being present, and finding peace in the everyday. She epitomizes, in particular, the state of being present in “Today”:

Apples are dropping
all over Joppa
a windfall, a bagful
for horses and cattle.
Geese overhead
are baying like beagles.
The pears in the uphill
pasture lie yellow
a litter gone fallow
for stick pins of ground wasps.

The deer are in rut.
They race through the swales
and here on the marshy
spillway, a yearling
caught drinking, spies slantwise
two humans — us, frozen
unbreathing, the same pair
who tracked him slobbering
apples today in
our Joppa back pasture.

Still to Mow, p. 17

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