Slivers of Hope: Maxine Kumin

August 10, 2020

Let spring training not be a mere memory.

POETRY FOR THE PANDEMIC

From 1976 until her death in 2014, Maxine Kumin lived on a New Hampshire farm where she and her husband Victor bred horses. And her poetry is filled with a fascination for the physical world around her.

She was born in 1925 and received her BA and MA from Radcliffe College. She and Victor married, had 3 children, and in 1957, Kumin studied poetry with John Holmes at the Boston Center for Adult Education where she met, and became close friends with Anne Sexton whose life, poetry, and suicide in 1974 has always been of great interest to psychiatrists.

Kumin enjoyed a long career as a teacher and scholar, and served as Poet Laureate of the United States.

And she was a big baseball fan. Sports have been on hold during COVID-19, and that’s has been a huge loss for many of us. Kumin’s poem “Spring Training” is filled with details about the joys of baseball, including childhood memories I share with her: taping my baseball bat with friction tape, and softening my glove with neats-foot oil. And I love the poem’s last line: “What lingers is the slender hook of hope.” Which is a wonderful thought to hold on to in this summer of COVID-19.

Spring Training
by Maxine Kumin
-for Victor

Some things never change: the velvet flock
of the turf, the baselines smoothed to suede,
the ancient smell of peanuts, the harsh smack
the ball makes burrowing into the catcher's mitt.

Here in the Grapefruit League's trellised shade
you catch Pie Traynor's lofting rightfield foul
all over again. You're ten in Fenway Park
and wait past suppertime for him to autograph it

then race for home all goosebumps in the dark
to roll the keepsake ball in paraffin,
soften your secondhand glove with neat's-foot oil
and wrap your Louisville Slugger with friction tape.

The Texas Leaguers, whatever league you're in
still tantalize, the way they waver and drop.
Carl Hubbell's magical screwball is still,
give or take sixty years, unhittable.

Sunset comes late but comes, inexorable.
What lingers is the slender hook of hope.

"Spring Training" by Maxine Kumin, from Connecting the Dots.