Either Or by Maxine Kumin

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This wonderfully abstract animation is the latest poetry film from Motionpoems, ably introduced on their site:

Socrates had some either/or thoughts about death. Poet Maxine Kumin has some thoughts about those thoughts. Filmmaker Adam Tow adds his thoughts to hers.

It’s with a heavy heart that we note the poet’s own death yesterday at the age of 88 — something Motionpoems couldn’t have anticipated when they chose this as their February selection. Their free emailed newsletter contained an interview with her; I don’t think they’d mind if I quoted it:

MOTIONPOEMS: Why did you decide to cut the Socrates quote with nearly six lines of cosmic imagery?

MAXINE KUMIN: I delayed the quote so I could set up the smallness, the insignificance of our planet in the great reach of space. Otherwise, there couldn’t have been any suspense and hence no poem.

MOTIONPOEMS: There’s an interplay in the poem between up and down, present and future. Your last line, “So much for death today and long ago,” seems inspired by the movement of the smoke, the squirrels, and the nuthatch, and the promise of snow. Why?

KUMIN: You notice it isnt the smoke, its the shadow of smoke, not snow but the promise of snow, tho the critters are real and present. I’m trying to say how evanescent the choice between life and death is, just as Socrates gives us his matter-of-fact but no less terrifying either/or.

MOTIONPOEMS: Motionpoems are used in classrooms a lot. If you were to recommend a writing prompt or exercise using this poem as a model, writing teachers and students might find that very useful.

KUMIN: Anything that gets students reading, especially outside their chosen field, makes a good jumping-off place for a poem. You dont have to be reading Socrates or Faulkner. Im a great jotter down of lines that pique my interest, from the newspaper to something weighty about, say, Jefferson … who was one of the first to bring the mule to this country … That would make me want to write about that hybrid the mule. (I havent but still might.)

For a good appreciation of Kumin’s long and illustrious career, see the Poetry Foundation’s biography. For more of Adam Tow’s work, visit his website.

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