Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

Grieving for Maxine Kumin in Rhyme

Maxine Kumin was so great at maxims–her adages often repeated by students, like “Memorize poetry, so you have a library of the mind when you become political prisoner.”  A pioneer woman who broke so many barriers in the manly world of letters she was brought into as a young, talented writer in the late 50s.    Her kind belief in my work–encouraging me to submit and ultimately publish a poem with Robin Becker at Women’s Quarterly that another teacher had destroyed.  Her brownies, ponies and garden.  Her love of rhyme.  Her spare and fiery curse words.  Her tiny frame and big horses. Her long marriage.  Her metered outrage.  A toast to you, inspiring, caring, mentor.  Here’s a draft I’m working on today as I read your words and think about raising more young sweet poets in your memory.

First Grade

—-for Maxine

Two thousand three hundred nine words

rhyme with “estar” but my son can’t think

of any for his tarea en español, prefers

action figure distractions, spilling his drink,


breaking pencils, falling from his chair—

anything that’s not homework until

I suggest “vomitar,” to vomit  and “estornudar

to sneeze. Pleased, he asks if “to kill”


in Spanish would rhyme, and “to hit,” and “fart,”

–smart boy, figuring out a second tongue

multiplies words that disconcert, courts

deep laughter in theatre dark. So strong


his will to be liked, to understand peers, offer

jokes, to translate “butt” and savor what comes after.

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