Poetry Friday: Chores

You might want to go the the Poetry Foundation and read “Chores” by Maxine Kumin before you read on. I’ll wait.

After an intense month of writing and going “public” with a poem a day in February, I intended to keep that habit going through March and into Poetry Month (aka April). Instead, I have (mostly) recovered my morning exercise habit that was lost to writing, commenting, and icy weather/walkways. (Yes, I know I could have gone to the health club and exercised in spite of the weather. But I didn’t.)

So in the absence of an original poem, I decided to dig into a poem with a Poem Observation. I chose Maxine Kumin, looked her up on the Poetry Foundation site, and picked a poem with what seemed to be a promising title, “Chores.” Here’s what happened:

Like I did in my classroom, I read and reread and reread, first with just my pencil in hand, then with some color coding. The more I read, the more I found to admire about the language and storytelling in this poem. There’s the obvious story in the poem about the sawdust and the sunset, but aren’t you curious for more about the paddock gate, the airbound garden pump, the broken window? And then there’s that little aside, mid-poem, about horses making divorces.

But the language! Kumin packs this poem with end rhyme, internal rhyme, assonance, consonance, and alliteration…but none of it is terribly obvious on your first read. I love that. If you read this poem aloud, especially that fourth stanza, you can’t help but be reminded of the way Kay Ryan plays with the sounds of words.

By the end of the poem (especially after multiple reads) you kind of fall in love with these “aging fools” whose work reminds us of Marge Piercy’s “To be of use.”

Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong are hosting this week’s Poetry Friday roundup at Poetry For Children with a YUMMY unveiling of their DELICIOUS newest book (I’m proud to have a poem in it!), THINGS WE EAT.

17 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Chores”

  1. Thank you so much for introducing me to this poem, and this poet! I was pulled in on my first read, but now I need to go back and study it as you did. Thanks for sharing your process, Mary Lee. Teachers are teachers for life!
    It’s not easy getting back to a routine or finding a place for a forgotten part of a routine. I flip-flop all the time on what I want and need to do. Good luck!


  2. Thank you for the peek into your Poem Observation and the introduction to Kumin’s poem, Mary Lee.
    She wove so much affection into her storytelling and word choices. And I love your insight into the “he” of the poem: “hard-working…fix anything…curmudgeon yet endearing” (much like my hubs of ~33 years) and the subtle humor found in a long marriage. 🙂


  3. I also avoid the fitness center to walk the dog outside–an iffy proposition in Wisconsin winters, but it’s usually worth the effort even though my walks are shorter. I appreciate this poem and the glimpse of your observation process. I love what you’ve revealed about the language!


  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful poem and your observations about it. I, too, appreciate that you aren’t aware of all the literary devices at work upon first reading. The storytelling hooks the reader and I like the smile-inducing ending. Plus, love peeking at your handwriting :). So neat and legible, unlike mine . . .


  5. Wow, Mary Lee: thanks so much for this guided reading! As Rose Cappelli said, “teachers are teachers for life!” And YOU are a model lifelong learner!!!


  6. I’ll save this, Mary Lee. I enjoyed the poems, loved the choices for characterization, too, people we would like knowing, I think. Thanks for sharing your own ways of ‘seeing’ poems.


  7. I learn so much about craft through listening to/reading the analyses that others share. I love seeing your notes, as your post takes us through your thoughtful analysis of this poem. Thanks for sharing this with us today!


  8. What a lot of self-discipline and handiwork it take to print and cut and glue and write! I like seeing your observation/dissection/illumination. Yes, that’s what it is; you ILLUMINATE the poem with your circles and highlights and arrows and notes, like an illuminated manuscript of old. I aspire…


  9. It’s well worth doing close-readings by ourselves as we did in school but I find I rarely do. This is lovely and thank you for the introduction to a new poem… It really does have echoes to several favorites.


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