The Best Foreign Language for WritersPrint
By Maxine Kumin
October 14, 2013
I am grateful to the late Thomas (Tommy) Kuhn, a famous physicist and philosopher, who was the pal of my older brother. The two of them were college students, wise and worldly. I was about to transfer from the small, snug environment of grammar school to the big, heterogeneous student body of high school. This involved changing classrooms and selecting “electives.”
“Never mind choosing between French and Spanish,” Tommy said. “Take Latin, straight through; you’ll never be sorry. Four years of Latin will do you more good than 14 of any other subject.”
He was right. Latin syntax is precise, its vocabulary comprehensible. Those four years, plus an elective my senior year spent translating stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, gave me the courage to begin writing my own poetry. I’ve never looked back.
Maxine Kumin won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was the Library of Congress poet laureate in 1981-82. Her 17th collection, Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010, won the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 2011. She died in February 2014.