Red Kite, Blue Sky

Red Kite, Blue Sky, the debut poetry collection from Madeleine May Kunin, celebrates life and the natural world, occasioned by the birth of grand-children, the memories of friendship and past birthdays/Bar Mitzvahs, a gift of plum-colored gloves from the poet’s daughter, the Sicilian sun which “melts my argument against myself,” with sharp observations and humor. Like Emily Dickinson before her, Kunin does not shy away from death; rather she embraces the anticipation “before death drags me deep,” the gap in her life when her beloved husband dies, the fear of immigration to America during World War II with “an H for Hebrew, I found out later,” and the sadness of being isolated as an older woman living alone during the pandemic. 

For years Kunin was caught in the tempo of politics — as governor, as a federal official, and as an ambassador — but as she eased into retirement from public life, she found a door that opened for her to explore the multi-layered language of poetry. She used this form she has dabbled in for years as a new outlet and, like her passion for promulgating women in politics, she was able to catalog her changing body and mind as she aged, the loss of late-in-life love, the quotidian details found in nature and home life, and ultimately dealing with COVID-19. Kunin explores the police brutality that lead to George Floyd’s death — “A black man couldn’t breathe/Because a white man/Pressed down on his neck/‘Mama,’ he cried, before/He died”— with the raw emotion of witnessing injustice and horrible wrong, with a unique and unbending power of her own political, life-affirming, poetic voice.

Praise for Red Kite, Blue Sky

“The radiant poems in Madeleine Kunin’s startling Red Kite, Blue Sky offer a precious sanctuary of memories and wisdom. An enthralling light emanates from the center of these poems that reveal a life lived fully in love, laughter, joy and sorrows overcome. A hardwired sense of beauty throbs throughout the book as Kunin carries and divines her lineage and history with the kind of insight that is spectacularly fresh and tender.”

Major Jackson, author of The Absurd Man

In her first book of poetry, Madeline Kunin writes effortlessly about moments, memories, and events that she then transforms into immense particulars, whether they be a cat scratch, a headache, or a secret joke. Her musings resonate with pathos, wit, and perspicacity, crossing generously over from her speaker to her reader with spare accuracy and refreshing honesty. In her poem ‘Understanding Beethoven,’ Kunin declares: ‘So many layers to dig through with my rusty spade/ before I find what I want./ I want details.’ Red Kite, Blue Sky is replete with details she ‘wants’ and although they are uniquely hers, she has found an artful, selfless way of bequeathing them to her reader.”

Chard deNiord, former Poet Laureate of Vermont (2015-2019)

“Following her long and accomplished career as a public servant and activist, Madeleine Kunin has turned inward in this collection of powerful poems. The elation of late-life love mixes with the sadness of its loss. A busy outward schedule is suddenly stilled by lockdown. But a profound new focus emerges from this solitude as Kunin begins to observe in minute detail the sky, a tree, the antics of a cat, her own aging body. Red Kite, Blue Sky is a beautiful, stirring, and often playful tribute to life itself. Its important insights, some delivered with a humorous twist, will resonate with me for a long time.”

Lisa Alther, NYTimes bestselling author of Kinflicks, among others


Former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin at her apartment at the Wake Robin retirement community in Shelburne. File photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Madeleine Kunin trades politics for the poetry of change
“In her lifetime, Madeleine Kunin can boast of being Vermont’s first and so far only female governor, deputy U.S. education secretary, ambassador to her native Switzerland and now, with the release of a debut anthology, published poet. Age 88 this year, she confirms in her new book, Red Kite, Blue Sky, which Harvard Review poetry editor Major Jackson calls ‘radiant,’ ‘startling’ and “spectacularly fresh and tender.’” —Kevin O’Connor, journalist for VTDIGGER
Read the full review.

“Kunin’s poems are just as tenacious as their author, and filled with humor and tenderness that make them a gift to read. The poet demonstrates that it’s never too late to do what you love — and that there just might be a poet inside all of us.” —Benjamin Aleshire, book reviewer for SevenDays
Read the full review.

Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin Explores Her ‘Inner Life’ Through New Poetry Collection
The former politician is also a writer who has written four books, touching on subjects such as politics, feminism and aging. Now Kunin is the author of a collection of poems, titled Red Kite, Blue Sky. It includes reflections on quiet moments of daily life, but also some larger and heavier themes of aging, caregiving, grief and death, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. —Henry Epp, Vermont Public Radio
Listen to the full interview here.

“I think writing in any form kind of explains you to yourself.” —Madeleine Kunin

About the Author

Photo by Paul Boisvert

Madeleine May Kunin, the first woman to be elected governor of Vermont (three-terms), was also U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and U.S. deputy secretary of education. She as written four previous books: Living a Political Life (Knopf), and The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family (New York Times Editor’s Choice), Pearls Politics and Power, and Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties (GWP). She is currently James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont, where she gives guest lectures on feminism and women and politics. She also serves on the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), a nongovernmental organization that she founded in 1991, and she recently launched Emerge Vermont to encourage and support women in politics. She lives in Shelburne, Vermont.


100 pages; Softcover
ISBN: 978-1-9505849-8-7
5.5 x 8.5,  $15.95
Publication Date: May, 2021
Distributor: IPG/Chicago, Ingram.
Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights & PR: Dede Cummings,
Keywords: Nature, Poetry, Aging, Grief, COVID-19, Jewish, Racism, Vermont

Distributor: IPG; also available through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and other wholesalers.
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