Jane Kenyon 1947-1995
American poet, translator, and essayist.
Kenyon was one of the most highly respected woman poets of the late twentieth century. She employed simple language and relied on understatement and imagery to convey the underlying emotional themes of her works. Her frequently short poems are introspective and observational, and are regarded as masterpieces of form, subtlety, and verbal skill and economy. Often compared with the works of John Keats, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, and Anna Akhmatova, Kenyon's poems contemplate mortality, God, and the joys, fears, and pains of human existence. In their essay on Kenyon's works, Todd F. Davis and Kenneth Womack suggest that in her poetry, “Kenyon discovers in our mortality a form of grace, a kind of redemption inherent in the inescapable movement toward death that may lead into the light, away from darkness.”
Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on May 23, 1947. She spent her childhood living in the countryside outside Ann Arbor, and attended her hometown university, the University of Michigan, where she earned the Avery and Julia Hopwood Award for poetry in 1969. She received her B.A. in English in 1970, and her M.A. in English in 1972. She married Donald Hall—a fellow poet and a teacher at the university, and in 1975, the two relocated to Eagle Pond Farm, a farm in New Hampshire that had been in Hall's family for several generations. At first Kenyon had a difficult transition to New England living, as evinced in her first collection of poetry, From Room to Room (1978). She acclimated to the change though, and her later poems are filled with her love for and wonder at the New England countryside. At a time when Kenyon was having trouble with her own poetry, Robert Bly, renowned author and family friend, suggested that she work on translating Anna Akhmatova's poetry from Russian into English. Kenyon published Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova (1985) and attributed her newly regained sense of poetic vision and form to her work on these translations. Throughout her life, Kenyon struggled with depression and many of the poems in Constance (1993) detail her thoughts on depression. She was the recipient of the Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1992, and became New Hampshire's poet laureate in 1995. In 1994 Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia. Although she underwent bone-marrow transplant treatments, efforts to cure the disease were unsuccessful. Kenyon died in her home at Eagle Pond Farm on April 23, 1995.
The title of Kenyon's first collection, From Room to Room, refers to her adjustment to New England and her husband's family home. In the poem “Here,” she addresses her husband: “You always belonged here. / You were theirs, certain as a rock. / I'm the one who worries / if I fit in with the furniture / and the landscape.” Although Kenyon shows her growing comfort with her new surroundings in the poems collected in The Boat of Quiet Hours (1986)—many of the pieces describe the beauty and serenity of rural New England—the poems in this collections illustrate Kenyon's battle with depression. In “Rain in January” she metaphorically likens depression with rainwater that completely envelops the house; in “Thinking of Madame Bovary” she purports: “the soul's bliss / and suffering are bound together / like the grasses.” Kenyon's third collection, Let Evening Come (1990), illustrates Kenyon's quest to understand God and her growing acceptance of mortality. Repeated throughout the title poem are the words “let the evening come”; the final stanza bids: “Let it come, as it will, and don't / be afraid. God does not leave us / comfortless, so let evening come.” In “Having it Out with Melancholy” from Constance: Poems, Kenyon discusses her history with depression and her attempts to overcome it. The poem has seven sections, each with a different aspect of her struggle. She encounters the empty feeling of depression in “August Rain, After Haying,” and in “Pharaoh” she considers her husband's mortality during his battle with colon cancer. Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (1996) was compiled by Kenyon and her husband after she was diagnosed with leukemia. The majority of the poems were previously published, but the volume also contains twenty new poems such as “Happiness” and “Reading Aloud to My Father,” a poem about her father's last days. The last poem in the collection is “The Sick Wife,” Kenyon's unfinished, final poem.
Critiques of Kenyon's body of work are largely favorable. Commentators applaud the quiet elegance of her poems about the commonplace, everyday aspects of life. Her poems are praised for their portrayal of raw emotional themes in a dispassionate, almost disassociated way, a technique that renders them fiercely moving without being melodramatic. She often explores themes of death and dying, yet observers emphasize that her poems often contain peaceful and optimistic views on these inevitable consequences of life. Kenyon's poetry is commended for both its finely controlled form and the author's adept selection of words and images to convey the wonder and the emotional weight of human existence. Critic Robert Richman observed with sorrow that “we should remember that while [Kenyon] was second to none in her love of the world, she made poems that are not so much a reflection of that world as bold and brilliant responses to it. She will be sorely missed.”
From Room to Room 1978
Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova [translator; with Vera Dunham] 1985
The Boat of Quiet Hours 1986
Let the Evening Come 1990
Constance: Poems 1993
Otherwise: New and Selected Poems 1996
A Hundred White Daffodils: Essays, Interviews, the Akhmatova Translations, Newspaper Columns, and One Poem. (miscellany) 1999
(The entire section is 44 words.)
SOURCE: Oktenberg, Adrian. Review of From Room to Room by Jane Kenyon. Ploughshares 8, no. 1 (spring 1982): 168-71.
[In the following review, Oktenberg expresses her approval of the simple, straightforward poems in Kenyon's From Room to Room.]
Jane Kenyon is apparently translated to New England from Michigan; New England suits her well. Its depressive terrain and weather fit her gusty, solitary moods. Its Puritan heritage, still lived by in those towns, sparks her to spare meditations on the nature of the body, and on living this life. Her first book, From Room to Room, is the most ambitious of this group, conceived of as a body of work and not a collection of disparate poems; it is also the most fully realized.
Her subject is the situation, or the web of circumstances, in which she finds herself. Briefly, the story is this: A woman comes with the man she loves to live in his ancestral home. Although she loves him, she says, “I hated coming here.” She has her doubts about how she will fare:
You always belonged here. You were theirs, certain as a rock. I'm the one who worries if I fit in with the furniture and the landscape.
But the house itself is handsome:
And when I come over the hill, I see the house, with its generous and firm proportions, smoke rising gaily from the chimney....
(The entire section is 752 words.)
SOURCE: Gregerson, Linda. Review of The Boat of Quiet Hours by Jane Kenyon. Poetry 151, no. 5 (February 1988): 421-23.
[In the following review, Gregerson commends Kenyon's form and control in the poems contained in The Boat of Quiet Hours.]
The beauty of repose is a beauty most of us may only fitfully emulate or wistfully, and from a distance, behold. It is the chief beauty of Jane Kenyon's poetry and the informing ground of her vocal and speculative range. She moves, in The Boat of Quiet Hours, through the articulate seasons of her New Hampshire home and through the many modulations of human affection, human grief, the ceremonies of loss and sustenance. She has a good ear: the interplay of syntactical and linear and stanzaic duration, which accounts for so much of the music in free verse, is consistently well-conceived in these poems; the economies that account for so much of form seem rather to be the natural products of mindfulness and equilibrium than the more agitated record of willful poesis. The poems turn a generous and just regard to the textures of common experience, but they make room too for the pressures of eschatology, as when, under the quotidian rubric of “Drink, Eat, Sleep,” the poet's drink of water from a blue tin cup prompts a figure of transubstantiation—
The angel gave a little book to the prophet, telling him to eat— eat and tell of the end of...
(The entire section is 690 words.)
SOURCE: Unterecker, John. “Shape-Changing in Contemporary Poetry.” Michigan Quarterly Review 27, no. 3 (summer 1988): 490-92.
[In the following excerpt, Unterecker notes the difference between Kenyon's first collection, From Room to Room, and her second, The Boat of Quiet Hours, concerning her feelings of belonging in her New England home and community. Unterecker also compares Kenyon's intellectual clarity with that of John Keats.]
Jane Kenyon's second book, The Boat of Quiet Hours, is a significant development over From Room to Room (1978), itself a most eloquent statement of the uneasinesses and uncertainties of a woman who leaves the security of her own family (“My people are not here, my mother / and father, my brother. I talk / to the cats about weather.”) for a house filled with “five generations” of a husband's family's memorabilia. (She feels clumsy “… among photographs / of your ancestors, their hymnbooks and old / shoes.”)
The world of the first book persists into the second, of course: the house, the husband, the cats, and especially the rural landscape (not too far from town) that in From Room to Room had offered something like solace from bouts of depression. But in her new book, the house has changed—and dramatically. The first stanza of “Back from the City” makes that clear:
After three days and...
(The entire section is 835 words.)
SOURCE: Baker, David. “Culture, Inclusion, Craft.” Poetry 158, no. 3 (June 1991): 161-64.
[In the following excerpt, Baker laments that, aside from a handful of quality poems, most of the verse in Let Evening Come is terse and redundant—which he finds disappointing, considering the quality of Kenyon's previously published poems.]
If Goldbarth's multiverse is rapidly expanding, blasting outward, then the universe of Jane Kenyon's Let Evening Come is undergoing a severe contraction, a collapse, a falling inward toward density and gravity. It's a poetry common to the minimal, primitivist impulses of the past three decades. Even while I acclaim the noises of cultural inclusion in contemporary poetry, I want to continue also to find solace and beauty in plainness, in solitude. Unfortunately, Kenyon too seldom raises her private, spare utterances to the conditions that, I believe, the plain style aspires to—prayer, song, grace.
In her best poems, Kenyon documents the culture of the solitary—an impulse which, I admit, conflicts with the qualities I am generally praising here. It is of course possible and surely desirable, in a poetry as abundant and various as ours, to have it both ways. Here is Jane Kenyon having it her way quite well:
August. My neighbor started cutting wood on cool Sabbath afternoons, the blue plume of the saw's exhaust wavering over...
(The entire section is 1063 words.)
SOURCE: Kenyon, Jane, and David Bradt. “Jane Kenyon: An Interview.” Plum Review, no. 10 (winter 1995): 115-28.
[In the following interview, which was conducted in March, 1993, Kenyon discusses art and politics, the necessity of the arts in the schools, poetry translations, and the importance of poetry and the poet in today's society.]
A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jane Kenyon won the Avery and Jule Hopwood Award before completing her degrees at the University of Michigan. She has also won awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New Hampshire Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Voelker Award, and the Frederick Bock Prize from Poetry. Her books of poetry are From Room to Room, Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova, The Boat of Quiet Hours, Let Evening Come, and Constance. The following exchange took place at Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire, in March of 1993. Jane Kenyon died at the age of 47 in April of 1995.
[Bradt]: How did the Guggenheim fellowship you won last year affect your life?
[Kenyon]: I was immensely heartened by it. I can't tell you what a thrill it was for me to look at the directory of Guggenheim fellows. To be listed with astrophysicists and dancers and mathematicians and novelists—every kind of human endeavor—was the biggest thrill. Winning has been such...
(The entire section is 4420 words.)
SOURCE: Barber, David. Review of Constance: Poems by Jane Kenyon. Poetry 164, no. 3 (June 1994): 161-64.
[In the following review, Barber contends that some of the poems in Constance: Poems feel as if Kenyon is experimenting with, and not quite perfecting, poetry with a larger scope than that of her previous works. Barber observes, however, that other poems in this collection are extremely well written and have strong poetic and emotional impact.]
Jane Kenyon possesses one of our day's most scrupulously transparent idioms. Deliberate, fastidious, disarmingly bare of adornments and conceits, her poems' colloquial surfaces can at first seem too artless to contain much in the way of sustaining depth or weight. But modesty of means is not the same thing of course as simplicity of apprehension. Kenyon's resolute absence of affect in articulating local and quotidian instance enables her best work to assume a palpable moral aspect that would be overbearing in a more elevated manner and unconvincing in a less taciturn mode. In her hands the home truth becomes both more pertinent and more inscrutable than readers weaned on urbane indeterminacies might otherwise have supposed.
The inscrutable side of Kenyon's poems lies in their welled-up irresolutions rather than anything remotely resembling willful obscurity. Their calm decorum harbors thorny qualms. Writing from the “north of...
(The entire section is 1200 words.)
SOURCE: Gordon, Emily. “Above an Abyss.” Nation 262, no. 17 (29 April 1996): 29-30.
[In the following excerpt, Gordon comments on the various tones and subjects in Otherwise: New and Selected Poems.]
For Jane Kenyon violence is, as in nature, inevitable, necessary, even welcome. Kenyon wrote about the seasonal gradations of rural life, where the rustle of leaves is “like so many whispered conversations.” Like the poems of Elizabeth Bishop (one of Kenyon's favorites) and Robert Frost, the poems in Otherwise—twenty new ones as well as selections from her four previous books—are rooted in a sympathetic observation of the physical world.
This is Kenyon's final book, collected just before her death from leukemia at 47. As she told Bill Moyers in a 1994 interview, “There is something in me that will not be snuffed out.” In these testaments to places, like the spot where sun melts snow around a rock, “where something small could luxuriate,” Kenyon stretches the limits of her faith—religious, personal and natural. Her phrasing is playful and rhythmic, stitched together with unexpected rhymes and caesuras.
What kept Kenyon up, listening to the day noises as well as the night, was an accentuated attention that encompassed many lives, present and past, obvious and less so: neighbors, Keats, the nameless woman who used the thimble she finds wedged in...
(The entire section is 908 words.)
SOURCE: Richman, Robert. “Luminous Particulars.” New Criterion 14, no. 9 (May 1996): 76-80.
[In the following essay, Richman explains that Kenyon's poems are difficult to categorize because her poetry contains unexpected elements. Richman also compares Kenyon's poetry writing with Chekhov's prose.]
Jane Kenyon's death from leukemia at the age of forty-eight in April 1995 was a significant loss to American poetry. As frequent publishers of her work—from 1984 to 1991, twenty-five of her poems appeared in our pages—we feel the loss especially acutely. It is offset somewhat by the publication of Otherwise, which contains a selection from Kenyon's four previous books as well as twenty-one new poems, most of which were written before she became ill in January 1994. (The only unrepresented book is the 1986 chapbook, Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova.) But if Otherwise confirms Kenyon's place in the first rank of the poets of her generation, it is also an unhappy reminder that we will have no more poems from her pen.
Unique is a much misused term these days, yet there is no poet to whom it may be applied more justly than Jane Kenyon. Ours is the age of the pigeonhole, in which poets are forever being forced into niches, no matter how uncomfortable the fit. In Kenyon's case, the main temptation seems to be to lump her with “confessional” poets—those who...
(The entire section is 2476 words.)
SOURCE: Oktenberg, Adrian. “In Solitude and Sorrow.” Women's Review of Books 13, nos. 10-11 (July 1996): 27-8.
[In the following review, Oktenberg contemplates the beauty, simplicity, and expertise of Kenyon's poetry and discusses the recurring themes in Otherwise: New and Selected Poems.]
Jane Kenyon's death at 47 in 1995 was a bitter loss to American poetry. In 1981, I had the pleasure of reviewing her first book. It was clear to me at the time that this was a unique voice, one with staying power.
Kenyon's voice is the body and soul of her poetry, full of gravity and grace, characterized by a kind of simplicity which is the product of long consideration, that has great depth and resonance. When I think of her I think less often of other poets than of the modern artists of spirituality—Brancusi, Barnett Newman, Rothko, Anne Truitt, Agnes Martin—who pursue an ideal of perfection with every fiber. Her poems must have been devilishly difficult to write but they are a song to read, and they live a long time in memory.
Much of American poetry is contemplative, and almost all of Kenyon's work resides in that mode, defines it, really, better than anyone else's. Kenyon's work can be carelessly misread as quiet, or modest, though I gather that she was largely spared that because, throughout her career, her work was vigorously supported by powerful men. But Hayden...
(The entire section is 1761 words.)
SOURCE: Cookson, Sandra. Review of Otherwise: New and Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon. World Literature Today 71, no. 2 (spring 1997): 390-91.
[In the following review, Cookson purports that the genius of the simple poems in Otherwise: New and Selected Poems is Kenyon's spark of imagination and her ability to convey the inspiration of their creation with skillfully chosen words.]
The poems in Jane Kenyon's collection Otherwise were selected by the poet on her deathbed, with the aid of her husband, the poet and author Donald Hall, as she lay dying of leukemia in 1995. They represent her four published volumes plus twenty new poems, previously uncollected. Illness, her own and that of her father and other relatives she tended with such respect, plays a rather prominent role throughout her verse; it accounts, I suspect, for some of the celebrity she experienced in her last few years, in readings with Hall of his frank poems about his own long bout with cancer.
Kenyon's poems are the earnest, spare, often moving record of a life of work at her craft, of years of struggling with painful depression, of the daily bearing witness in the intimacy of the New Hampshire countryside where she lived. Given the limited range and voice of Kenyon's poetry, she is at her best in the brief lyric, which in some of these poems opens into the aperçu that is the reward of closely observed...
(The entire section is 559 words.)
SOURCE: Breslin, Paul. “Four and a Half Books.” Poetry 170, no. 4 (July 1997): 230-33.
[In the following excerpt, Breslin details the evolution of Kenyon's poems from From Room to Room to Otherwise: New and Selected Poems. Breslin sadly notes the irony that Kenyon was just beginning to expand and mature creatively at the time of her death.]
The late Jane Kenyon's posthumous Otherwise: New and Selected Poems reminds us of what a fine poet we lost by her premature death. A group of twenty previously uncollected poems opens the book, followed by generous selections from the four volumes published during her lifetime, in chronological order. It is good to see the new poems first, but only by re-reading them after all the rest does one recognize that a significant expansion in Kenyon's range had just begun when her last illness cut it short.
Certain virtues were already present in the first book, From Room to Room (1978). The opening of “Changes,” for instance, immediately demonstrates a keen eye and a keen ear: “The cast-iron kitchen range / grows rust like furl / in the cold barn.” She also has the gift Aristotle thought was unteachable and the surest sign of genius: the swift perception of likeness amid difference, though sometimes in these early poems she pushes her luck. Some of her analogies are startling and felicitous (“Wind moves the leaves...
(The entire section is 1234 words.)
SOURCE: McNair, Wesley. “A Government of Two.” Iowa Review 28, no. 1 (spring 1998): 59-71.
[In the following essay, McNair explores Kenyon's relationship with her husband, Donald Hall, and underscores the overt and the subconscious influences they had on each other's work.]
Two or three years ago, something happened to my friends Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon that I'd never seen in the literary world before. Up to that time each was well known to poetry audiences—he as a senior American poet and recent recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award, she as a younger poet with a growing reputation. Then, their relationship itself became famous. Through their co-readings, their joint interviews in print and on the PBS show “Fresh Air,” and most importantly, their starring roles in the Bill Moyers special, “A Life Together,” millions of Americans came to know of the life in poetry the two shared as husband and wife in rural New Hampshire. Audiences also discovered the couple's sorrows: Kenyon's life-long struggle with depression, and Hall's colon cancer, which metastasized to the liver and despite a successful operation, seemed likely to return. Later on, of course, those who had followed the Hall-Kenyon story learned of its ironic and heart-rending conclusion: fearing the fatal recurrence of his disease, the couple discovered a cancer growing in her—the leukemia that, despite a...
(The entire section is 4843 words.)
SOURCE: Merritt, Constance. Review of Otherwise: New and Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon. Prairie Schooner 72, no. 1 (spring 1998): 171-76.
[In the following excerpt, Merritt analyzes the poems collected in Otherwise: New and Selected Poems and notes Kenyon's preoccupation with death and dying. However, Merritt asserts, this morbidity is tempered by Kenyon's reverence for the common, everyday realities that make up human existence.]
Although her name does not appear among those “certain authors” that Donald Hall, in his afterword to Kenyon's posthumously published New & Selected Poems, tells us she “read and reread … with excitement and devotion” (Keats, Akhmatova, Bishop, Chekhov), Emily Dickinson is no less a presence here. Beyond shared themes—death, depression, hard grappling with God—and a shared subject matter—daily domestic life in a New England village, intimacies with flowers, beasts, and birds, the cycle of the seasons, of daylight and darkness, and companionable rambles with a cherished dog—it is the intricate equilibrium struck between evanescence and durability, gravity and grace, between “that joy so violent / it [is] hard to distinguish from pain” and “the Hour of Lead” that weds the work of these two poets into a singular tradition. And if Kenyon is not (as Jacqueline Osherow, gently mocking, styles herself) “one of [Dickinson's]...
(The entire section is 2017 words.)
SOURCE: Breslin, Paul. “Jane Kenyon's ‘Manners Toward God’: Gratitude and the ‘Anti-Urge’.” In Bright Unequivocal Eye: Poems, Papers, and Remembrances from the First Jane Kenyon Conference, edited by Bert G. Hornback, pp. 39-45. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
[In the following essay, Breslin explores Kenyon's poem “Having It Out with Melancholy” and investigates the levels and different definitions of the melancholia depicted in the poem.]
Reviewing Otherwise for Poetry (July 1997), I noted how Jane Kenyon's attention to the physical world, which in her earliest work could seem mere description for description's sake, came to have deeper significance as a counter-force to the world-dissolving powers of depression. Today, I want to trace more carefully the tension between descriptive noticing and depressive obliviousness in “Having It Out with Melancholy,” her most extensive poetic engagement with the consequences of depression for her art and life. To do so requires a more nuanced description of that tension than the earlier essay could provide.
Kenyon's title avoids the modern, clinical word “depression,” replacing it with “Melancholy,” as in Burton's Anatomy of same. For Burton, Melancholy was closely allied to the vocations of poet, artist, and scholar; it was above all else an affliction of a “hurt and misaffected” imagination. A...
(The entire section is 2688 words.)
SOURCE: Harris, Judith. “Vision, Voice, and Soul-Making in ‘Let Evening Come’.” In Bright Unequivocal Eye: Poems, Papers, and Remembrances from the First Jane Kenyon Conference, edited by Bert G. Hornback, pp. 63-8. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
[In the following essay, Harris lauds the serenity in the face of an inevitable death, and the calm assurances of solace in Kenyon's poem, “Let Evening Come.”]
Let the light of late afternoon shine through the chinks in the barn, moving up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing as a woman takes up her needles and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let the dew collect on the hoe abandoned in long grass. Let the stars appear and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den. Let the wind die down. Let the shed go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop in the oats, to air in the lung let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don't be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come.
In “Let Evening Come”, Kenyon begins with the motion of sunlight, suggesting a balance of upward and downward, rising and falling:
Let the light of late afternoon shine through chinks in the barn, moving up the bales as the sun moves down.
(The entire section is 2314 words.)
SOURCE: Davis, Todd F. and Kenneth Womack. “Settling into the Light: The Ethics of Grace in the Poetry of Jane Kenyon.” In Bright Unequivocal Eye: Poems, Papers, and Remembrances from the First Jane Kenyon Conference, edited by Bert G. Hornback, pp. 87-97. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
[In the following essay, Davis and Womack center on the often-repeated theme of mortality in Kenyon's poems. The critics contend that while Kenyon does face mortality with trepidation, her poems on the subject are gracefully tempered with gratitude for life—however fleeting—and peaceful contemplation of the life to come.]
Into light all things must fall, glad at last to have fallen.
—Jane Kenyon, “Things”
Ordinary pleasures, contentment recollected, blow like snow into the abandoned garden, overcoming the daisies.
—Donald Hall, “Weeds and Peonies”
I sense unavoidable darkness coming near, but come and see the Paradise where together, blissful and innocent, we once lived.
—Anna Akhmatova, “15”
Jane Kenyon's poetry documents what Donald Hall refers to as the “ordinary pleasures” of life in rural New Hampshire—a calf born in November, a trip to the town dump, the wash hanging on the line, a walk with the dog at sunrise, a hay wagon left in a newly mown August field. Yet an ever-present sense of...
(The entire section is 3972 words.)
SOURCE: Hostetler, Ann. “Food as Sacrament in the Poetry of Jane Kenyon.” In Bright Unequivocal Eye: Poems, Papers, and Remembrances from the First Jane Kenyon Conference, edited by Bert G. Hornback, pp. 105-13. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
[In the following essay, Hostetler studies the many references to food and hunger in Kenyon's work. Hostetler notes that Kenyon often uses food imagery to symbolize sustenance—actual food for the body and metaphorical nourishment for the soul.]
Communion of one sort or another seems to be at the heart of eating in Kenyon's poems, whether it be the poet's communion with life or with another being, human or animal. Eating the “ripe, flawless peach” in “Otherwise,” the poet merges with creation. Kenyon also tells us that she sits down for dinner with her mate at a candlelit table, but she does not tell us what they prepared. Her poems are not recipes. The dinner with her mate is communion with another human being, and what they ate together is none of the reader's business. The sacramental nature of food in Kenyon's poetry is conveyed primarily by images of elemental, natural foods. The exceptions, prepared mixtures such as exotic dishes she has tasted on her travels or the bread dough her grandmother kneads, often convey more ambiguous relationships to creation—those shaped or tainted by human urges to control as well as to create, those that reflect...
(The entire section is 3072 words.)
SOURCE: Spirko, Robert. “Affective Disorders: The Treatment of Emotion in Jane Kenyon's Poetry.” In Bright Unequivocal Eye: Poems, Papers, and Remembrances from the First Jane Kenyon Conference, edited by Bert G. Hornback, pp. 121-26. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
[In the following essay, Spirko examines the techniques Kenyon uses to express and control emotion in her poetry.]
… I dream of lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can. .....What we feel most has no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.
—“The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart,” by Jack Gilbert
It is a common myth that poets are somehow more sensitive, that their souls are somehow more finely tuned than those of “normal people.” If this is true, and I'm not sure that it is, I think it has more to do with poetry than with poets. Let me be more clear. Poetry is a discourse that takes emotion seriously, unlike many other discourses we have available to us. In fact, there is a general prejudice against “emotional discourse” in academia. (Only a few critical approaches make any decent effort to account for emotion: feminism, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies are chief among these.)
At issue here is the failure of theory to map the terrain of poetry: simply put, contemporary critical theory has yet to articulate a vocabulary that...
(The entire section is 2479 words.)
SOURCE: Timmerman, John H. “Otherwise: Old and New Poems.” In Jane Kenyon: A Literary Life, pp. 212-23. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002.
[In the following essay, Timmerman observes the poignancy of the poems in Otherwise: New and Selected Poems and analyzes works from her earlier volumes and previously uncollected writings that were not included in this collection.]
In November 1994, Fiona McCrae, who had replaced Scott Walker as editor of Graywolf Press, proposed the collection of Kenyon's poems that would become Otherwise. Her letter arrived about ten months after leukemia had begun its virulent course through Kenyon's body. Kenyon had been diagnosed with the disease in January 1994, and standard chemotherapy hadn't helped. Kenyon now faced a bone-marrow transplant as the only option for extending her life. The transplant was performed at the Fred C. Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington, on November 18. After Kenyon was discharged from the hospital on December 20, she was taken to an apartment in Seattle where Hall was staying. There he undertook her care, programming pumps to infuse medicine into her system and the like.
Properly understood, the bone-marrow transplant is not a surgical procedure. First, with doses of cytotoxin and total body irradiation, every bit of a patient's bone marrow is destroyed. Then a...
(The entire section is 4002 words.)
Hall, Donald and Jeffery S. Cramer. “With Jane and Without: An Interview with Donald Hall.” Massachusetts Review 49, no. 4 (winter 1998-1999): 493-510.
Centers on Hall and Kenyon's life together and their careers.
Kenyon, Jane, Donald Hall, and Marian Blue. “An Interview with Marian Blue.” AWP Chronicle 27, no. 6 (May/summer 1995): 1-8.
Covers Hall and Kenyon's personal and working relationship.
Kenyon, Jane, and Bill Moyers. “Jane Kenyon.” In The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, edited by James Haba, pp. 219-38. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
Discusses the inspiration for Kenyon's poems, her bouts of depression, and the role of poetry. Also includes many Kenyon poems in full text.
Mattison, Alice. “‘Let It Grow in the Dark Like a Mushroom’: Writing with Jane Kenyon.” Michigan Quarterly Review 39, no. 1 (winter 2000): 120-37.
Chronicles Kenyon's friendships and writing partnerships with Mattison and fellow writer Joyce Peseroff and surveys Kenyon's battles with depression and leukemia.
Garrison, Deborah. “Simply Lasting: The Legacy of an American Poet.” New Yorker 72, no. 26 (9 September 1996): 90.
Praises Kenyon's use of weather and...
(The entire section is 487 words.)