Authors: Jane Kenyon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet

Author Works

Poetry:

From Room to Room, 1978

The Boat of Quiet Hours, 1986

Let the Evening Come, 1990

Constance, 1993

Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, 1996

Translation:

Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova, 1985

Miscellaneous:

A Hundred White Daffodils: Essays, the Akhmatova Translations, Newspaper Columns, Notes, Interviews, and One Poem, 1999

Biography

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and raised on the outskirts of town, Jane Kenyon lived on a dirt road across from a farm and attended a one-room school until the fifth grade. Kenyon started to write poetry in junior high school and continued writing in college, winning a Hopwood Award while attending the University of Michigan. Majoring in English, she earned her B.A. in 1970 and her M.A. in 1972.{$I[A]Kenyon, Jane}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Kenyon, Jane}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Kenyon, Jane}{$I[tim]1947;Kenyon, Jane}

Kenyon’s poetry and life were largely shaped around her marriage with the poet Donald Hall. They met in 1969 when he was teaching at the University of Michigan. Hall began courting Kenyon in 1971, and they married in 1972. In 1975 Hall resigned from Michigan, where he had taught since 1957, and Kenyon and Hall moved to Eagle Pond Farm, a Wilmot, New Hampshire, farm settled by Hall’s great-grandfather.

Kenyon’s first book, From Room to Room, was published in 1978 by Alice James Press, the New England poetry cooperative of which Kenyon was a member. She founded and coedited a poetry magazine (Green House) from 1976 to 1980 and served on the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. She was awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1992 and a PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry in 1994. She and Hall were featured in the Emmy Award-winning television special A Life Together, hosted by Bill Moyers. At the time of her death, she was the poet laureate of New Hampshire.

By her own admission, Kenyon “didn’t really get going” with her writing until moving to Eagle Pond Farm. Kenyon and Hall lived and worked on the farm together, writing daily, at opposite ends of the house. Kenyon’s poetry used the New England landscape as subject matter which allowed her to discover her own inner world.

Kenyon once spent two years reading the English Romantic poet John Keats. According to poet and critic Carol Muske, Keats taught Kenyon “the perspective for transience, a feeling for how tiny and fleeting the poet appears in the landscape, yet how enormous the world’s need for poetry, how universal its claims.” Like Keats, Kenyon was highly attentive to the cycles of nature. She returned to this theme often in her work. In the later poems of her final collection, Otherwise, it appears to distract her from the pathos of her fate. In “Potato,” Kenyon dumps a rotted potato in her compost heap and discovers it later “plumper, firmer, resurrected”; it becomes a metaphor for the power of resurrection and an example of her willingness to see evidence of afterlife within the world. She uses a similar strategy in the poem “Otherwise,” noting particular, almost mundane details that “might have been otherwise.” She offers an acknowledgment in the poem’s final line that one day “it will be otherwise,” implying that the joyous details of the world can, and will, be easily taken away by death.

Kenyon’s work combines the immediacy of the deep image with the philosophical underpinnings of Romanticism. Her ability to lose herself within the natural world, describing it accurately and succinctly, is one of her greatest achievements. In January, 1994, Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia. She died on April 22, 1995, on Eagle Pond Farm, having completed her work on Otherwise shortly before her death.

BibliographyHall, Donald. Without. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Hall began writing Without early in his wife’s illness. It describes Kenyon’s bone marrow transplant and radiation treatment and continues past her death with a series of epistles from Hall to Kenyon. Hall writes with exceptional clarity and directness; several reviewers have referred to this book as a true expression of “raw grief.”Hornback, Bert G., ed. “Bright, Unequivocal Eye”: Poems, Papers, and Remembrances from the First Jane Kenyon Conference. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. This volume collects poems and remarks made at an April, 1998, conference about Kenyon and her work by Donald Hall, Wendell Berry, Galway Kinnell, Alice Mattison, Gregory Orr, and Joyce Peseroff. It also includes essays by a dozen other participants from the conference.“Jane Kenyon Portfolio.” Meridian: The Semi-Annual from the University of Virginia 4 (1999). Contains a Kenyon essay later included in A Hundred White Daffodils, a poem by and interview with Hall, poet Gregory Orr’s remarks about Kenyon at the 1998 conference, and a poem by Orr for Kenyon.Mattison, Alice. “‘Let It Grow in the Dark Like a Mushroom’: Writing with Jane Kenyon.” Michigan Quarterly Review 39, no. 1 (Winter, 2000): 120. Mattison recounts her years in a workshop with Kenyon. Correspondence between the two is included.Timmerman, John H. Jane Kenyon: A Literary Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002. Timmerman examines the multiple drafts that Kenyon wrote in the process of reaching a finished poem and studies how she refined ideas, images, and language until a poem was completed. He also uses notes, journals, letters, and Hall’s recollections to study Kenyon’s biography and personal life, assessing how they affected her poetry.
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