Jane Kenyon is the rare poet who shared her Christian faith and was still recognized as a critically important poet. Perhaps it is because her faith avoids any syrupy raptures, instead, providing a different glimpse into everyday life. Still, even an excellent site like the Poetry Foundation can ignore her faith when writing about her life.The literary world is not comfortable with faith, even with “one of their own.”
Anyone reading the collection “Let Evening Come,” will see Kenyon’s faith clearly. It is present in her everyday mentions of her work at church or in one of her daily walks with her dog. In “At the Winter Solstice,” we get a glimpse of a Christmas Eve pageant in a small church:
wondered why she had been chosen.”
But it is a faith of honesty. While she often finds comfort, she also struggles — as do most people. Kenyon suffered from depression, wrestling with it for most of her short life (she died from leukemia at age 47 in 1995). Struggling to reconcile it with her beliefs, she is left short of answers. In “Now Where?” she opens with verses that can reflect depression or grief:
turn back, beating me to the door.
‘Where is your God now?'”
Most of her poetry celebrates the rural and rustic found around her New Hampshire farm, although she was born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not leaving until she married the poet Donald Hall after finishing her Masters degree at the University of Michigan. Kenyon sees much in the simple actions of the day. In her poem, “Father and Son,” she writes how the neighbor keeps cutting wood with his chainsaw as his son helps. He does it on Sunday afternoons and she comes to “mind the noise.” But the neighbor is:
as it happened, of their life together.”
So, she takes from this everyday scene which can even be annoying and gives us pause to think about these moments when either the father or son (she hints it is the father) dies before the next season. The importance of the present moment is never lost on Kenyon. She often sees in others the stories they carry with them, revealed in tiny glimpses. She does the same with seasons as they come and go. She tends to embrace each season. In, “Dark Morning: Snow”:
down the tree.
There nothing I want…”
Kenyon appeals to me and others because she reveals how many of us feel. As a Christian, I can relate to her moments of comfort and her moments of despair. She does not need to go far to find her inspiration — it is the farm she lives on, the people surrounding her, her faith, her dog, and her friends. We benefit from how her eyes often see more than we do. The present does not slip by her. Instead, she lives in the moment with an eye on eternity.
Let Evening Come
up the bales as the sun moves down.
and her yarn. Let evening come.
and moon disclose her silver horn.
go black inside. Let evening come.
let evening come.
She is continually struck by the grief and horror an individual can experience that does
not impact the world. How life seems to go on all around you as your own life falls apart. In “Like Stars” she describes an awe-inspiring evening setting full of the life of insects and birds, and ends with the line: “Right now my friend is having a baby boy who is expected to die.” In “Sometimes the Ache Sleeps” we see her facing her parent’s declining health, “But each day the purple morning glories bloomed after the sun rose, and each day promised to be just like the one before.” At times, the poet seems to be torn between the thankfulness for ongoing life and being stunned that all the world does not understand your grief. But grief, while universally experienced, is a private affair.
This unique volume of poetry tears down the stereotype of the solitary poet locked in a room, as the entire volume is the collaboration of four poets. It is not an anthology of their individual work, but a collection of collaborative poetry created across continents. Two of the writers, Reka Jellema and Jennifer Savage, live in different areas of the United States. Brendan Bonsack and Kathryn Ross are both from Australia. Together, they break the collection into three areas, “Resonance,” “Weaving,” and “Remberance.” And although it does not impact the contents, it is worth noting that the book cover photo and design are outstanding (and the work of two of the writers).
If you are skeptical about the concept, you will not be after reading the collection. This collaborative collection creates a strong, deep voice where the writers clearly listened to one another’s writing and enhanced their individual voices. To use their own titles, the ideas of resonance and weaving are what make these poems work, whie the poems of rememberance remind us of the connection with others of our mortality.
They seem to touch on their connection with one another in their opening poem, “We Met Before.”
“I have met you before
I can tell by the flurry of words
Spoken, not spoken
Assembled like confetti
Blown from my lips, flecked in my hair
A swarm of tiny letters
The sayable puzzles, and the unsayable
Were we meant to fit together,
And this blinking, squinting, mutter-mutter know?
When I met you before
Our time was runing low”
Throughout the collection, we see a range of themes and find both serious and winsome words. In the midst of a poem entitled “Canine,” we get an accurate look at dogs, but with a seriousness which can only make us smile:
our spots, divined
From miles off
With each nudge of snout
Scents by the millions
Pungent edge of lawns, uprooted
Trees, and variegated clumps
Our nostrils quivered
And our tails shot up
Whether exploring marriage (“A Love’s Little Scratching”), objects (“Ceiling”), or grief (“Ways to Say Goodbye”), the writers combine to create a unique voice, a new way of looking at life. A poem like “Wednesdays” could be written by one person, but the different voices in creating these snapshots add a depth to the voice. We see this again in “Men of Bicycle” as different views take us past the visual into a realm of wondering.
This collection offers us a new way to approach writing. While many have talked about collaborative writing in our digital age, this volume shows it not only working but presenting a new voice. It is exciting to think how the addition of a new person, or the replacement of one writer, could affect how these writers work together. Perhaps the four voices behind it make you feel like there is a conversation happening and you are invited to join in. Pull up a chair. You will be better for it.
I’ve read this fifth volume of Rankine’s poetry three times, and each time I learn more about what I do not know. Rankine exposes the everyday incidents of personal racism, the public racism of how Serena Williams is treated throughout her career, and the violent racism revealed in the deaths of unarmed black men. But the adjectives of “personal,” “public,” and “violent,” are mere artifacts. What Rankine is showing is that all racism is personal, public, and violent. As she, and the rest of the world, watch Williams be the object of blatantly erroneous calls, it is personal for her. And it is violent in how it attacks her very humanity. The deaths of unarmed black men, the “unintentional” racist comments of her white, liberal, and educated friends, and the public shaming of someone responding honestly to being harassed live beyond the moment.
The book itself is a scrapbook of poetry, creative prose, quotes, verbal collages, and visual art. She almost seems to be scrambling, desperately, for a way to get her message across. At times, she hits it over and over, as she experiences it over and over.
“Haven’t you said this to a close friend who early in your friendship, when distracted,
would call you by the name of her black housekeeper? You assumed you two were the only black people in her life. Eventually she stopped doing this, though she never acknowledged her slippage. And you never called her on it (why not?) and yet, you don’t forget.” These are the daily reminders of the racism inherent in our society but only experienced by those who are not white.
Ranking divides her book into several sections, including ones focusing on her daily encounters with racism, one on the treatment of Williams, and one focusing on headline events such as the killings of Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson. In addressing so many forms of racism, Rankine requires a response (and, of course, not to respond is to respond). If you want to feel good about the U.S. (and the world) and race, don’t read this book. If, like me, racism is not something personally experience, this book will give you some insight to the pervasiveness and horrendous impact of racism.
This is Frost’s first book of poems, published in 1913, and it set him on the path that we are all familiar with. What surprised me is that this was published when Frost was 38 years old — and he still accomplished so much after this book. The poems reflect Frost’s interest in the rural landscape, the individuality of a person, and ruminations on our place in the world. Like many good writers, Frost is easy to read, but also not content with an unexamined life. He avoids the pretentiousness of many writers and
manages to say more in the process. When poets become popular (e.g. Mary Oliver), some people tend to see them as superficial. Instead, they are often strong poets who have found a way to connect their art with the public. Frost did this.
“Mowing” and “Reluctance” are two of the better-known poems hers. There are many recordings of Frost’s own straightforward style of reading. Here is a recording of him reading “Mowing.”
Personally, I returned several times to:
When the wind works against us in the dark,
And pelts with snow
The lower chamber window on the east,
And whispers with a sort of stifled bark,
‘Come out! Come out!’–
It costs no inward struggle not to go,
I count our strength,
Two and a child,
Those of us not asleep subdued to mark
How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length,–
How drifts are piled,
Dooryard and road ungraded,
Till even the comforting barn grows far away,
And my heart owns a doubt
Whether ’tis in us to arise with day
And save ourselves unaided.