Monday, December 25, 2023

Jane Kenyon*

Jane Kenyon (1947–1995) is an American poet who was a student at University of Michigan when she met her future husband, the much-older poet Donald Hall, who was a teacher there. Her first poetry collection, From Room to Room (Alice James Books), appeared in 1978.

Kenyon had had four critically-acclaimed poetry collections published, when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She fought it for a year, and after a stem-cell transplant, the cancer returned. She died a few days later; she was only 47.

In the New York Times Book Review, poet Carol Muske said of Otherwise – the book of new and selected poems Kenyon had been working on at the time of her death – “In ecstasy, [Kenyon] sees this world as a kind of threshold through which we enter God’s wonder.”

Her papers, including manuscripts, personal journals, and notebooks are held at the University of New Hampshire Library Special Collections and Archives.

The following poem first appeared in Poetry magazine in December of 1995, and was published in Otherwise: New & Selected Poems (1996, Graywolf).

Mosaic of the Nativity: Serbia, Winter 1993

On the domed ceiling God
is thinking:
I made them my joy,
and everything else I created
I made to bless them.
But see what they do!
I know their hearts
and arguments:

“We’re descended from
Cain. Evil is nothing new,
so what does it matter now
if we shell the infirmary,
and the well where the fearful
and rash alike must
come for water?”

God thinks Mary into being.
Suspended at the apogee
of the golden dome,
she curls in a brown pod,
and inside her mind
of Christ, cloaked in blood,
lodges and begins to grow.

*This is the third Kingdom Poets post about Jane Kenyon: first post, second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.