Simply Lasting

Joyce Peseroff, Editor
Joyce Peseroff, Editor Graywolf Press $17 (256p) ISBN 978-1-55597-429-9
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""One of the functions of poetry is to keep the memory of people and places and things and happenings alive,"" Jane Kenyon once said. Peseroff, a poet and friend of Kenyon's, seeks to keep Kenyon, who died of leukemia in 1995, alive in this wide-ranging, if repetitive, volume of personal and critical essays, letters and reviews. In the first chapter, Peseroff presents personal remembrances by the poets Robert Bly, Galway Kinnell, Jean Valentine and Donald Hall (Kenyon's widower), among others. Kenyon, beautiful and wild haired, prunes her garden, cooks onions and reads her quiet poems. She showed the same self to all who met her, and many witnessed her depression, a common theme among the varied pieces. Hall's essay, ""Ghost in the House"" is particularly frank. ""Despite her thoughts about hanging herself with a horse's harness...I did not think that Jane would kill herself."" Though she's described as moody and a manic-depressive, Kenyon is portrayed in an endlessly glowing fashion. Kenyon's private life-particularly her marriage, depression and death-comprises a large portion of her poetic legacy, and as Wes McNair writes in his critical essay, ""A Government of Two,"" the story of Hall and Kenyon's life together makes them remarkable, but also ""distorts the work and makes it more difficult to assess."" Marie Howe's short essay leads the reader in the other direction, with a review that delves into the occasional acid turns of Kenyon's work, but not her life. She points out, in particular, ""Otherwise:"" ""I got out of bed / on two strong legs. / It might have been / otherwise."" In the end, this collection is a touching look into the life and art of a much-loved poet.
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