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Otherwise: New and Selected Poems

Otherwise: New and Selected Poems

4.0 2
by Jane Kenyon, Donald E. Hall (Afterword)

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Otherwise collects a lifetime's work by one of contemporary poetry's most cherished talents. Opening with twenty new poems and including generous selections from Jane Kenyon's four previous books—From Room to Room, The Boat of Quiet Hours, Let Evening Come, and Constance—this collection was selected and arranged by


Otherwise collects a lifetime's work by one of contemporary poetry's most cherished talents. Opening with twenty new poems and including generous selections from Jane Kenyon's four previous books—From Room to Room, The Boat of Quiet Hours, Let Evening Come, and Constance—this collection was selected and arranged by Kenyon herself—alongside her husband, the esteemed poet Donald Hall—shortly before her death in April 1995.

This extensive gathering reveals a scrupulously crafted body of work in which poem after poem achieves a rare and somber grace. Light and shade are never far apart in these telling narratives of life and love and work at the poet's rural New Hampshire home. The shadow of depression in Kenyon's verse, which grew much darker and longer at certain intervals, has the force and heft of a spiritual presence—a god, demon, angel. Yet her work emphasizes the constant effort of her imagination to confront and even find redemption in suffering. However quiet or domesticated or subtle in her moods and methods, Kenyon was a poet who sought to discover the extraordinary within the ordinary, and her poems continue to make this discovery. As Hall writes in the afterword to Otherwise, we share "her joy in the body and the creation, in flowers, music, and paintings, in hayfields and a dog."

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Here was a poet who wrote about traditional subjects--her family, the farm she shared with her husband, the rhythms of the natural world--and yet was celebrated by some of [the twentieth] century's most prominent writers and publishers. Kenyon's work was a model of simplicity: the perfect voice for an age that shuns adornment . . . There is often a strong undertow beneath the smooth exteriors.” —Elizabeth Lund, The Christian Science Monitor

“Kenyon's poetry is honest and earnest, rich in imagery yet free of clutter . . . This collection is generous, cohesive, and moving.” —Publishers Weekly

“Jane Kenyon was always a quiet poet . . . Yet if you listen carefully and read between the lines, there's always noise lurking somewhere: bugs, accidents, traumas, storms, and an underlying turbulence that makes Kenyon's work darker and more interesting than most New England nature poets . . . Otherwise, published on the first anniversary of her death from leukemia, includes new poems, sections from her four previous collections, and a poignant afterward by her husband, the poet Donald Hall . . . Perhaps the most interesting and complex character [in this book] is Kenyon's own depression, often personified and omnipresent. 'Having It Out With Melancholy' reads like an argument . . . Yet this is a poet who can also write that 'Happiness is the uncle you never / knew about, who flies a single-engine plane / onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes / into town, and inquires at every door / until he finds you asleep midafternoon.' Indeed, Otherwise is not without its transcendent moments of joy.” —Susan Shapiro, Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kenyon's poetry is honest and earnest, rich in imagery yet free of clutter. Always technically proficient, her early poems were not always memorable, but her questioning of the value of life has been consistent: "And I knew then/ that I would have to live, and go on/ living: what a sorrow it was...." ("Evening Sun," from her second collection, The Boat of Quiet Hours, 1986). Coming of age at a time when psychiatry often was a useful poet's appliance, Kenyon works her way through superficial gloom to expose a widely familiar sadness. Sorrow begins with childhood, the 10-year-old experiencing a joy "so violent/ it was hard to distinguish from pain." Kenyon died of leukemia in April 1995 at age 47. The poems in this volume, being published on the first anniversary of her death, were selected by the poet; her husband, poet Donald Hall, offers an afterword. New poems, gathered in the first section, focus with unsentimental, entirely credible directness on her pending death. In "Eating the Cookies," the poet cleans a closet while nibbling on cookies sent by a cousin: "...the largest cookie,/ which I had saved for last, lay/ solitary in the tin with a nimbus/ of crumbs around it. There would be no more/ parcels from Portland. I took it up/ and sniffed it, and before eating it,/ pressed it against my forehead, because/ it seemed like the next thing to do." This collection is generous, cohesive and moving. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Kenyon died last April after a long struggle with leukemia, but she left behind a canon of poetry that will continue to touch us. In these poems, selections from her four books plus 20 new pieces, we experience the speaker's shadows of depression. Yet despite the tenebrous tone, there is a voice of hope. Reading each poem is like being led from room to room in a best friend's house. The speaker conducting us on this tour is somber in tone and mood yet committed to life in all its griefs and pleasures. The result is rich and intriguing, like "the blossoms pressed in a book/ found again after 200 years." There is no self-pity here, just an acknowledgment that something more powerful controls the speaker's life. This moving collection is truly a wonderful swan song. Highly recommended.-Tim Gavin, Episcopal Academy, Merion, Pa.
School Library Journal
YA-Kenyon uses seemingly simple, ordinary details of her New Hampshire farm environment to share with readers her view of the essence of life. Mature, sensitive teens will appreciate the melancholy that peaks from just below the surface in many of these reflections on childhood, life, love, loss, death, and God, and can take comfort in the universality of the emotions expressed. Just as the poet wonders about her place in her husband's home in his grandparents' town, readers may wonder at their place in their own time. They may gain greater appreciation of the ability to communicate across generations as they study the poems addressing illness and death. They may find increased understanding of their own faith as they ponder such lines as "Let it come, as it will, and don't/be afraid. God does not leave us/comfortless, so let evening come." A different kind of guide to the meaning of life.Barbara Hawkins, Oakton High School, Fairfax, VA

Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 10.54(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.


By Chang C. Hang, Tong H. Lee & Weng K. Ho


Copyright © 1993 Instrument Society of America. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Jane Kenyon was born in 1947. She published four books of poetry and translated the work of Anna Akhmatova. Among the awards she received for her work were a Guggenheim Fellowship and the PEN Voelcker Award. She died of leukemia in 1995.

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Otherwise: New and Selected Poems 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a generous collection of work by the late poet, Jane Kenyon. I love her simple lines that reveal such deep truths. Her faith never faltered despite her depression, and it's evident in these poems. It was appropriate to open with the poem 'Happiness' in this collection. She's one of the best contemporary Christian poets I've ever read. The title poem is even more remarkable, reminding us to see each day as a gift.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago