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This review is taken from PN Review 169, Volume 32 Number 5, May - June 2006.

FIVE HAVE PLENTY OF MARKETING AI, Dread (Norton) $13.95 (£8.01)
RITA DOVE, American Smooth, (Norton) $22.95 (£13.18)
JANE KENYON, Let Evening Come (Bloodaxe Books) £8.95
MAXINE KUMIN, Bringing Together (Norton) £9.95
ADRIENNE RICH, The School Among the Ruins (Norton) $22.95 (£13.18)

Five prestigious female US poets - all writing in the same time window - but only one marketed together with her life story. Jane Kenyon (in the Bloodaxe World Poets series) has made it across the pond as a whole person: the tale of her life and death gathered together in an introduction by a friend; a monograph by her husband Donald Hall; notes from one of her own lectures; an interview with David Bradt; some photos of the poet herself; some of her translations from Akhmatova; and last, but not least, a selection of poems taken from her five collections. The back cover blurb sums up the message: her work is 'one of poetry's rarest and most heart-breaking gifts. After fighting depression for most of her life, Jane Kenyon died from leukaemia at the age of 47.'

Kenyon's poems, therefore, are read - from the outset - in a very particular context. The fine title-poem 'Let Evening Come' speaks immediately of death and acceptance, and it is almost irresistible, within the context of the heart-breaking story, to see it as her (much more consolatory) equivalent of Sylvia Plath's 'Edge'. But it is not. The poem was written well before Kenyon's fatal illness was diagnosed, probably more in reaction to her father's death than any other. Still, given the mythology that surrounds writers after - and sometimes before - their deaths, it seems safe to predict that this poem will be read as her swan-song, as the ...


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