This small volume of selected poems by Jane Kenyon, in its battered, padded mailer, arrived looking like it had been lost, trampled in a snowbank, and chewed by a dog before landing at the right address.1 Then the book sat on my sofa table. “What are you going to make of this,” a friend asked, declaiming a few lines with all the tension of an old clothesline. And it’s true. I knew what Kenyon’s poems were like, knew that they were part of that plain-style free-verse tradition of the personal lyric that has dominated American poetry in the last fifty years and put me to sleep for twenty. My attitude was not unlike that of Sir Joshua Reynolds towards the...


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