It’s often been said that those who write poetry should also read poetry. It is creatively and emotionally nourishing to read another’s work with appreciation and to take time to think about what makes the poem so good. My favorite writers are those I can come to again and again and find new ways to love what they’ve done. I’ve noticed that it is possible to read a piece once, receive a quick message, and then be done with it, but to relish all it has to offer requires focus and reverence. Jane Kenyon is one of those poets I return to, with care and respect for her work. Even though Jane is no longer around on this earth, her poems are timeless beauties.
Here is a poem of hers titled “Trouble with Math in a One-Room Country School.” It is included in Collected Poems.
The others bent their heads and started in.
Confused, I asked my neighbor
to explain—a sturdy, bright-cheeked girl
who brought raw milk to school from her family’s
herd of Holsteins. Ann had a blue bookmark,
and on it Christ revealed his beating heart,
holding the flesh back with His wounded hand.
Ann understood division. . . .
Miss Moran sprang from her monumental desk
and led me roughly through the class
without a word. My shame was radical
as she propelled me past the cloakroom
to the furnace closet, where only the boys
were put, only the older ones at that.
The door swung briskly shut.
The warmth, the gloom, the smell
of sweeping compound clinging to the broom
soothed me. I found a bucket, turned it
upside down, and sat, hugging my knees.
I hummed a theme from Haydn that I knew
from my piano lessons. . . .
and hardened my heart against authority.
And then I heard her steps, her fingers
on the latch. She led me, blinking
and changed, back to the class.