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Otherwise: New and Selected Poems

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  1,667 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
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 Do ...more
Paperback, 230 pages
Published August 1st 1997 by Graywolf Press (first published 1996)
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Dan Simmons
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I've never experienced such loud whispers. Here's my favorite from the collection...



When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad -- even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my man
Jul 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-poetry
This book is a classic. A poignant and well-crafted book. I often use Kenyon's poems as examples of emotion, understatement, and accessibility. The old "show, don't tell" rule. She is a master at it and pulls the reader smack in the middle of her experience.
Dec 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Kenyon's book of selected poems was my unlikely companion on our flights to and from Pittsburgh over Christmas--unlikely because I usually prefer fiction on planes. But I loved the strange feeling of sinking into her white space and into the hush of her northeastern imagery--the nuthatch spiraling down the tree, the laundry (yes, always), the unused barn with a moon peeking around it, the way the day looks through the eyes of someone struggling with depression and illness and quiet loss.
All the
Rachel Coyne
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Touching. I loved the poems about campers at the lake. So much loss in this book - and many peonies. Also my favorite flower
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013
I appreciated learning about Jane Kenyon's life and reading through a large representation of her work, but I just couldn't get into the majority of her poems. Which was weird, because I saw a lot of my personal style reflected here, but we both have a problem with creating universal poetry, poetry that speaks to an audience larger than ourselves. Too many personal references, I think is the problem, although I'm not entirely sure.

The poem that enticed me to seek out the rest of her work was "L
Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2016, poetry
I read this after reading Donald Hall's book "Without" about his life with Jane Kenyon and her illness, having only read her earliest book of poems beforehand. As such, I felt a bit like I had an insight to her when reading her poems that one doesn't always have. In the end, though, few poems resonated with me. Perhaps because I didn't tend to like her style, her line breaks, and some of the depression that bled out onto the page of too many poems. I like wistfulness, poignancy, not depression, ...more
Real Supergirl
Aug 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I only recently discovered Jane Kenyon, but her poetry is somewhat haunting in its description of depression and everyday life.

At the same time, she will never be one of my very favorite poets because overall, her poems are hit or miss. But the title poem is really amazing, as are a couple others in this collection, and the ones that are "hits" are really, really good.
Nov 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I love Kenyon. She's fabulous at what she does, although she sometimes seems unable to break out of "what she does" and occassionally succumbs to lesser instincts (as in "The Shirt"). Still, her poetry is poignant and full of wonderful imagery. Five stars for the good stuff.
Tommy Williford
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love Jane. Days seem better when I know I can pick up her work
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
The poet began this collection as she was sick with leukemia, and then dying at home, and with the help of her husband, the poet Donald Hall. I find it so interesting that most are not new poems, about her illness and death, which is tragic, because it seems like we could have learned desperately needed tools from her, about dying. She writes a lot about a parent’s death, and that resonates with me since it has been 2 weeks since my mother died. I didn’t know these poems would be that meaningful ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jane Kenyon, along with her husband, Donald Hall, are two of my favorite poets. Both write concrete, accessible verse that communicates the universal through their particular experience. In this collection, Kenyon's newest poems were written after her diagnosis of the cancer that eventually killed her. She suffers greatly, but strives to find the good in a horrible situation. Her struggle is heartbreaking, sad, yet beautiful. It may not replace the beauty of Heaven and ultimate redemption, but K ...more
Cyndy Defnall
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jane Kenyon is an amazing poet. Many of the poems were tinged by sadness and loss but she had much turmoil in her life and suffered from depression. However, some of her poems about nature and life on a farm are simply breathtaking. You can see the peonies and daisies, smell fresh cut hay, and feel the cold bite of winter or warm of spring and summer.
Edmund Davis-Quinn
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I much preferred Kenyon's shorter works to this. I generally much prefer smaller poetry books to compilations. I'm wowed by "Constance", really enjoyed "Let Evening Come" and liked the rest of this work. This took me forever to finish.

I expect to go back to "Constance" over and over. I really wanted to like this more. So it goes.
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just wonderful. Wise and wonderful. I've been dipping in and out fo this for months. Love it.
Julie U.
Aug 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite book of poetry, lush and dark with moments of clarity. I reread it now and then. It's time yet again.
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm picking up an affinity for Jane Kenyon.
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
Hey, that’s pretty neat.
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Jane Kenyon is one of my favorite poets. If you love Mary Oliver, you’ll love her too.
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Happy I discovered her poetry. I have new favorite poems; Who, Otherwise and Let Evening Come. Thank you Jane Kenyon.
May 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, owned
This moving collection of poetry was compiled during the last months of the poet’s life, as she was battling leukemia. It contains selections from her previously published collections of poetry, as well as a number of new poems. The story of its compilation is told in the afterword, written by Jane Kenyon’s husband (former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall). Crying while reading an afterword was a new experience for me.

The poetry itself is beautiful, and very accessible. The themes center around d
Mia Tryst
Dec 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Kenyon is one of this century's best poets and here is the book to prove it. Some of the poems were a little too light for me, but otherwise, a very well put together collection. Sample poem from Otherwise:


There's just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you sav
Danielle DeTiberus
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Kenyon writes about domestic life and depression with the same poignancy, the same swift, sharp language. Her tone is both fragile and defiant; her subject matter often bursts with life and quietly mourns it. Here, of course, one must mention the poems “Otherwise,” “After an Illness, Walking the Dog,” and “Full Moon in Winter.” Kenyon also writes of the vast canyons of space between lovers, the kind that can seem so full and, then, so empty— poems like “Chrysanthemums,” “September Garden Party,” ...more
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I have been trying to define my own preferences for poety by reading many different poets. This volume by Jane Kenyon relies on mostly everyday experiences to define a universal feeling. I especially connected with her poems about depression, which I have personally suffered. I found many other poems which transformed seemingly ordinary observations into something special.

For example;: "I study the cat's face and find a trace of white around each eye, as if he made himself up today for a part in
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is Jane Kenyon's final collection of poems, published in 1996. Kenyon died in 1995 at the age of 47 after a 15 month battle with leukemia. Some of the poems in the book reflect on her illness, or that of her husband, poet Donald Hall, who also had a struggle with cancer during their marriage. Some deal with the deaths of other loved ones.

I've always loved Kenyon's poetry and have read this book, or much of it, before. But having recently read Without: Poems and The Painted Bed, both books o
Lisa Cole
Jul 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have spent the last few days with Jane Kenyon's poems. Here are some thoughts: Though she seemed attached to ellipses like Emily Dickinson was attached to dashes, her poetry strikes a chord in me that few poets have found, especially in poems like "Having It Out With Melancholy." I read these poems, and I feel as though I am looking intimately at my own mind. This feeling of being so weighted down with sadness and dread but still wanting so intensely to see life's beauty, to see with clarity t ...more
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The outward simplicity and honesty of Kenyon's poems have always touched me. Her observations about her life, her work, and the quiet beauty of the rural world around her have always seemed so wise and almost otherworldly to me. Knowing that she was struggling to come to terms with her own mortality as she wrote many of the poems in this final collection made reading them all the more poignant, and her husband Donald Hall's tribute to her in the afterword is both a testimony of his love for her ...more
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Lovely poems!
Tracy O
Nov 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Someone told me that the first half of your life is about addition (of loves, responsibility, things, etc) and the second half is about subtraction - paring down because you want to do that and losing people and all the things you strove to acquire. I think of this as my subtraction poetry book. The poems are accessible and graceful - and, I think they would resonate for anyone.

I love these lines from April Chores:

Like a mad red brain
The involute rhubarb leaf
Thinks it's way up
Through loam.

If yo
Kiri Stewart
Oct 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I loved Jane Kenyon's poems in college (18 years ago), but had not read her much since then. I think that when you first read these poems, you are simply struck that what she is doing with her words is moving and effective. Then, with time and experience of much more difficult and clever poets, coming back to read Kenyon's poems is a revelation of what she is actually doing, and that her power is not encoded, arcane or mysterious. Her poems are simplicity itself.

They are pictures parsed to thei
Sep 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'd like to buy a copy of this collection. Jane Kenyon's work, as her husband describes, is masterful in presenting "the art of the luminous particular." It took me through the summer to read because of practical demands always vying for time, but to its credit when I picked it up, I often lingered on a poem instead of turning the page. The language is unassuming but potent and evocative, surprising one with transcendence found among common objects and everyday occurrences. I feel a strange atta ...more
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  • Without: Poems
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Jane Kenyon was an American poet and translator. Her work is often characterized as simple, spare, and emotionally resonant.
More about Jane Kenyon

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.”

You always belonged here.
You were theirs, certain as a rock.
I’m the one who worries
if I fit in with the furniture
and the landscape.

But I “follow too much
the devices and desires of my own heart.”

Already the curves in the road
are familiar to me, and the mountain
in all kinds of light,
treating all people the same.
and when I come over the hill,
I see the house, with its generous
and firm proportions, smoke
rising gaily from the chimney.

I feel my life start up again,
like a cutting when it grows
the first pale and tentative
root hair in a glass of water.”
More quotes…