Jane Gentry (1941–2014) possessed an uncanny ability to spin quietly expansive and wise verses from small details, objects, and remembered moments. The hallmarks of her work are insight into nature, faith, the quotidian, and—perhaps most prominently—the grounding of her home and family in the state of Kentucky. This innovative poet and critic was for many years one of the animating spirits of literary life in the region.
Gentry and her daughters collaborated with editor Julia Johnson to organize this definitive collection. The result is an important literary anthology that assembles Gentry's most celebrated poems alongside new, previously unpublished works. Johnson uses Gentry's own methodology to arrange the poems in sequences comparable to those found in her previous collections. This organization showcases the range of the poet's work and the flexibility of her style, which is sometimes ironic and humorous; sometimes poignant; but always clear, intelligent, and revelatory.
This volume includes two full-length collections of poetry in their entirety—A Garden in Kentucky and Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig. The final section features Gentry's unpublished work, bringing together her early poems, verses written for loved ones, and a large group of more recent work that may have been intended for future collections. Alternately startling and heart-wrenching, The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry offers a valuable retrospective of the celebrated poet's work.
Foreword by Mary Ann Taylor-Hall Introduction A Garden in Kentucky Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig Late Poems Acknowledgments Title Index Index of First Lines
Jane Gentry (1941–2014)was the author of two collections of poetry, a chapbook, and numerous critical essays and book reviews. During her forty-year tenure as professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Gentry served as a mentor to generations of young writers and worked tirelessly to promote new voices. Her awards and honors include two Al Smith Fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council and residency fellowships from Yaddo and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. In 2013, she was inducted into the UK College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. A native of central Kentucky, she served as the state's poet laureate from 2007 to 2008. Julia Johnson is professor of English and teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Kentucky. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Subsidence, The Falling Horse, and Naming the Afternoon.
Poetry is obliged to prove again and again that beauty may arrive from moments that are not pretty, just as grief may lead us to discover profound love. These are truths I've always taken from Jane Gentry's poetry, and now, in this final collection of her work, one sees her long effort has been one of discovery and candor, to push through ordinary loss and the stinging shortness of life, in order to find the moments that endure or flash-out trying to endure. Here, without decoration or fanfare, is a gorgeous body of work wholly integrated to tell it like it is, without—and this is the heart-rending grace note—complaint. As Jane Gentry observes in one of the Late Poems in this collection, 'A poem is a bird that flies on many wings.' She's right about that, and here is a lovely book filled with many birds and their poignant flights. What a treasure this is.
~Maurice Manning, author of One Man's Dark and The Common Man, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
I love these poems. Their quiet beauty is thrilling. They are steady, true, and very brave. There is a heartbreaking but delightful originality in the late poems. So poignant, how they bring her alive again.
~Bobbie Ann Mason, author of Shiloh and In Country
The poems of Jane Gentry, so honest, so clear, take a close look at and never look away from life, from death, from the things that occupy us and move us between and among those mysteries. They are written with a poetic craft so subtle that its complexity is almost invisible. To have her collected poems all together, thanks to the editorial skill of Julia Johnson, is a gift beyond our deserving but for which we should be deeply grateful.
~R. H. W. Dillard
Like Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Gentry is a poet of houses and family history; like Muriel Rukeyser, she is a poet of the body and the body politic. At once earthy and learned, wild and restrained, she is a poet of the whole self. Her work draws strength and subject from its Kentucky roots: Her family arrived in the time of Daniel Boone. Along with their stories, she writes of Abraham Lincoln whom she called 'perhaps the greatest native Kentucky writer.' In her address as the state's Poet Laureate, she tells us, 'Stories generate soul.' Never sentimental, Gentry writes of the body as house, as garden, as dirt. In that garden, 'Our hunger itself is the fruit.' She sings of birth and grief, aging and exultation. Her figure for the artist is a white pig. 'What other/brutes' she asks, 'could translate this bright dirt?'
~George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate (2015–2016) and author of Many-Storied House: Poems
In poem after poem in this rich and important collection, Jane Gentry commemorates her personal history through the lens of poetry—family, friends, the seasons, the flora and fauna she moves through. This book is a love song to Kentucky.
~Jeff Worley, author of What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets
Reading through her collected poems, I am again reminded that Jane Gentry was not only a master poet—but also a master teacher. The poems here, each sophisticated, precise, carefully composed, teach us how to be in the world, no matter if walking among Kentucky flowers or the fountains of Jardin du Luxembourg. In this collection, Jane continues to hold the lantern, leading us to dark well of the past, urging us to look down so that we may see our authentic lives shimmering on the water's surface.
~Kathleen Driskell, author of Next Door to the Dead: Poems
Jane Gentry was a poet of uncommon grace and intelligence. To sit with these collected poems is to spend a lifetime in her gentle company. From the garden of her heart she brings us the most exquisite blooms—flowers for the living. I read and reread these poems with gratitude and deep pleasure.
~Frederick Smock, Bellarmine University
Reading through the poems provides the reader with a sense of presence in Gentry's life as she documents time and place, seasons of change, and a strong connection to her Kentucky home. At times stark and realistic, at times wistful and sentimental, but always observant. It is clear that Gentry took pleasure in documenting memories, noticing the small details and connecting past to present.
The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry is an homage to a Kentucky wordsmith who dedicated her life and work to cultivating her heritage and nurturing the literary talent of apprentices across the state.
Darkness pulses and punctures even as the poems shine with the radiant lights of stars and mornings and blossoms in The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry creating in the body of her work a deft and affecting chiaroscuro. But more than a poet of place, or a poet of domesticity, rural life, ritual, or simply Kentucky, Jane Gentry's work is deeply ecological. It argues for a primal and symbiotic history of a landscape and its people, their joys and despairs, the wheeling cycle of death and life.
~The Hollins Critic
Perhaps the greatest legacy Jane Gentry (1941-2014) left to the state of Kentucky is that she imparted, eternally, a craftiness in verse to her appreciative students over her 40 years as an English professor at the University of Kentucky. Those students are now ambassadors of her creativity. With the help of Julia Johnson, Gentry's most important work is now in the form of an important book. Kudos to Johnson for her efforts in facilitating such an enlightened treasure from Gentry, a true and abiding gift.
Winner for the Appalachian Writers Assocation book award.