Author and former Kentucky Poet Laureate Jane Gentry (1941–2014) has been named the recipient of the Appalachian Writers Association’s 2017 Appalachian Book of the Year for Poetry for her posthumous collection The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry, edited by Julia Johnson, professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky.
Alternately startling and heart-wrenching, The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry offers a valuable retrospective of the celebrated poet’s work. Upon being diagnosed with cancer, Gentry and her daughters began collaborating with editor Julia Johnson to organize this definitive collection. The result is the entirety of Gentry’s published work alongside new, previously unpublished poems.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,” commented Jeff Worley, editor of What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets.
The New and Collected Poetry of Jane Gentry is the ninth University Press of Kentucky book to win an AWA award, joining Driving the Dead: Poems by Jane Hicks and From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems by James Still as winner of the poetry award. In addition, Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers by Joyce Dyer, Songs of Life and Grace: A Memoir by Linda Scott DeRosier, My Appalachia: A Memoir by Sidney Saylor Farr, Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South by T.R.C. Hutton, and Helen Matthews Lewis: Living Social Justice in Appalachia by Helen Lewis all won the AWA’s Book of the Year Award for Nonfiction, and The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson, UK associate professor of English, won for fiction.
Gentry’s work is deeply rooted in place, exuding a strong connection to the life and land of her native Kentucky. In honor of this consummate poet, who possessed an uncanny ability to spin quietly expansive and wise verses from small details, objects, and remembered moments, we are sharing one of her poignant pieces, “A Garden in Kentucky.”
A Garden in Kentucky
Under the fluorescent sun
inside the Kroger, it is always
southern California. Hard avocados
rot as they ripen from the center out.
Tomatoes granulate inside their hides.
But by the parking lot, a six-tree orchard
frames a cottage where winter has set in.
Pork fat seasons these rooms.
The wood range spits and hisses,
limbers the oilcloth on the table
where an old man and an old woman
draw the quarter-moons of their nails,
shadowed still with dirt,
across the legends of seed catalogues.
Each morning he milks the only goat
inside the limits of Versailles. She feeds
a rooster that wakes up all the neighbors.
Through dark afternoons and into night
they study the roses’ velvet mouths
and the apples’ bright skins
that crack at the first bite.
When thaw comes, the man turns up
the sod and, on its underside, ciphers
roots and worms. The sun like an angel
beats its wings above their grubbing.
Evenings on the viny porch they rock,
discussing clouds, the chance of rain.
Husks in the dark dirt fatten and burst.