Sleeping Late on Judgment Day
by Jane Mayhall
[featured in the bookclub Poetry Special]
From the book jacket of the 2004 hardback edition (Alfred A. Knopf):
My heart is bursting with homage as I / head off to a hostile eternity, writes Jane Mayhall, now eighty-five, who wrote most of these poems in an urgent outpouring over the last few years. From the decades-outdated subway token in the bottom of her shoulder bag, which calls forth earlier days in New York City, to the violin her father practiced among the pantrys jam jars in her Kentucky childhood, Mayhall plucks small treasures that bespeak her fierce devotion to life, with its clutter of memories and imperfections. In her tightly knotted, beautifully turned short poems, she elegizes a world not quite gone, and brings us into contact with some of her contemporaries, from Lincoln Kirstein to Theodore Roethke.
Chief among her cherished memories is her long bohemian marriage, which she recalls in a series of ravishing love poems to her late husband. In lines saturated with feeling she describes how she accommodates her grief at losing him and, as throughout this exquisite volume, how we must continue to greet life, in all its gorgeous strangeness.
Jane Mayhall was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1918 and attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina. She has taught at the New School for Social Research, Hofstra University, Morehead State University, and the Summer Writers Workshop at Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky. Her fiction and poems have appeared in The Yale Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and other publications.
Direct, in the way only a fierce intelligence can be direct. Beautiful, in the way only economy of line can be so. Candid, unsentimental, surprising at every single turnSleeping Late on Judgment Day introduces the work of Jane Mayhall, the genius of her poems born in the twentieth century, but aimed like an arrow for our age.
Sleeping Late on Judgment Day is so singular and alive it couldnt have been written by anyone other than Jane Mayhall. Redolent of decades of living, deeply embedded in the matrix of New York City, rueful, ironic, loving and desperate, these poems mark the arrival of a mature and unexpected voice.