Issue 167, Fall 2003
In "Homage to Sextus Propertius," Pound has his poet protagonist say, "I shall have, doubtless, a boom after my funeral . . . " When poets die, there is a flurry of attention if not a boom: sections in magazines, reprinted poems, gatherings in honor. Because of renewed attention, the poet's books may pick up in sales. Circumstances of death contribute to the quantity of response. Suicide is a shrewd career move. So is death at a comparatively young age. When my wife, Jane Kenyon, died of leukemia at forty-seven, magazines reprinted her poems. I was interviewed about her. NPR rebroadcast an interview with Terry Gross. In India—-Jane and I had twice visited—there were occasions in her honor in Bombay, New Delhi, and Madras. There were three memorials in New Hampshire, one in New York, one at Harvard, one in Minneapolis.
When her posthumous collection. Otherwise, was published on the first anniversary of her death, it quickly went into three hardback printings. Eighteen months later a paperback flourished, and her publishers have reprinted her earlier books. I love her work—but of course her books sold as they did not only because of their quality but because of the melancholy story.
(Am I unhappy, for her, that most of her fame came after her death? No. Malcolm Cowley spoke of "The Literary Stock Market," and a writer is pleased less by her stock's high price than by the graph's upward direction. Just before Jane took sick, Bill Moyers's A Life Together brought her to the attention of people who had never heard of her. The last book she published in her lifetime, and late poems she published in magazines, brought her much response. Her reputation was ascending, and she knew it.)