What We're Reading Now: CONSTANCE by Jane Kenyon, THE POWER by Naomi Alderman

Is anyone else in shock that it’s already the end of March? We’re a little behind on our reading goals, but have been working our way through two truly excellent books this month: The Power, by Naomi Alderman, and Constance by Jane Kenyon.

The Power is the kind of book we tend to devour in one sitting—strong prose, fast-moving story, brief chapters that help propel the story forward. In this speculative fiction novel, young women suddenly tap into a new & powerful force within themselves. The power ripples across the world as women of all ages wake to it and, in the space of ten years, society as we know it completely transforms. Told through the perspectives of several characters spread across the world, the POV switches from chapter to chapter, showing different pieces of a story that occurs across the globe.

The Power was on former President Obama’s book list for 2017, and it feels particularly timely in today’s political climate. It’s a book that encourages the reader to ask critical questions about the intersections of gender, society, power, and culture through absolutely riveting storytelling.

From Liz: I actually love this book so much that this was my third or fourth time rereading it. When I’m feeling particularly frustrated about the system we live in, it’s—nice or refreshing are too small, but it’s those too—a lifeline to the idea that we create the systems we live in and that those, however strong or formidable or ancient, can be changed.

While we sped through The Power this weekend, we’re taking a leisurely read through Jane Kenyon’s Constance, a collection of poems that deals with some heavy themes. Kenyon’s poems work through the long journey of her own depression and mental health, as well as the illness and declining health of her spouse, fellow poet Donald Hall.

Her poem “Not Writing” is tight, its images brief, crisp, and clear. In one sentence, it shows not only the speaker’s observable moment, but also what the speaker is doing, their mental interior:

A wasp rises to its papery

nest under the eaves

where it daubs

at the gray shape,

but seems unable

to enter its own house.

Even her longer, more involved poems utilize this kind of symbolism and metaphor, making meaning of the natural world and using it to describe the mental one. Kenyon’s tight control of language and stark images cover this heavy emotional territory well—for one with a particular empathy towards this subject matter, her poems feel comforting. In “August Rain, After Haying”, “The grass resolves to grow again, / receiving rain to that end…”, and it's easy to see not only this day of rain, but also the idea that perhaps the speaker is also resolving to grow again, receptive to a different kind of rain (perhaps creative? the rain of the pen).

It’s as if the speaker is saying, yes, there have been hard times. But a good new day is coming.