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A Night Without Armor Paperback – Deckle Edge, August 3, 1999

3.5 out of 5 stars 432 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jewel Kilcher was the first to admit that this book of 100 or so of her poems would not have been published if her dazzling debut album, Pieces of You, hadn't sold 10 million copies. And granted, Jewel is not going to replace Deborah Garrison's A Working Girl Can't Win on anybody's hit parade of serious poets who write for regular people.

But--shockingly!--Jewel's book of poetry is solid by celeb-poet standards, and a fair bit of it is actually sort of readable in its own right. Maybe it's not a bad idea to raise your kids on an 80-acre Alaskan farm with plenty of chores and no TV, as Mr. Kilcher did. Unlike most young people, let alone overnight stars, Jewel has led a life of some intrinsic interest. While they're often prosaically straightforward, her poems about rescuing a newborn calf in the midnight snow, listening to wolves howl in a canyon storm, and racing naked out of a sauna of a winter evening bring us more useful experience than kid poets usually have to share. Some of Jewel's homesteading verse is no worse than some of Gary Snyder's late nature poems; though she'll never write nature poems remotely as good as his early work Riprap, neither will he, probably. Preachiness is the enemy of both poets' deep religious impulses.

Jewel's poems about dumping a lover or thrilling to parking-lot sex "between the moon and a Chevrolet" are perceptive, at points even evocative. Her ode to her own breasts as a nest for her beloved is no good, but it's an honest failure. Her dress at the Oscars was more embarrassing.

The music critics contend that Jewel's music is influenced by Joni Mitchell, though Jewel claims she didn't listen to her until lately. In comparing Joni Mitchell: The Complete Poems and Lyrics with Jewel's book, we find that both use the image of the cactus for a heart that resists a restricting embrace, but that Mitchell is cleverer with language. When Joni's lover is away, "Me and them lonesome blues collide / The bed's too big, / The frying pan's too wide." Meanwhile, Jewel baldly observes, "I miss you miserably, dear / and I can't quite manage / to face this unbearably / large bed / alone."

On the other hand, Jewel does conclude with a nice image for toughing it out with a sentimental gesture--she shaves her armpits with his razor and cheap hotel soap. Ow! We feel her pain. Also, Jewel's "Underage" holds its own against Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery," while demonstrating the influence that probably outweighed Mitchell in Jewel's artistic development: her dad, with whom she played gigs as a child in Alaska.

I hung out once in the bathroom of Trade Winds Harley bar in Anchorage
With several biker chicks for company until the cops had left.
They had pale skin and thick black eye makeup
And they asked me to sing at their weddings.
I said I'd ask my dad.

We all sat on the counter and waited for the pigs to leave.
Some guy OD'd and was outside foaming at the mouth.

I remember looking in the mirror
And seeing this white face,
My shirt all buttoned up.
The women were nice to me
And looked like dark angels
Beside me. I liked them,
And together we waited
Patiently for the cops to leave
So I could go back out
And join my dad up
On stage.

The great peril for Jewel, as for most poets when very young, is artless sincerity. Her poem about her dad's Vietnam War trauma is dead sentiment, but she does far better in "Grimshaw," about a Vietvet who came to watch the Kilchers play, perpetually requesting "Ain't Goin' to Study War No More" and drinking four quarts of beer a night until the day he shot his face off. Which made little Jewel vow to deal with her own emotions sooner rather than too late.

Careless editing permitted Jewel to misspell the names of Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski and the word "peek." Most young fans won't notice, and the very poems about love troubles that older readers will find gratingly obvious will strike them as headline news to be taken to heart. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

For people who don't regularly follow MTV (which unfortunately includes most of those who listen to poetry), Jewel will seem to have sprung up out of nowhere. But the 23-year-old Alaska native has four albums to her credit and several web sites. A veteran of the coffee-house scene around San Diego, she brings to mind those New York spots of the late 1950s, where Dylan Thomas played and where there was an open poetry mike. Moreover, Jewel's poems are reasonably good. Sure, there are too many prepositions and some cliched images; an attempt to be philosophical is laughable; and many "poems" are nothing more than fragments. But a lot of the material is also straightforward and deeply honest, e.g., "I am told I am adored by millions, but no one calls." Certainly, she's as good as Leonard Cohen and deserves serious attention from poetry lovers. Released simultaneously as a book, CD, and cassette.?Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: It Books; Reprint edition (August 3, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061073628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061073625
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (432 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #150,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I am a poet, with work published in places like Amelia and Impetus. And for 6 years, I published a poetry magazine called Whisper. I read tens of thousands of poems, from many of the same people who are here, reviewing Jewel's work harshly. I spend my time talking about Lifshin or Lewis or Cummings with other poets, go to coffee shops for poetry reading now and then, and even hosted a few poetry slams. I tell you that for two reasons: first, to help you decide if I speak with any authority; and second, because I am going to commit a mutiny.
I will not join the chorus of poets in protest here. Saying "this isn't poetry!" over and over again won't make it true. Getting all bent out of shape over how Jewel is making poetry available to (gasp) the masses is ridiculous. I feel like I'm watching the punk scene happen all over again -- every time someone had a success, the fans screamed "sell out!" My, how we love to topple those on top.
My loyalty is not to the poets, but to poetry. My loyalty is not to some exclusionary club of latte-sucking introverts, full of pretense, but to language itself. And that is why I must break ranks and say this book is just what the world of poetry needed. Poetry may be "language molded into magnificent text" and many other things, such as meter and rhyme -- but the single most important trait of poetry is that it is relevant. It affects you in a way that is deep and impactful. And Jewel's poetry does exactly that, with so many memorable poems and vivid images filling my head that I eager to read her book again.
When reviewers complain that Jewel ought to read some poets before she publishes her own work, they betray their own failure to read her work.
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By A Customer on April 26, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I truly enjoyed Jewel's book. Granted, some of her poetry is simple, but poetry does not have to be complex and contain hidden meanings to be good. Jewel is an honest writer who bares her soul and her feelings. Like others who have bashed her book, I too, have read a great deal of poetry. I have read Yeats, Eliot, Auden, and I am taking an entire course on Shakespeare alone. All of these writers are amazingly talented, but at the same time so is Jewel. She may not be on the same level as the "greats" but she has been able to inspire many people, not all of whom are a bunch of "teeny-boppers". I think that her poetry is beautiful, straightforward, and honest. I also believe that many people have used this review to bash Jewel because they just don't like her, not because of her poetry. Poetry is a connection between thoughts, the soul, pen, and paper...who are we to judge???
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Format: Hardcover
Please! How terribly naive and gushing this all is. I can't recall a more superficial book--save for maybe Danielle Steel's gooey foray into poetry a few years back. It's disheartening to see even the shrouded world of poetry is not safe from star power and the sellability of glamour and physical beauty. No one can possibly argue that if Jewel were not a celebrity this book would *ever* have been published. The poems brazenly reflect this--they are immature (and in that sense I mean not formed, rounded, or filled out), trite, and laden with every high school diary cliche I can possibly imagine. Her word useage is light and cutsey, parsed with terribly clunky attempts at intellectual posturing: words like "taciturn" and "disillusionment" serve only to disrupt whatever melodic flow she might have found in the text. What is completely lacking in the verses is strength. Her words have no weight, no ballast. Anyone can write about love and passion and trust--only the best of poets can magnify these things with strength and poise. Jewel's words are flat and tired, overused and overwrought. What this book needs is restraint and time--give her ten or fifteen years and perhaps by then she'll have worked out everything to a point where she can bring to the text something new and worth our time. Until then, pass this one (and Ethan Hawk's and every other celebrity attempt) for something with soul.
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Format: Paperback
Walt Whitman, what have you wrought upon us?

The advent of free verse was like literary punk music: While a potentially liberating influence which could serve to wrest artistic expression from the elite, it also leveled the playing field to such an extent that almost anybody putting words into a "poetic" arrangement could now call his/her work "poetry".

I liked Jewel's early music a lot; I'd bought her record Pieces of You a whole year before "You Were Meant for Me" became a hit, before that song made a little neo-folk album (which had many tracks recorded live, acoustically) into a sales juggernaut. But even when I was listening to her songs, I never considered Jewel to be much of a lyricist. Her chief strengths were really melody, a simple guitar style, and her voice. Jewel's lyrics were almost always direct expressions of what she believes -- no hidden meanings, no craft, and almost never any surprising thoughts (after all, she was 20).

On her poetry, the problem burns right through. Stripped of the melodies at which she excelled, her writing is awfully sappy, worthy of high-school student scribbles. And it reads without much verbal (ie. poetic) flow. Have the layout artist put the verses and stanzas back together, and it sounds like undoctored prose. What use is the term "poetry" if it's just prose broken up? Sometimes Jewel does come up with interesting imagery, but if her artistic expression is all image and no verbal artistry, then she should be doing photography or film work, not poetry.

Young readers with little experience reading poetry may respond to the artlessness of it and embrace the direct sentiments of this writing. But to them I would suggest: Write your own poetry, get your friends to do the same, and read one another's works.
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