From Publishers Weekly
Short, jagged works exhibit a primal fierceness while longer works tell straightforward stories about companionship and disappointment in this very mixed survey. Valentine won the Yale Younger Poets award in 1965 for a first collection (Dream Barker
) whose gloomy rhymed visions suggested Lowell and Plath: "I am thrown open like a child's damp hand/ In sleep. You turn your back in sleep, unmanned." Like many other poets in those years, Valentine abandoned her early forms for a more direct free verse, suited to mysticism, to personal turmoil and to political protest: "slowly our exploding time/ gives off its lives." Valentine grew even more direct, and much more discursive, in the late '70s; if her middle period now seems very much of its era, the last decade has shown—and this solid volume confirms—a return to her strengths. The defiant, angular, yet propulsively emotional recent poems that occupy the first and last parts of the book should please both fans of Valentine's earliest poetry and fans of her strongly feminist middle period: subjects range from the nature of the soul to an obstetric fistula, a woman's prison, an emblematic scarab and an embryo "her head still floating/ listening listening/ to the Real Life."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Unlike the confessional poets who influenced her earliest verses, Jean Valentine has come to adopt a more skeletal approach to personal experience, preferring terse lyric fragments to continuous narrative. Her recent poems seem simultaneously well crafted and incomplete, like mosaics with missing tiles. While occasionally obscure, they often deliver wry inversions of conventional wisdom: "Do well in the world. / If you do well / we'll throw you away." References to alcoholism, dysfunctional parents, and estranged lovers reveal a more standard autobiographical impetus, but, through nearly four decades of work, the dream life is equally pervasive. The result is a world where even sex is "not the thing itself, / But a metaphor," and where a vision of Fellini in purgatory or an elegy to a child who died of aids calls to mind a dream's alarming lack of boundary between the dead and the living.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker