I really wanted to like this book. It contains a few magic moments, and the poet unquestionably demonstrates agility and skill within these formal works.
But overall, the poems were a disappointment. They don't live up to the famous Rabbi Akiba epigraph, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?/ If I am only for myself, who am I?/ If not now, when?" (And that statement, in reality, should be correctly attributed to Hillel.)
It's a risky venture, exposing deeply personal discoveries to the public.
Unfortunately the risks taken here never break out of a vapid self-centeredness into the universal language that all poetry seeks and successful poetry attains. Skip it. Alyssa A. Lappen
Jenny Factor, Unraveling at the Name (Copper Canyon, 2002)
Jenny Factor is a good poet, and a formal poet, an increasingly rare beast these days. The craft which which the poems in this collection are assembled is beyond reproach. But, as the editor of a literary magazine once wrote me on one of many thousands of rejection slips, "the craft is good, but I suspect it's art you're after." The art is where Factor's book is lacking. Not always, mind you, but in a number of places.
The main problem is that Unraveling at the Name is, and is obviously, mostly poetry-as-therapy, poems that were written for the purpose of helping the poet get through something, and as such are just sort of there. It's an old truism that each of us thinks our own life is far more interesting than anyone else will, and the reason old truisms still exist is because, in general, they're true. Weight is added to this argument by what little material there is in this book that doesn't have to do with Factor's leaving her family to pursue her bisexual side; every once in a while she stops to consider something in nature, or writes something simple about her son at play, and all the glory that formal poetry is capable of comes shining through. Those small gems are reason enough for the poetry reader to go looking for this book, because they are truly fantastic pieces of work. You've got some slogging to do to get to them, though. ** ½