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Break the Glass (Lannan Literary Selections) Hardcover – September 21, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In the connected, untitled lyrics that make up the final section of Valentine's 11th collection, the poet is at her fierce best. She addresses Lucy, an early hominid whose skeleton was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974. The details that Valentine always renders palpable and significant are heightened by their juxtaposition with this long-lost life, as when she questions: "Did you have a cup, Lucy?/ O God who transcends time,/ let Lucy have a cup." Current terrors--bodies falling from the World Trade Center towers, the deaths of a pair named Ruth and Grace--are both contextualized and underscored by this totem "skeleton mother." Valentine writes: "when my scraped-out child died Lucy/ you hold her, all the time." The rest of the volume ranges in subject matter and setting, moving from a soldier in the Civil War to a chemo patient, Haiti, ghosts in elephant fields. Each poem shares Valentine's trademark concision and pared-down punch. Some of her severe observations can stop your breath: "Don't listen to the words--/ they're only little shapes for what you're saying,/ they're only cups if you're thirsty, you aren't thirsty."
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State Poet of New York and National Book Award winner Valentine’s poems are brilliantly concentrated and neatly faceted, forged in the heat and press of experience and rumination like diamonds within the earth. In meticulously measured lines of deceptive quickness, Valentine encompasses the full spectrum of life and death as she deftly limns vivid landscapes etched by change slow and irrevocable, such as an old, abandoned stable and its fields, where the poet sees deep down to buried horses, a cow, memories. Attuned as she is to spirit, Valentine is nonetheless unsentimental, facing hard facts about the grand scheme of things when she comes across “just-born,” now-doomed rabbits in the garden. Her poems possess the immediacy and gestural magic of cave paintings and the resonance of psalms, albeit with a wild and pagan streak, as in the wonderfully piquant “Earth and the Librarian,” and a series of keening, prayerful, praise poems to Lucy, our 3.2 million-year-old foremother. Sharply honed yet mysterious, Valentine’s lyrics of longing, conscience, collapsed time and space, and the elemental are startling and resounding. --Donna Seaman