Break the Glass

Break the Glass

by Jean Valentine
     
 

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"As elliptical and demanding as Emily Dickinson, Valentine consistently rewards the reader."—Library Journal

In her eleventh collection—honored as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry—Jean Valentine characteristically weds a moral imperative to imaginative and linguistic leaps and bounds. Whether writing elegies, meditations on aging,

Overview

"As elliptical and demanding as Emily Dickinson, Valentine consistently rewards the reader."—Library Journal

In her eleventh collection—honored as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry—Jean Valentine characteristically weds a moral imperative to imaginative and linguistic leaps and bounds. Whether writing elegies, meditations on aging, or an extended homage to Lucy, the earliest known hominid, the pared-down compactness of her tone and vision reveals a singular voice in American poetry. As Adrienne Rich has said of Valentine's work, "This is a poetry of the highest order, because it lets us into spaces and meanings we couldn't approach in any other way."

From "If a Person Visits Someone in a Dream, in Some Cultures the Dreamer Thanks Them":

At a hotel in another star. The rooms were cold and damp, we were both at the desk at midnight asking if they had any heaters. They had one heater. You are ill, please you take it. Thank you for visiting my dream.

*
Can you breathe all right?
Break the glass shout break the glass force the room break the thread Open the music behind the glass . . .

Jean Valentine, a former State Poet of New York, earned a National Book Award, the Wallace Stevens Award, and the Shelley Memorial Prize. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence, New York University, and Columbia University. She lives in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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." (Sept.)
Library Journal
Many poets say more by using more words, whereas others prefer brevity over expansiveness. In her newest collection, Valentine (Door in the Mountain) clearly favors the latter approach: her language is plain and unadorned, and her small lines expand and contract like the pleats of a fan. But if there's such a thing as language that is too plain, then perhaps Valentine is guilty of writing it. When the reader encounters lines like "Even then, down in my bed/ my hand across the sheet/ anyone's hand/ my face anyone's face," the language is so airy as to almost float away. The final section is an homage to Lucy, an early hominid thought to be a genetic forerunner of modern humans. These poems are the most compelling in the book and give us a sense of specificity, rather than grasping after a tenuous sense of the universal. VERDICT This may appeal to dedicated fans of Valentine's work, but admirers of short, imagistic poetry might try Lorine Niedecker or Graham Foust.—Chris Pusateri, Jefferson Cty. P.L., Lakewood, CO

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781556593215
Publisher:
Copper Canyon Press
Publication date:
09/15/2010
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
6.26(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.51(d)

Meet the Author

Jean Valentine: Jean Valentine was the State Poet of New York for two years, starting in 2008. She is the author of eleven books of poetry, including Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, which won the National Book Award for Poetry. She has earned many of the country’s highest honors for her work, including the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and The Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Prize. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and Columbia University. She lives in New York City.

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