The Cradle of the Real Life

The Cradle of the Real Life

by Jean Valentine
     
 

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In Jean Valentine's first book, her poems transformed dreams into living experience by means of luminous language that echoed the unconscious mind's revelations. In her later books, she almost reverses this process to show life as veiled and inconclusive, suggestive rather than definitive. The elliptical yet lucid craft of her poems presents experience as only

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Overview

In Jean Valentine's first book, her poems transformed dreams into living experience by means of luminous language that echoed the unconscious mind's revelations. In her later books, she almost reverses this process to show life as veiled and inconclusive, suggestive rather than definitive. The elliptical yet lucid craft of her poems presents experience as only imperfectly graspable. The poems ride lightly on the waves of thought, more textures than statements. Some readers have characterized Valentine as a "deep image" writer, but syntactically her work is more akin to the work of Mandelstam and Paul Celan than to that of Lorca and Neruda.

The Cradle of the Real Life is divided into two sections, the shorter first section dealing with loss and death and the longer second section, entitled "Her Lost Book," which weaves memories with various metaphors for writing, and deals specifically with the "problem" of women's writing. These finely wrought pieces take stark subject matter and make it shimmer; the poems take their shape as much from the absences as from the words, just as life is given meaning by the losses we survive.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"At times chasteningly brief and at other times hypnotically lyrical, The Cradle of the Real Life is an invitation to a highly personalized and yet familiar world which commands readers' attention more aggressively, but no less shrewdly, than her earlier poems . . . what surfaces at the book's end is an entirely fresh world view which persuades through its humble sagacity." —Boston Book Review

"Valentine has moved from the expressionistic kind of poem made popular by her generation . . . to this spare form imbued with spirituality. Her brief poems demand much yet bless the careful reader . . . There is tragedy in the tension between the poet's decorum and the painful life lived. But Valentine, neither coy nor exploitative, is able to use this material with wisdom and restraint. A mature collection from an important writer; highly recommended."—Library Journal

"[Valentine's] poems are models of concentration, demanding a rare insensity in the reader and listener. In order to get anything at all from them, acute attention must be paid. The wording is spare, but omits nothing . . . To alter the old advertising slogan, Valentine may have wept when she sat down at the piano, but, ah, when she started to play! Her triumph can be every reader's in this universal new collection."
American Book Review

"Intensely felt, condensed and often fragmentary, Valentine's short poems struggle to wrest emotional commitments and general truths from bits of conversations, cryptic dreams and gnomic single images . . . Valentine, in her best poems, yokes clauses together to produce strange, urgent portraits of deep feelings."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Intensely felt, condensed and often fragmentary, Valentine's short poems struggle to wrest emotional commitments and general truths from bits of conversations, cryptic dreams and gnomic single images. This eighth collection opens with a set of short poems on erotic and elegiac themes, then offers a long sequence, "Her Lost Book," that merges a caustic account of Irish immigration with a laconic feminist martyrology. Passing from Dublin to the Atlantic shore, Valentine declares, "I want those women's lives/ rage constraints/ the poems they burned/ in their chimney throats... more than our silver or your gold art." A one time Yale Younger Poet (Growing Darkness, Growing Light; etc.), Valentine, in her best poems, yokes clauses together to produce strange, urgent portraits of deep feelings: one such is "Leaving," which closes: "Eight years I sat on my heels in the field/ waiting for you./ I wanted to." Seemingly indebted at times to Dickinson and Nelly Sachs, Valentine's combination of feminist themes, gritty tones and fragmented forms also recall the recent work of Adrienne Rich (one of the book's dedicatees). Yet Valentine fails to balance her clipped measures (as Rich does) against more forthright or expansive modes. Instead, her concision can make ostensibly completed poems and series read like notes for poems not yet written: "They lead me to a/ `love nurse'...she is I am/ sugary/ melt/ and disappear." Valentine's drive to compress can be admired, and everything she does seems urgently meant. Yet her command of form can't always equal her feeling: the result is a book at once harrowing and frustrating. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Valentine, who started her career as a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets back in 1965, follows up a string of sharp, reverberant works with this stunning ninth title. As always, she cheerfully refuses to employ an everyday, accessible style, but she is not obscurantist, instead using poetry to give shape to what lies beyond language. There is evidence here of a life passionately lived, but it is restrained by hard-earned wisdom and the elegance of form. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780819564061
Publisher:
Wesleyan University Press
Publication date:
04/14/2000
Series:
Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
85
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.34(d)

Read an Excerpt




Excerpt


The Pen


The sandy road, the bright green two-inch lizard
little light on the road


the pen that writes by itself
the mist that blows by, through itself


the gourd I drink from in my sleep
that also drinks from me


—Who taught me to know instead of not to know?
And this pen     its thought


lying on the thought of the table
a bow lying across the strings


not moving
held


Elegy for Jane Kenyon (2)


Jane is big
with death, Don
sad and kind — Jane
though she's dying
is full of mind


We talk about the table
the little walnut one
how it's like
Emily Dickinson's


But Don says No
Dickinson's
was made of iron. No
said Jane
Of flesh.


Black Wolf


Suffocated in the country
a sheep in my own curtain
wolf curtain!


The black wolf nobody else saw I alone saw
trotting down the lane past our house
—Black Heart! Don't go past our house


don't get lost just when I've found you
just when life is not afraid
any more. Of me. Just when—


(I didn't need to hate them. You can't beat a stick.
But nobody else could see what they were like.


See it wasn't all
"on the green hill sheep
kneel and feed")—


Mother Bones


B. is dragging his mother's bones
up the stone stairs
in a bag of grass cuttings.
But you can't grow
grass from cuttings.


They lead me


They lead me to a
"lovely nurse"
"in case B. needs her"
she is I am
sugary
melt
and disappear


I ask for a dream
about my marriage:
"Ink." Ink. Ink. Ink.


My ink-stained hand
his paint-smudged hand


gone     where
nothing joins


Your mouth "appeared to me"


Your mouth "appeared to me"
a Buddha's mouth
the size of a billboard


I thought: of course,
your mouth,
you spoke to me.


Then your blue finger,
of course it was your finger,
you painted with your finger


and you painted me with your finger ...


Then appeared to me flames:
transparencements of every hand and mouth.


Mare and Newborn Foal


When you die
there are bales of hay
heaped high in space
mean while
with my tongue
I draw the black straw
out of you
mean while
with your tongue
you draw the black straw out of me.

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Meet the Author

JEAN VALENTINE won the Yale Younger Poets Award for her first book, Dream Barker, in 1965. Author of seven other books of poetry, including most recently Growing Darkness, Growing Light (1997) and The River at Wolf (1992), she has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the Graduate Writing Program at NYU, and the 92nd Street Y. Valentine received the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America in 2000 and the 2006 Morton Dauwen Zabel Award given by the American of Letters to "a progressive, original, and experimental writer."

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