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Little Boat
     

Little Boat

by Jean Valentine
 

Following her National Book Award-winning Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003, Jean Valentine returns with a meditative and magical new collection. In Little Boat, Valentine continues her exploration of spiritual life, confronting the realities of aging and death in the serene and dreamlike voice so beloved by her many readers.

Overview

Following her National Book Award-winning Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003, Jean Valentine returns with a meditative and magical new collection. In Little Boat, Valentine continues her exploration of spiritual life, confronting the realities of aging and death in the serene and dreamlike voice so beloved by her many readers. Infusing even the most melancholy subjects with warmth and humanity, Little Boat explores such subjects as grief, ordinary objects, illness, and memory, carrying the reader into disparate worlds, rendering the complexity of our common experience through startling images. The poet’s extraordinary juxtapositions blur the boundaries of the material world and the invisible, the given and the assumed, the present and the sometimes recently absent. Readers will find Valentine’s quiet epiphanies on rich display here, as this much-heralded poet quietly merges the sorrowful and the sublime.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Reviewed by Matthea Harvey

In Little Boat, her 11th collection, 2004 National Book Award-winner Jean Valentine continues her delicate lyric investigations. Her minimalist, elided style is like the quiet concentration of a bank robber trying to crack a safe. Doors spring open throughout this book, usually where we least expect them: "I sit underneath the cottonwoods-/Friends,/ what am I meant to be doing?/ Nothing. The door is fallen down/ inside my open body/ where all the worlds touch."

In "The Eleventh Brother" (a poem based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale "The Wild Swans"), Valentine focuses on a princess who, in order to change her brothers from swans back into princes, must weave 11 coats made out of nettles, and all the while, remain mute. Valentine is, after all, a poet who seeks insight and metamorphosis, but will wait for it patiently: "your sister had finished weaving your other arm,/ she dove down to give it to you// through the gray water. You couldn't/ take it. You wouldn't." That ending-the noncomittal swing door of "either/or" is characteristic of Valentine's embrace of contradiction and complication.

When Valentine speaks in the voice of "outsider artist" Ray Masterson in "The Artist in Prison" (Masterson started making miniature embroideries while incarcerated, using threads unraveled from other inmates' socks), not only does her care and precision match Masterson's own meticulous work, but she moves beyond ekphrastic appreciation to an unexpected discovery: "I will trade// what-whole/ days when I was free// red shadow on the inside of my skull// for socks/ for threads." Imagining one's way inside the brain naturally conjures upDickinson, as does her use of exclamation marks (outbursts that combine exuberance and despair: "-Not see you!") and her intimate conversations with God (here, Jesus). In "This Side," the speaker describes carrying an antenna around like Mercury's staff, hoping to receive an indeterminate message, then adds with wonderful emphasis, "AndI left/ a bowl of milk outside the threshold the night/ the souls of the dead return, & in the morning/ licked it where he licked."

In "Strange Light," a section of poems whose titles all begin with "Hospital," the speaker is situated in the uncertainties of both life and death, present and past, euphoria and despair: "Us standing there in the past/ as we were/ in life/ you turning and turning my coat buttons." This is how she leaves us, too-gloriously and terrifyingly unmoored. (Oct.)

Matthea Harvey's third book of poems,Modern Life, is coming in October from Graywolf. Her first children's book,The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, is due out from Soft Skull also in October.

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Winner of the National Book Award for Door in the Mountain(2004), Valentine is considered a poets' poet. No wonder. The poems in Valentine's 11th collection are tight, self-enclosed, camouflaged excursions into a dreamlike state of mind. Difficult in a Zen way, these poems work through vivid imagery and understatement. Their territory being the spiritual life, they focus on the soul's journey from the time before birth to after death. Some, like "Moose and Calf," which was inspired by the writing of Julian of Norwich, can be somewhat obscure. The strongest and most representative section concerns the life of Jesus as seen from the Annunciation to the Resurrection in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas. Here the poems make their point through a subtle blend of metaphor and humor as in Jesus describing his risen body as "It's the same material,/but lighter,/summer stuff." Ultimately, the best of these poems work like sacraments: they symbolize and effect humankind's connection to the transcendent. Suitable for most libraries.
—Diane Scharper

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780819568502
Publisher:
Wesleyan University Press
Publication date:
10/02/2007
Series:
Wesleyan Poetry Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
84
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are Saying About This

Rosanna Warren
“Little Boat is a book of mystical minimalism, poems pacing the horizon between life and death. Valentine looks hard at our mortal gestures—and sees in them evidence of a radical, heretical, sacred benevolence.”
Lynn Emanuel
“Little Boat is one of Jean Valentine’s most beautiful and moving books in a lifetime of such books.”

Meet the Author

JEAN VALENTINE is the author of ten books of poetry, including Door in the Mountain (2004), winner of the 2004 National Book Award.

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