Jean Garrigue Essay - Critical Essays

Garrigue, Jean (Vol. 2)

Garrigue, Jean 1914–1972

A highly regarded American poet, critic, and writer of fiction, Miss Garrigue was the author of Country Without Maps (poems); her last collection is entitled Studies for an Actress, and Other Poems. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 37-40.)

Even as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, in the middle 1930's,… Jean Garrigue was a magician of words, profoundly in love with her medium. Her silken lines had a controlled metrical music and a sumptuous imagery that made the work of most of her contemporaries seem grimy in comparison. But her commitment to her craft did not signify an indifference to the world and its social and economic problems. Like some other poets of her generation, she responded strongly to the great ills of the depression decade and the war years; but she transmuted them, gave them a timeless cast, and made them part of the moral environment of individuals caught in private dilemmas….

The free, independent life that Miss Garrigue celebrates [in The Ego and the Centaur] is not without its turbulences, anxieties, and complexities. To suggest its contradictions she moves into the conjectural domain of the centaur, which is the focal symbol of the book….

The Ego and the Centaur is a book with the affecting strangeness of the very individuality it celebrates: it deals with the world everyone knows, and yet it has the otherworldliness of experience raised several degrees above the expected and ordinary. It has a musicality, a refinement, and an elegance of phrase that are appealing and rare. It aims for a fullness of rhetoric reminiscent of the Elizabethans. Its deficiencies can be listed as a rather tricky syntax; a coy archaism of diction that results from a sense of the inadequacy of the contemporary vocabulary in any act of conjuring; and a tendency to abstraction and philosophy in situations that could be made much more vivid by rendering.

Miss Garrigue's next book, The Monument Rose, appeared in 1953. It contains highly personal, full-voiced, essentially romantic lyrics in which the poet's love of her medium and her self-confidence in handling it are evident. One feels a tremendous excitement in the poems, and at a singing intensity that only a fully awake sensibility could sustain. But these are not poems of innocence, in William Blake's sense; they are poems of experience, for they encompass not only the wonders of the world of the senses but also the mind's retreat from them. In a way, they represent an attempt at assessing the limits of romanticism….

Clearly, it is Jean Garrigue's lyricism and technical brilliance that make her visions persuasive and distinctive. Although her commitment to verbal magic sometimes draws her into a forest of rhetoric from which too much contemporary reality is banned, she succeeds in conveying, in her best poems, a sense of the world's dangers and delights.

Stephen Stepanchev, "Jean Garrigue," in his American Poetry Since 1945 (copyright © 1965 by Stephen Stepanchev; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1965, pp. 80-92.

Miss Garrigue … is a poet in a very broad sense in a Whitmanesque tradition, but perhaps it would be better to say that she has a kind of fluency and abundance which one associates with certain kinds of woman poet, Edith Sitwell or the Comtesse de Noailles. There is splendidly much of her and of her lavish apprehension of seasons and passions but one usually needs a lot of it on the page, too essentially fluid to be detachable in chunks…. One has a feeling, in fact, often that Miss Garrigue is going to be excessively lush, loosely associative, but this real risk is usually surmounted … by a sudden surprising delicacy and precision.

G. S. Fraser, in Partisan Review (copyright © 1968 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Summer, 1968, pp. 470-71.

[Jean] Garrigue, a love poet, is almost exclusively involved with her emotions, which are feverish and divided. She is vulnerable to every change in a lover's look or tone. What had been ecstasy and genuine turns, when love sours, into symbol, insincerity, the "ailing of being." Like D. H. Lawrence, she is sensitive to the promptings of the blood, those shifts from joy and power to a pride rising from "cold, infertile source" which leave the ego hungering in "the prism of [its] fear."…

[The] Romantic urgency … is overpowering in Miss Garrigue's poems…. [The] weather is almost always sultry and the air full of a heavy sweetness, as if from some exotic flower which induces doubt whether it belongs to a natural species. Miss Garrigue is an ambitious poet, aiming at complex, symphonic effects, and she is a formidable technician…. The result, at least until Country Without Maps …, is very uneven verse, both within a single poem and an entire volume, which tires the reader with the monotony of excess. There is too much "wild percussion," too much delirious feeling—there are too many fanfares and too few … silences. Her chief fault … is that she does not know when to prune the weedy outcroppings of her fancy…. [She] is not a stern enough master of her own words: they parade before us like archaic banners. The sumptuary must convince the skeptical reader that so much strenuous emotion is warranted and not just self-indulgence. The overingenious design of Miss Garrigue's poems cannot support so much emotion. When she restrains her impulse to shock, however, when her self-consciousness is in abeyance, she writes finely and movingly.

Herbert Leibowitz, in Hudson Review, Autumn, 1968, pp. 559-61.

Miss Garrigue lives in the country of the heart, the female heart. In seventy-four (the dust jacket claims seventy-five) pieces in New and Selected Poems, at least thirty-one, by casual count, use the word heart or some form of it such as heartsblood or heartbreakingly. Additional poems which do not use the word make clear reference to the organ and bring the total concerned with "heartfelt" emotions to well over half the pieces in this book….

Some readers are dismayed when they come upon a lady poet whose sex is apparent in her poems. Some are dismayed to read about the human heart. Some are dismayed to find that an author has not changed his theme over twenty-odd years of his career. What dismays me about Miss Garrigue's poetry is that after all these years and all these poems, I cannot find my way around in her country of the heart. Perhaps that is the way she wants it. Perhaps her 1964 volume, Country Without Maps, refers to the country of the heart, and she has been telling us all along that the heart is unchartable….

Country Without Maps and New Poems are a disappointment insofar as they add Miss Garrigue to that list of writers who, when they travel in alien lands, record what to them is new and fresh and strange. But somehow this sort of thing does not do well in verse. While there is vast opportunity for a fine display of imagery, there seems little else. The nature of the alien people can be only superficially presented, for almost always these poems are composed before the writer has sojourned very long with his subjects…. Miss Garrigue's strongest work is in those poems which record the end of love.

Harry Morris, in Sewanee Review (© 1969 by The University of the South), Spring, 1969, pp. 322-24.