Josephine Jacobsen was a writer who wanted to be instructed by everything that is in the world. She wanted to learn the lessons of time in order to see what, if anything, can survive time’s natural ally, death. She was an observer of nature, of culture, and perhaps most of all, of human behavior. Joyce Carol Oates wrote that Jacobsen’s work “attempts to calibrate, in exquisite, polished and unfailingly intelligent language, the wonders and horrors of the interior landscape.” Even the puzzlement of sleep, or lack of sleep, can induce a crisp response, a reason for writing. In her poetry, there is seldom the flash of the screaming image or the pouring forth of raw feeling. She was not a confessional poet, and yet she was smartly modern and curiously enduring, even if not widely known. She was protean; she was a traveler in her thirst for knowledge. Laurence Lieberman stated that she was “gifted with the power to get outside her own personality and assume the identity of the subject that absorbs her.” Her use of irony and sharp wit can lead to a certain detachment. Yet her goal was to invite the reader into the world, to see it clearly for the first time—as if for all time.
In In the Crevice of Time, she sifted through her own work, hewing to a rigorous standard by which she meant to preserve a record of what poems she thought should last. The poems are sorted around years and decades, not titles of former collections, as if part of...
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