Feminist poetry is not the same thing as poetry written by women. Women often write poetry in traditional and formulaic ways. However, a distinctive kind of poetry is feminist poetry, born out of the women's movement in the 1970s and coming to maturity in the following decade, 1980–1990. Feminist poetry bears a resemblance to the antiwar poetry and some of the beat poetry of the 1960s in its consciousness-raising and political goals. What distinguishes feminist poetry is its experimentation with the function of language in poetry and its themes and imagery based on the unique experiences of women. These two characteristics are evident in "Seeing You," when Valentine employs free verse, with her trademark fragments, combined with the imagery of a woman's relationship with her mother and her lover.
Furthermore, feminist poetry has both subjective and collective stories to tell. While the poem may be or seem to be about the poet's private life, it is at the same time intended to express the experiences of many women. The worldview is no longer strictly male but has a female perspective. Valentine, as a rule, does not use herself literally; her narrator is not necessarily herself but one who is meant to draw upon the personal feelings and experiences of the reader. Thus, the poetry remains personal in its ability to capture each reader's intimate thoughts and portray universal experiences. This revealing of the...
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Free Verse and Repetition
Using short, usually irregular line lengths and a controlled rhythm, free verse lacks the regular stress pattern, metric feet, and rhyme of traditional verse. Instead of a recurrent beat, the rhythmic effect depends on repetition, balance, and variation of phrases. A poet using free verse may suspend ordinary syntax and increase the control of pace, pauses, and timing. Poets noted for their use of free verse are Walt Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and e. e. cummings, among many others. In "Seeing You," Valentine uses irregular line lengths and a controlled rhythm, sometimes unexpectedly stopping the reader once or twice in a line ("Brilliance, at the bottom. Trust you"), while at other times racing through a line, omitting punctuation in places where prose would demand punctuation ("I dove down my mental lake fear and love"). Repetition is the most obvious tool, with stanza 3 of the first section being identical to stanza 1 of the second; the repetition of the phrases "finger-spaces" and "seeing you"; and the repetition of the words "brilliance," "garden," "fear," and "love." In addition, the first part, "Mother," has seven two-line stanzas, and the second, "Lover," has seven two-line stanzas.
The major feature of Valentine's poetry is imagery, vividly yet simply presented in a moment of intensity. In the first line,...
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Compare and Contrast
- 1990: As their children's protectors and teachers, parents are encouraged to focus on building their children's self-esteem. Parents are challenged to teach their children how to handle such modern issues as body image, drug and alcohol abuse, peer pressure, crime, and rapidly changing technology. Many parents regard the world as an unfriendly place for their children, and they struggle with fear for them. Friends are often a stronger influence over children than their parents are.
Today: Parents are still encouraged to build their children's self-esteem, but new challenges make this task increasingly difficult. Violence among children is on the rise, and the consequences are more serious than ever. Technology can represent as much danger as benefit to children, and parents must be vigilant in monitoring Internet and cell-phone activity. Childhood obesity and eating disorders pose unique early challenges to self-esteem. Friends continue to be extremely influential in children's lives, forcing mothers and fathers to work harder to be effective in their parenting. As the issues facing children become more difficult and more serious, parents often find themselves fearful as they strive to protect their children.
- 1990: Most of the well-known women literary writers are novelists, such as Amy Tan, Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, and Margaret Atwood. The poetry of such popular writers as Maya Angelou is gaining...
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Topics for Further Study
- Valentine considers her fellow poets Fanny Howe, Jane Cooper, Sharon Olds, C. D. Wright, and Adrienne Rich to be her friends and models. Write a brief biography for each of these American women, including a capsule description of her work. Summarize your research with a comparison of these poets.
- Valentine's Door in the Mountain is a collection of all of her previous publications as well as several new poems. Investigate this practice of reprinting previously published works that is so common among poets. Why are previous collections "recycled"? Write a report on the answer, which should be an insight into the publishing industry and the reading public. Information relating to this topic may be found in the introductions to the collections of various poets.
- Valentine has spent most of her life as a college professor. Check on the professions of a number of other famous modern writers in the fields of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and list them. Are most or many involved in teaching? If so, conduct a discussion with a group of your classmates about why you think that is or is not the case.
- "Seeing You" is a poem that describes the poet's mother as being afraid. Why do you think she is afraid? What are the fears that all mothers (and fathers) share? Write a composition on this subject, perhaps interviewing various parents about their challenges and feelings.
- Valentine has spent most of her life in...
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- A thirty-minute VHS video is available from the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at www.sfsu.edu, showing Valentine reading her poetry at San Francisco State University on November 29, 1979.
- A thirty-one-minute VHS video is available from the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at www.sfsu.edu, showing Valentine reading from Home Deep Blue and Growing Darkness, Growing Light at San Francisco State University on October 15, 1997.
- A 1989 audiotape of The Resurrected, produced by Watershed, is available from the Writer's Center of Bethesda, Maryland, at www.writer.org/index.asp.
- A number of Valentine's poems are available in audio form on her official website: www.jeanvalentine.com.
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What Do I Read Next?
- At the age of seventy-five, Jane Cooper, who befriended Valentine when her first book came out, published The Flashboat: Poems Collected and Reclaimed (2000), a complete collection of her work, which is known mostly for its insightful and compassionate political views.
- Valentine is an admirer of Fanny Howe, whose On the Ground: Poems (2004) is a set of short sequences that reflect her intense interest in politics and social justice and express her belief that love can light the way.
- Sharon Olds, whose collection of her best poems from seven other books was published in 2004 as Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980–2002, is another poet whom Valentine admires. Olds has a style that connects immediately with audiences, making her one of the most widely read of modern poets.
- Adrienne Rich, who is an icon of feminist poets and a close friend of Valentine's, coedited Adrienne Rich's Poetry and Prose (1993) with Albert and Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi.
- Showing a style akin to Emily Dickinson's, Valentine's Home Deep Blue: New and Selected Poems (1989) is a collection of lyrical verse that displays her strength in the use of language and sound.
- Valentine's eighth book, The Cradle of the Real Life (2000), has a long sequence merging Irish and feminist themes as well as poems of Valentine's usual trademark brevity.
- Valentine enjoys reading the...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Cramer, Steven, "Self-defense—The River at Wolf by Jean Valentine / Meetings with Time by Carl Dennis / Apocrypha by Eric Pankey / and Others," in Poetry, Vol. 161, No. 3, December 1992, p. 161.
Freeman, John, Review of Door in the Mountain: New and Selected Poems, 1965–2003, in the Seattle Times, November 28, 2004, Section K, p. 7.
Hoffert, Barbara, "Best Poetry of 2004," in Library Journal, Vol. 130, No. 7, April 15, 2005, p. 94.
Jackson, Richard, "The Hallowing of the Everyday," in Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets, University of Alabama Press, 1983, pp. 27, 29.
Klein, Michael, "Jean Valentine: An Interview," in American Poetry Review, Vol. 20, No. 4, July/August 1991, pp. 39-44.
Muske, Carol, "Growing Darkness, Growing Light," in the Nation, Vol. 265, No. 3, July 21, 1997, pp. 36, 37.
Ostriker, Alicia, "Seeing the Way," in American Book Review, Vol. 26, No. 4, May/June 2005, p. 16.
Review of The River at Wolf, in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 69, No. 3, Summer 1993, p. SS101.
Rivard, David, Review of The River at Wolf, in Ploughshares, Vol. 19, No. 2, Fall 1993, p. 246.
Susskind, H., Review of The River at Wolf, in Choice, Vol. 30, No. 5, January 1993, p. 798.
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