Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1507
Garrigue, Jean 1914–1972
American poet, critic, novelist, and short story writer, Garrigue was an elegant stylist whose poetry, according to Howard Nemerov, illustrated a "small world but one absolutely brought into being." (See also CLC, Vol. 2, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 37-40.)
Intrepid explorer of intensities that she is, [Jean Garrigue] wants … regard for limits, whether of form or feeling. Nevertheless,… [in] poems about the slum, the park, or the forest, [she] unites accuracy of observation with clear moral judgments. There are pictures in her "False Country of the Zoo" that might have been drawn with Marianne Moore's delicate pencil…. Miss Garrigue finds her subject matter in the give-and-take between the physical presence and the ideas, or more often, the emotions that attach to it. If she wears her feelings upon her sleeve, the embroidery can dazzle. And with what unembarrassed ecstasy she proffers the key to a foreign city or to the gate of a secret garden. (pp. 103-04)
Babette Deutsch, in her Poetry in Our Time (copyright © 1963 by Babette Deutsch; 1963 by Doubleday; reprinted by permission of Babette Deutsch), revised edition, Doubleday, 1963.
Miss Garrigue has often irritated me with her mannerisms of fashionable femineity. She seemed to belong to the world of Colette (to whom the first poem in [Country without Maps] is addressed), a world suffering, no less in the blatancies of Vogue than in Colette's chief novels, from a profound emotional stoppage, basically sexual. The manner is recognizable anywhere: a too involved Jamesian syntax that is inclined to burst predictably into pseudoecstasies, exclamations which are not really exclamations at all but simply coynesses…. Yet after all I am not sure that Miss Garrigue's connection with this world amounts to more than her manner, and even this disappears in her best work. Leaving aside the poems about Colette, cats, country gardens, etc., her work contains a core of intensely and I should say fully humane poems, which are increasing in proportion to the whole. If they never rise to anything that can be called a pitch, they nevertheless perserve the attractive quietness of steady intellectual warmth. At the same time there can be no doubt that she has a splendid lyrical gift and uses rhyme and meter elegantly. This is a less rare attainment than her others; some of her poems could be transposed to volumes she never wrote and no one would know the difference; but in the best poems her softly modulated rhymes and assonances together with unexpected variations in the length and pace of her lines produce what she (elegantly) calls "a little native elegance": the effect is right and original. The most ambitious poem in her book, called "Pays Perdu," is a meditative travelogue eleven pages long, a considerable effort by modern standards. In the best sense it is a Wordsworthian poem, an emotional intertexture of landscape and idea that we can read with pleasure while we recognize its philosophical limits. Indeed the poem suggests that this form of "thinking" is as indispensable as any in an age when all mental activity has become an expression of the pathos of self-limitation. (p. 134)
Hayden Carruth, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1965 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1965.
I had thought of Garrigue as a poet of rich, baroque, rather exotic and remote poetry; poems of travel, as I chiefly remembered, with the elaborate descriptive texture of such poetry. [Studies for An Actress and Other Poems] is rather different; though it contains a certain kind of high rhetoric that I wish had been cut-through, it cleaves much closer to the bone of personal experience, and specifically that of living in this particular society at this particular time. In a poem like "For Such A Bird He Had No Convenient Cage" she evokes a sense of contemporary helplessness, not merely before shattering public events, but individual reticence and disrelation. Perhaps the most beautiful poem in the book is "On Reading 'The Country of the Pointed Firs'"—a pure, hard-edged poem, as good or better than most of Frost, about a woman surviving through the refrain of change and loss.
Adrienne Rich, "Caryatid: A Column," in The American Poetry Review (copyright © 1973 by World Poetry, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Adrienne Rich), Septemberl October, 1973, p. 43.
[Many] of Jean Garrigue's poems are so moving in their bitter-sweet elegance that my interior tuning fork hummed to their sometimes painful beauty. (p. 371)
The symbiotic relationship between the artist and reality is the key for Jean Garrigue to the dynamism at the heart of life. If it is lost "The light is out, all is inert and stony,/What's loved is not known one loves." Such knowledge can be shared only analogically and each of Garrigue's subsequent poems explores from the ground of her being images for meaning in the contemporary world. (pp. 371-72)
Her characteristic poems are long (although she writes a few short and poignant lyrics) and ratiocinative but illuminated with meticulously controlled metaphor. Garrigue also writes for the ear. The exquisite melody of her verse counterpoints the simple exposition of such a poem as "On Reading the Country of the Pointed Firs."
Jean Garrigue's achievement in Studies for an Actress is considerable. (p. 372)
Claire Hahn, in Commonweal (copyright © 1974 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), January 11, 1974.
["Shining"]is—has always been—the word for [Jean Garrigue's] poetry, whose brilliant surface glimmers with seductive coruscations that do not conceal but invite the exploration of even more shimmering depths. Here, in other words, is poetry in what I suppose we must call the "grand manner", art that displays its artifice with pride but without arrogance, consciously incorporating "motifs from the dark wood", the "pays perdu" of the past, "moonstuff, lawn and tissue of it", and "myth-making mist and resurrecting light". Significantly, the title poem of her … posthumously published book is Studies for an Actress: her own art is deliberately, gravely or wittily, theatrical; she strives, like a diva, to sing so that she is her subject, to impersonate and illuminate all the people and things she encounters. (p. 45)
Occasionally, perhaps because she does see herself as a virtuoso performer through whom the past as well as the present speaks, Garrigue's influences seem to me to overwhelm her. The ghost of Yeats, almost always present throughout this book which begins with a Song in Sligo, becomes too assertive in Dialogue and a few other poems. Archaisms ("There is a binding element/The which when had, sustains …") and inversions ("And walked we by the harvests of the light") mar certain of her melodies like mannered inflections or injudicious trills in a baroque aria. For the most part, however, this graceful performer exploits her heritage skillfully: the Song in Sligo rewrites Yeats with élan and bespeaks no anxiety of influence; For Jenny and Roger, a delightful occasional piece, might have been written by the fire at Thoor Ballylee ("For those who talk the night away,/What makes that pride so sweet …") but the Yeatsian mask glitters like Garrigue, and was, besides, wonderfully contrived. And the elegant To Speak of My Influences, civilized as Marvell ("Straw-in-the-fire love,/It's no morality play we're in/Nor can we trick time/Nor end where we began"), makes me reflect, with pleasure, that this woman poet, anyway, would have been as accomplished a metaphysical as many seventeenth-century gentlemen.
To speak of her other influences: a few of the very best poems in the book, for instance The Smoke Shop Owner's Daughter and Country Junction, have a notably Rilkeesque depth and compassion. But again, those qualities are hardly faults. For to say that Garrigue's new poems sometimes echo men—or, more accurately, reinvent male modes—is not to say that, as some feminists might fear, she repudiates her own self, her own femaleness. On the contrary, her finest pieces are written out of a distinctively female consciousness, in Jong's sense. (p. 46)
Sandra M. Gilbert, in Poetry (© 1975 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), October, 1975.
Jean Garrigue was a wildly gifted poet, the most baroque and extravagant of spirits, whose art took the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom. She was our one lyric poet who made ecstasy her home. Her world of angels, demons, ghosts, moon and roses, fabulous beasts and birds, fireworks and fountains would seem Gothic and artificial if a real anguish, countered by the most sumptuous of joys, did not hold its ingredients together. The flushed and impulsive quality of her poems and even their flaws reflect her lifelong pursuit of the romantic ideal. Of all the writers and artists I have known Jean Garrigue most vividly embodied, in her person, the ardor of the poetic imagination. Another generation may be better tuned to the freshness of her lines…. (p. 256)
Stanley Kunitz, in his A Kind of Order, A Kind of Folly (© 1935, 1937, 1938, 1941, 1942, 1947, 1949, 1957, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 by Stanley Kunitz; reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Co. in association with the Atlantic Monthly Press), Atlantic-Little, Brown, 1975.
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