Seeing You Critical Overview
by Jean Valentine

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Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Because "Seeing You" has been published twice in book-length collections by Valentine, it is appropriate to look at the critical reaction to both books. The River at Wolf was called "daring" in the Virginia Quarterly Review, which goes on to state that the poems "succeed by not giving in to melodrama or sentimentality; they focus on details of great clarity." The reviewer for the Virginia Quarterly Review adds that many of the poems, such as "Seeing You," "repeat lines, with a resonant echoing effect," observing that "occasionally the repetition drowns out the poem, and sometimes the resistance to the maudlin is so great that the narration sounds harsh." The poet David Rivard, in a critique of The River at Wolf for Ploughshares, says that Valentine "faces head-on the most serious mysteries of desire and death." Rivard describes the poems in this volume as "intense, calligraphic lyricism," "epics of the inner life," and "militantly non-narrative."

The awarding of the National Book Award to Valentine for Door in the Mountain was for many readers, among them Barbara Hoffert writing for the Library Journal, an affirmation that Valentine is "one of the best [poets] at work in America today." Hoffert finds Valentine's work "beautifully precise—as in music, there's as much here in the silence as there is in the sound—and radiant with the pain of being in the world." The critic John Freeman, in the Seattle Times, writes that Valentine displays "a sensibility unlike any other in American letters" and that her style "gives the reader a chance to indulge a heightened awareness in the natural world, the passage of time and the aural quality of language."

In general, critics praise Valentine for a unique talent, although some complain that her dreamlike images wander into the inexplicable. Nonetheless, the number of her awards, the admiration of fellow poets, and the longevity of her career testify to the quality of her poetry and the value to be found in studying it.