Seeing You Analysis
by Jean Valentine

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Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

Feminist Poetry

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 personal and intimate has upset many mainstream American poets and critics, who find such revelations embarrassing and inappropriate. The American Academy of Poets gave its prestigious Lamont Prize in 1990 to Minnie Bruce Pratt, known for her explicitly personal poetry, yet reportedly there was some uneasiness with her work. Thus, feminist poetry has remained somewhat outside the American poetry establishment while nonetheless garnering a supportive audience among readers and critics.

Exceptions to the separation of feminist poetry and the mainstream have been the careers of Adrienne Rich and Sylvia Plath, perhaps because of the impact of their outspoken literary criticism. Rich is one of Valentine's closest friends and influences, and Valentine's work has been compared to Plath's. It could be said that feminist poetry runs alongside the mainstream in that it has been stripping language and form to its rawest elements to express the previously hidden and secret lives of women, including their views on sexuality, since the 1970s. In various interviews, Valentine has indicated that she wants to get past the secrets and the myths to the truths of women's lives. She achieves this goal in the sexual intimacy, the fears, and the emotions of loves that she describes in "Seeing You." Another theme that recurs in interviews with Valentine is her admiration of women political poets and their efforts to speak out on issues that matter. As long as there is oppression based on gender and an elitism in poetry that prefers personal and political detachment, there will be a place for feminist poets such as Valentine.

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

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,...

(The entire section is 2,366 words.)