A Review of Break the Glass by Jean Valentine


May 10, 2011 ~ 

The function of poetry is conveyance. Everywhere in Jean Valentine’s collection, Break the Glass, are currents along which vessels flow. Words are permeable canoes—themselves the map—carrying cargo from cosmos to cosmos.

The world inside of that onemass graveslike this one

Inside of that world

someone painting

animal–souls

Inside the dark

huge sounds

—”The World inside This One”

Break the Glass… The title stirs thoughts of a wedding, a fire, an escape—from trappings undetected until you try to reach outside. 

I wanted you to touch meYou stood there neither man nor woman,beautiful edge by the water
—”You ask,”

Once the aquarium is shattered, everything is liquid, protean—thresholds effortlessly transgressed, from life to death, lost to unlost, civilized to carnal. We swim, we thirst, we nurse, we swallow. 

Eurydice who guides        Orpheus who guideswho first has to return to deaththe one who sings

the one who opens first

of all the animals his

mouth to her song

her thirst his thirst

the ones who nurse each other

—”Eurydice who guides”

Faces make cameo appearances in the swirl of influence—there is no separation between agent and beneficiary, and no permanence. 

I put my hand on the groundthe membrane is gone and nothing does hold

your place in the ground

is all of it

and it is breathing

—”Red cloth”

Gradually and inevitably, in this atomistic universe of particles (and breaths) in constant motion, beauty emerges, “in its longing.” When the glass breaks, music flows… 

Can you breathe all right?Break the glass        shoutbreak the glass        force the room

break the thread       Open

your place in the ground

the music behind the glass.

—”If a Person Visits Someone in a Dream, in SomeCultures the Dreamer Thanks Them”

Yet from this accumulating, shipping, and unloading “with light intent” arises detachment—what seems always missing is desire. 

I have pulled the elements in no orderin around me, like a blanket:elephant blanket.

It will harden when I take it off,

my skin, when I

leave you on the ground and walk away.

—”I am fain a page in the court of space”

At last, there is something to be resolved. As though the universal sublimity couldn’t go on infinitely expanding in size and depth and complexity, the book ends with the chaotic whirling eddies of primal forces uniting as though by design to resurrect the three-million-year-old skeleton, Lucy. 

What I wanted most        the motherhas come to meWill she stay in my ear? Lucy

Is it you?

Still all night long my

Lucy I entreat you 

I will not let thee go except thou bless me.

—”Enter the sweet Why…”

Denouement in a weird incubus—a desiccated skeleton. As though the voyage weren’t enough of an ending… But what does poetry have to do with need? 

Don’t listen to the words—they’re only little shapes for what you’re saying,they’re only cups if you’re thirsty, you aren’t thirsty
—”‘As with rosy steps the morn'”

About Ruth Zamoyta

Communications strategist, project manager, épée fencer, poet.

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