A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Break the Glass is an important collection, in which Jean Valentine characteristically weds a strong moral imperative to a leaping imagination. Whether writing elegies, meditations on aging, or an extended homage to Lucy, the earliest known hominid, Valentine writes with extraordinary intensity and clarity.
How did you pray, Lucy?
You were prayer.
Your hands and toes.
When writing came back to me
I prayed with lipstick
on the windshield
as I drove.
Newton made up with the world,
he had already turned himself
into gold, he was already there.
“A collection of imaginative poems in which small details can accrue great power and a reader is never sure where any poem might lead.” —Judges’ citation, finalists for the Pulitzer Prize
“Valentine has a gift for tough strangeness, but also a dreamlike syntax and manner of arranging the lines of… short poems so as to draw us into the doubleness and fluency of feelings.” — New York Times Book Review
“Unlike the confessional poets who influenced her earliest verses, Jean Valentine has come to adopt a more skeletal approach to personal experience, preferring terse lyric fragments to continuous narrative.” —New Yorker
“[Valentine’s] poems are a rare pleasure: serious and graceful, never glib, testimony to the strength and beauty of the lyric as a music of words, not ideas. As elliptical and demanding as Emily Dickinson, Valentine consistently rewards the reader.” —Library Journal
“The poet is at her fierce best… Each poem shares Valentine’s trademark concision and pared-down punch. Some of her severe observations can stop your breath.” —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
“State Poet of New York and National Book Award winner Valentine’s poems are brilliantly concentrated and neatly faceted, forged in the heat and press of experience and rumination like diamonds within the earth… Sharply honed yet mysterious, Valentine’s lyrics of longing, conscience, collapsed time and space, and the elemental are startling and resounding.” —Booklist
“Looking into a Jean Valentine poem is like looking into a lake: you can see your own outline, and the shape of the upper world, reflected among rocks, underwater life, glint of lost bottles, drifted leaves. The known and familiar become one with the mysterious and half-wild, at the place where consciousness and the subliminal meet.” —Adrienne Rich
“A poem by Jean Valentine is not a literary artifact to me but sustenance, warmth, and light.” —Franz Wright
“Break the Glass is gratifying and seasoned. It contains a perfect poem, a themed set, and subtly idiosyncratic typography.” —Interrupting Infinity
“… one of the strongest gifts of her writing life has been a steady draw of remaining fresh as well as unpredictable and holding to a stunning touch of craftsmanship… The poem I’ve chosen… is the opening poem to the new book, her eleventh collection. I reached the end of the poem, and while I kept on reading, I haven’t really left that page.” —Bob Arnold, A Longhouse Birdhouse