cover image Growing Darkness, Growing Light

Growing Darkness, Growing Light

Jean Valentine. Carnegie-Mellon University Press, $11.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-88748-242-7

Between her first book of poems, Dream Barker, which was selected by the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1964, and 1992's The River at Wolf, Valentine has established herself as a commanding poet. ""The taste of my own life is good to me,"" she writes in ""New Life,"" one of the poems that finds the poet in a state of contentment. But in this collection of darkness and light, a peaceful, safe moment can be replaced by horror, as envisioned in this sequence of ""Open Heart"": ""They've made a hole/ in B's chest/ the size of the woodworm holes/ in the sideboard: threaded it/ with black plastic thread:/ their jump-start track to his heart."" Her poems, though mostly short, have a wisdom and a resilience to them. Some poems are set in Ireland, and others in ""the wet electric New York streets."" These poems are marked by moments of brief intensity, as in the first lines from ""World-light"" (""Do well in the world. If you do well/ we'll throw you away. We'll put you in the state asylum like we did your grandfather."" The great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, some of whose poems Valentine has translated previously, is evoked in two poems, including ""Dog Skin Coat,"" written in memory of the poet Lynda Hull: ""Ghost money/ star/ ledger, I'm hanging his yellow coat up here/ on your coffin-door."" This newest is one of Valentine's best collections. (Apr.)