A poet speaks of the deaths and births that come within a life: alcoholism, womanhood, depression, marriage, motherhood, psychotherapy, sex, poetry.
In Jean Valentine's first book, her poems transformed dreams into living experience by means of luminous language that echoed the unconscious mind's revelations. In her later books, she almost reverses this process to show life as veiled and inconclusive, suggestive rather than definitive. The elliptical yet lucid craft of her poems presents experience as only imperfectly graspable. The poems ride lightly on the waves of thought, more textures than statements. Some readers have characterized Valentine as a "deep image" writer, but syntactically her work is more akin to the work of Mandelstam and Paul Celan than to that of Lorca and Neruda.
The Cradle of the Real Life is divided into two sections, the shorter first section dealing with loss and death and the longer second section, entitled "Her Lost Book," which weaves memories with various metaphors for writing, and deals specifically with the "problem" of women's writing. These finely wrought pieces take stark subject matter and make it shimmer; the poems take their shape as much from the absences as from the words, just as life is given meaning by the losses we survive.
"At times chasteningly brief and at other times hypnotically lyrical, The Cradle of the Real Life is an invitation to a highly personalized and yet familiar world which commands readers' attention more aggressively, but no less shrewdly, than her earlier poems . . . what surfaces at the book's end is an entirely fresh world view which persuades through its humble sagacity."~Boston Book Review
""Intensely felt, condensed and often fragmentary, Valentine's short poems struggle to wrest emotional commitments and general truths from bits of conversations, cryptic dreams and gnomic single images . . . Valentine, in her best poems, yokes clauses together to produce strange, urgent portraits of deep feelings.""~Publishers Weekly
""[Valentine's] poems are models of concentration, demanding a rare insensity in the reader and listener. In order to get anything at all from them, acute attention must be paid. The wording is spare, but omits nothing . . . To alter the old advertising slogan, Valentine may have wept when she sat down at the piano, but, ah, when she started to play! Her triumph can be every reader's in this universal new collection.""~American Book Review
""At times chasteningly brief and at other times hypnotically lyrical, The Cradle of the Real Life is an invitation to a highly personalized and yet familiar world which commands readers' attention more aggressively, but no less shrewdly, than her earlier poems . . . what surfaces at the book's end is an entirely fresh world view which persuades through its humble sagacity.""~Boston Book Review
""Valentine has moved from the expressionistic kind of poem made popular by her generation . . . to this spare form imbued with spirituality. Her brief poems demand much yet bless the careful reader . . . There is tragedy in the tension between the poet's decorum and the painful life lived. But Valentine, neither coy nor exploitative, is able to use this material with wisdom and restraint. A mature collection from an important writer; highly recommended.""~Library Journal