Little Boat

Jean Valentine

Jean Valentine’s 10th collection contains powerfully elegiac meditations on life’s well-lived passages. The boat she poles in the first, title poem is perhaps adrift on the River Styx. Valentine returns again and again to grief and memory. She crafts her poems carefully from fragments of narrative, sometimes barely sensible, but always attached to firmly concrete images and surprising dashes of humor, as when she compares Gerald Stern to the Man in Black: “the way you tossed your head, like Johnny Cash—” (“The Poet”). In a section titled “Jesus Said,” Valentine bases a series of poems on the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas. Her use of religious language twists in a much less traditional direction: “Jesus said: Fix anything— / Your granddaughter’s sorrows, no” (“The Teacher’s Poem”).