Jean Garrigue

1914–1972
"Shining" may be the best word to describe Jean Garrigue's poetry, "whose brilliant surface glimmers with seductive coruscations that do not conceal but invite the exploration of even more shimmering depths," according to Sandra M. Gilbert writing in Poetry. In a New York Times Book Review critique of one of Garrigue's works, Water Walk by Villa d'Este, Harvey Shapiro said of the author that "there are few poets around who command as noble or impressive a style as she has at her best."

Critics praised her for her technical excellence as well as for what Theodore Roethke called her "complex richness in rhythm and diction." She "is ardent in the invention of new phrases, is a rare perfectionist of attitudes, a poet habituated to verbal elegance," stated Richard Eberhard. Praising her skill and freshness, a Saturday Review critic called her "undeniably original and individual as an artist, and a craftsman in complete command of her medium." In a review of Garrigue's New and Selected Poems, a collection of twenty years of her work, Laurence Lieberman said in Poetry that the author "is perhaps more skilled than any other poet writing today with the power to dramatize emotional threshholds between jeopardy and renewal. . .In poem after poem her subject is the failure of events in daily life ever to measure up to her spirit's esthetic craving for perfectability."

Garrigue often wrote love poetry, but her concerns also frequently included travel. Among Garrigue's well-received works were her lengthy travel poems, "For the Fountains and Fountaineers of Villa d'Este," "Pays Perdu," and "The Grand Canyon." As the author once explained to Contemporary Authors, "I've lived and traveled in Europe during three consecutive periods—1953-54, 1957-58, and 1962-63. Have taken walking tours in France and Italy, have also done some walking in Vermont. . .There was a time when I rode horseback and did some sailing." Her work reflects other interests, too. She told Contemporary Authors that "music is a passion as is Renaissance and gothic architecture. I prefer elaborate structures to functional slick ones. Chopin, Keats, and Proust were early powerful influences. So were mountains and water."

Shapiro indicated that Garrigue's earliest poems were some of her best and most anthologized, explaining that "she came on the scene with an Elizabethan rhetoric that for all its richness (as if to say, life is that rich) was a perfect mirror of this city and this world." Stephen Stepanchev described her first collection, The Ego and the Centaur, in his book American Poetry Since 1945, as a work "with the affecting strangeness of the very individuality it celebrates: it deals with the world everyone knows, and yet it has the otherworldliness of experience raised several degrees above the expected and ordinary. It has a musicality, a refinement, and an elegance of phrase that are appealing and rare. It aims for a fullness of rhetoric reminiscent of the Elizabethans."

With a few reservations, Garrigue's first efforts were praised. In the opinion of Henry Rago writing in Commonweal, The Ego and the Centaur "leaves little doubt of her ability to range in any one of several directions and to learn from a number of people without losing her own identity." Stepanchev claimed in the New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review that Garrigue "has passion and intellect and fine technical equipment with which to give them embodiment."

In general, subsequent writings were also well-received. Discussing The Monument Rose, Harry Roskolenko said in Poetry that, "when originality is allied to a critical intelligence and is embedded in the systematic values of poetry, then poetry renews itself and the reader. . ." Garrigue "has done that, if modestly, with a dignified attitude and an exciting air," Roskolenko wrote. And Stepanchev added in his book that "clearly, it is Jean Garrigue's lyricism and technical brilliance that make her visions persuasive and distinctive. Although her commitment to verbal magic sometimes draws her into a forest of rhetoric from which too much contemporary reality is banned, she succeeds in conveying, in her best poems, a sense of the world's danger and delights."

So, also, was Garrigue's 1960 Water Walk by Villa d'Este characterized by P. S. Hurd in the Christian Science Monitor as "a glittering mosaic of observation." Louise Bogan in the New Yorker called the lengthy middle section of the book, "For the Fountains and Fountaineers of Villa d'Este," "a brilliant display of light, sound, color, and motion that pushes language to its limits. . ." In Bogan's opinion, Garrigue is "at her best" when "she is exuberant to some purpose, spectacular for the right reasons."

Hayden Carruth commented in the Hudson Review that "if they never rise to anything that can be called a pitch, they nevertheless preserve the attractive quietness of steady intellectual warmth. At the same time there can be no doubt that she has a splendid lyrical gift and uses rhyme and meter elegantly." And in "Pays Perdu," an eleven page long travel poem, the major work of Country without Maps, Garrigue "has produced a poem whose force, I think, has not been equaled in English in recent years," said Joseph Bennett in the New York Times Book Review.

Some found Garrigue's final work Studies for an Actress and Other Poems less than satisfying. As Alicia Ostriker reports in the New York Times Book Review, here, "there are many poems in which Garrigue writes almost as finely as ever, in an elegiac mode, poignant with loss of beauty, loss of love and finally loss of life as the major subjects. . . Nevertheless the emotions and ideas repeatedly frustrated me by their paleness. Scenes remained vague. I listened for the solid personal voice, kept hearing instead thin echoes of others." Louis Coxe concluded in the New Republic that, "in this volume though I find a diffuseness and uncertainty that may not have been a matter of 'failing powers' but rather a function of a new start, an engagement with new material. To our loss Jean Garrigue did not live to finish what she began."

On the other hand, Rosemary Tonks in the New York Review of Books found "The Grand Canyon" an original poem, without Garrigue's usual European influences, while Ostriker also thought it accomplished. In this last book, Garrigue "made an effort to bring both sensibility and manner up to date," wrote Tonks. "Possibly she had at last woken up to the fact that her traditional poetic abilities were strangling her. The mixture is of old and new. But she begins to know herself well enough to hear her own voice."

Career

Edited a weekly newspaper in the late thirties, and a U.S.O. publication during World War II; instructor in English literature at University of Iowa, in Iowa City, IA, 1942-43, Bard College, Annandale, NY, 1951-52, Queens College, Flushing, NY, 1952-53, The New School for Social Research, New York, NY, 1955-56, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1960-61, Smith College, 1965-66, University of Washington, University of California, Riverside, and Rhode Island College. Poet-in-residence at colleges and universities, including University of California, Riverside, 1971. Visiting poet, University of Washington, Seattle, 1970.

Bibliography

  • (Contributor) Five Young American Poets, third series, New Directions, 1944.
  • The Ego and the Centaur (poems), New Directions, 1947, reprinted, Greenwood Press, 1972.
  • (Contributor) Edwin Weaver, editor, Cross-Sections, L. B. Fischer, 1947.
  • (Contributor) New World Writing, New American Library, 1952.
  • The Monument Rose (poems), Noonday Press, 1953.
  • A Water Walk by Villa d'Este (poems), St. Martins, 1959.
  • Country without Maps (poems), Macmillan, 1964.
  • Marianne Moore, University of Minnesota Press, 1965.
  • The Animal Hotel (novella), Eakins, 1966.
  • New and Selected Poems, Macmillan, 1967.
  • (Editor) Translations by American Poets, Ohio University Press, 1970.
  • Studies for an Actress and Other Poems, Macmillan, 1973.
  • (Compiler) Love's Aspects: The World's Great Love Poems, Doubleday, 1975.
  • Selected Poems, University of Illinois, 1992.
Also author of Chartres and Prose Poems, c. 1958, reprinted, Eakins, 1970, and Essays and Prose Poems, 1970. Contributor to Kenyon Review, Botteghe Oscure, Poetry, Tiger's Eye Saturday Review, New Republic, New Leader, Commentary, Arts Magazine, New York Herald Tribune, and other publications.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume II, 1974, Volume VIII, 1978.
  • Deutsch, Babette, Poetry in Our Time, Doubleday, 1963.
  • Gould, Jean, Modern American Women Poets, Dodd, Mead, 1985.
  • Kunitz, Stanley, A Kind of Order, a Kind of Folly, Little, Brown, 1975.
  • Nemerov, Howard, Poetry and Fiction, Rutgers University Press, 1963.
  • Stepanchev, Stephen, American Poetry Since 1945, Harper & Row, 1965.
PERIODICALS
  • American Poetry Review, October, 1973.
  • Baltimore Evening Sun, February 18, 1960.
  • Book Week, March 14, 1965.
  • Canadian Forum, June, 1960.
  • Christian Science Monitor, May 13, 1971.
  • Commonweal, January 16, 1948, March 19, 1965, January 11, 1974.
  • Guardian, November 25, 1960.
  • Harper's, September, 1960.
  • Hudson Review, spring, 1960, spring, 1965, autumn, 1968.
  • Kenyon Review, autumn, 1960.
  • Library Journal, September 1, 1959, November 15, 1964, September 1, 1967, June 1, 1971, February 1, 1973.
  • Louisville Courier-Journal, February 7, 1960.
  • Nation, October 17, 1953.
  • New Leader, January 29, 1968.
  • New Republic, November 2, 1953, October 6, 1973.
  • New Yorker, September 13, 1947, March 26, 1960.
  • New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, September 28, 1947.
  • New York Review of Books, April 8, 1965, November 17, 1966, October 4, 1973.
  • New York Times, November 8, 1953, June 22, 1973.
  • New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1960, December 20, 1964, November 14, 1965, November 11, 1973.
  • Partisan Review, summer, 1968.
  • Poetry, December, 1953, May, 1960, June, 1965, May, 1968, October, 1975.
  • Sewanee Review, spring, 1969.
  • Times Literary Supplement, April 18, 1968.
  • Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1968.
  • Yale Review, winter, 1954, June, 1960, October, 1973.

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LIFE SPAN 1914–1972

Biography

"Shining" may be the best word to describe Jean Garrigue's poetry, "whose brilliant surface glimmers with seductive coruscations that do not conceal but invite the exploration of even more shimmering depths," according to Sandra M. Gilbert writing in Poetry. In a New York Times Book Review critique of one of Garrigue's works, Water Walk by Villa d'Este, Harvey Shapiro said of the author that "there are few poets around who . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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