Poet Jane Cooper has been grouped with other writers of her generation: those who "came of age" during the World War II years. Writing of the constraints placed on both her individuality and her art during the repressive decade that followed the boys' return from war and women's return to the kitchens of America in an essay first published in 1974 and included in 1993's Scaffolding: Selected Poems, "The women poets I read about were generally not know for their rich, stable sexual and family lives." Beginning with her award winning debut, The Weather of Six Mornings in 1969, Cooper attempted to push back the heavy curtain sheltering women's lives, determining to break through the oppression against which writers like Sylvia Plath would vainly struggle.
Reviewing the career-spanning collection Scaffolding, a Publishers Weekly critic calls Cooper "meticulous," noting that within her work, "Delicate topics are often couched in symbol or metaphor; . . . middle age is described as a grey day in which the rain has not yet come." Critiquing Cooper's 1995 collection, Green Notebook, for Poetry, contributor Robert B. Shaw maintains that while he finds her verse to be, by turns, "unfinished" or "perilously fragile," "Cooper's subjects are frequently striking enough to maintain interest while questions of form hang in abeyance." Of the poet's fascination with the process of writing, Shaw adds that "she writes . . . with more passionate involvement than many poets bring to that admittedly more cliche-prone topic."
More successful than Cooper's more casual musings, in Shaw's opinion, are such poems as "The Winter Road," about Southwest painter Georgia O'Keeffe, and "Vocation: A Life," which focuses on American author Willa Cather. In their distillation of each woman's creative essence, these poems "offer graceful and discerning tributes . . . while deriving exempla from their lives and work." Lorrie Goldensohn adds her praise to that of Shaw, writing in Contemporary Women Poets that "Packed densely with reference to works and lives, Cooper's short, clustered, jewel-like lyrics dedicated to . . . [O'Keeffe and Cather] speak about the inevitable sexual and psychosocial crises and conflicts that existed so painfully for these women who were primary makers."
Cooper described her Green Notebook, Winter Road in Contemporary Women Poets: "It is a book that is meant to be very fluid, as the private and public worlds intersect, the present is opened out by glimpses of the past . . . and song exists side by side with speech. . . . Someone complained that there is too much death in the poems. Not at all; I am over 70 and I celebrate 'ongoingness.'" Against "time's mounting losses," adds Goldensohn, Green Notebook "continues and triumphantly intensifies" Cooper's relationships of the past, "to persons, places, and traditions, as the poet reorders the psyche's props for survival, altering the earlier confrontation of self against self to reflect instead a greater concern for the fit of the writing self within a tradition of women artists." Among Cooper's most recent works has been authoring the foreword to The Life of Poetry, an essay on the craft by the late poet Muriel Rukyser that was first published in 1949.