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This review is taken from PN Review 182, Volume 34 Number 6, July - August 2008.

BREAKING ENGLISH JEAN VALENTINE, Little Boat (Wesleyan University Press) $22.95

Minimalism in art was a logical, if not inevitable, development after the neo-romanticism of Abstract Expressionism followed by the comic commodifications of Pop. A stripped down, gestural art - from Richard Serra's slashes of iron to Dan Flavin's neon lights - was an astringent withdrawal from the 'yin' of Action Painting and the 'yang' of deadpan cultural commentary. The genealogy of minimalist poetry is not so straightforward, although it shares something with art's concern for material, in this case words, over the logic of structures. But there has always been a fascination with minimalism in poetry that has run alongside or underneath whatever the poetic mainstream is at any particular moment. The desire to break poems down is evidenced early in the twentieth century by someone like Zukofsky and minimalist experiments crop up at regular intervals as a fascination with the word in itself, or fragments thereof, takes precedence over meanings. Additionally, poetic minimalism has frequently been used as a way of representing a recoil from the world, usually caused by some form of blow or wounding. Minimalism becomes thereby a strategy of coping, yet one that also mute incomprehension.

Jean Valentine's Little Boat falls into this latter category of emotional, rather than technical, minimalism. Valentine signals this throughout her verse with a frequent use of caesuras - each measuring about five or six spaces in duration. For instance, from the middle section of 'Mattress on the floor':

the old rug its ...


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