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This review is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

ERIK FUHRER ‘The Bodies Were Like Charred Trees’:
(re)Visions of Violence in Jean Valentine’s Lyric Dreamscapes
Jean Valentine’s poems are not often celebrated for their political urgency. On being told her poems held political resonance in a 2002 interview, Valentine responded with appreciation:

That’s nice you feel that way. I just had a piece sent to me this summer about my work being more political than people generally recognize which was very comforting to me because I have been out in the wilderness with that although I was close friends with some political poets. (Gruber and Valentine)

It is the aim of this essay to recover Valentine’s poems from their apolitical status by illustrating how her powerful lyrics speak political and social memory through dreamlike (re)visions of global violence in a lucid, ethereal way that resists traditional narrative and re-speaks history. It will begin by discussing images of nuclear warfare within two poems, ‘The Second Dream’ and ‘Riverside’, both from Valentine’s first book, Dream Barker and will end by demonstrating how similar imagery is used to construct a harrowing portrait of the Vietnam war in the title poem of her second book, Pilgrims.

‘The Second Dream’ opens when ‘we all heard the alarm. The planes were out and coming’ (p. 51). But why the alarm? They were coming ‘from a friendly country… one of our own… a friend… no need to worry… only… Last time/ the bodies were like charred trees’ (p. 51). This harrowing line tips the tone into the fire. Compare this image to an image described ...


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