Book Review: Shattered Fragments of my Soul

Shattered FragmentsBack in August  I got a comment from the Val Jupe, under Let Poetry Die. She wrote:

“I also just published my first (short) book of poetry… And while I’m glad I did, it feels strange to do so in a climate where no one cares for poetry (aside for ‘slam poetry’) and where no one reads it.”

That reminded me of the cold silence my first and only book of poetry received. In retrospect I probably should have sent out the first 200 books, like EA Robinson, to 200 reviewers. I did send out my books to a number of poets whom I admired and was, to a poet, met with the response that they were just too busy and ‘Good luck’.

So, setting the example they should have set, my review.

Val Jupe’s first book is modest in every sense. I like that. It’s 29 pages long, slim and unpretentious. The poetry is printed with a sans serif font. It’s know it’s subjective but I’ve never liked sans serif mixed with literature—makes a book look as if it were printed on a budget. Why be obvious? In the bio she tells us she’s worked as a video editor for over 12 years, is fond of Paris and Prague (me too by the way—especially Prague), loves food and wine and “considers herself something of a poet”. And as any poet will tell you, a high opinion of oneself is essential to survival.  (It’s the stragglers who are picked off first.)

What are Jupe’s poems like?

She has a good sense of rhythm and rhyme, bringing a modern sensibility to traditional poetry. Though there’s some meter the poems  are more often syllabic. It’s the rhyming where Jupe’s playfulness stands out, and it’s playfulness that characterizes Jupe’s best poems. That, and perhaps, a bit of sentimentality and mawkishness. But first to the poetry.

What you won’t find in Jupe’s poetry is much in the way of imagery or metaphor. Her poems are largely declarative. She begins the poem Kelly, simply and declaratively:

Its’ winter now
And you should be here.
We should be bundled up
Walking ridiculous lengths to free events
Or in search of the perfecd bagel.

Much like something we would expect on the back of a postcard. It ends: “And I miss you”. Just another way of saying: ‘Wish you were here’. Not one of Jupe’s more successful poems. We’ve all wished a friend of ours were close by, but that sort of precious sentimentality is best left to the mailbox. But then in the very next poem she seems to find her footing:

Some Mother-in-Law’s Sentiment

Ever since you’ve taken my only
daughter’s hand in marriage
I have found that “wedded bliss” is one
thing to disparage
Oh – some things you cannot change
and oh – some things you can
and oh how I wish my daughter had
better taste in men.

In my opinion, and if Jupe is to have a future in poetry, that’s where she will find it. Notice the sly rhyming of marriage and disparage. Reminds me of Dorothy Parker:

Social Note

Lady, lady, should you meet
One whose ways are all discreet,
One who murmurs that his wife
Is the lodestar of his life,
One who keeps assuring you
That he never was untrue,
Never loved another one…
Lady, lady, better run!

~ Dorothy Parker

If you like or are familiar with Dorothy Parker, then you’ll like Jupe. Wikipedia writes of Parker: “an American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks, and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.” And that could just as aptly describe Jupe at her best (remember this is her first book of poems so let’s go easy). Consider this little gem from On Wildness:

Its not so much “I left them all”
– more, it’s like they let me go
– well, less like let and… more like told
(or pushed and kicked) but even so

That’s beautiful. That’s iambic tetrameter and some playful  rhyming to boot. The tug and pull of the speaker’s self-qualifying corrections run cross-currents  to the meter with a tour-de-force of playfulness. I’m guessing Jupe’s a natural at this sort of thing. The whole poem is like this: witty, self-deprecating, the kind that makes you laugh with her and not at her. Yes, the poem goes a bit over the top toward the end, might overplay its hand, but the exuberance of the beginner can be forgiven. She’s at her best when she slyly examines the roles and expectations of a daughter, friend, woman and lover.

The title of the book suggests the flip-side of Jupe’s more humorous poetry—a somewhat maudlin sentimentality. Expressing and evoking sorrow in poetry, let alone literature in general, isn’t easy. The inexperienced poet often descends into cliché and mawkishness. Words Hurt, for example, might be beautifully illustrated by a pity puppy or pity kitty. The trick to evoking sorrow is to be indirect. Declarative poems—simply stating that one is sad or has been hurt—rarely come off as anything other than cloying and self-pitying. The quicker Jupe can put a poem like Words Hurt behind her, the better.

The memorial poem 9/11 poem 1, is also one of the less successful poems. The sentiments are sincere but somewhat mawkish, ending with: “(we are a nation mourning safety, now,/shaking weary fists toward the sky.)”.  I don’t recall seeing anyone shake their fists “toward the sky”, but it is a somewhat clichéd and conventional image.  Again, there’s always that danger in trying to provoke (rather than evoke) an emotional response from the reader.

So, as one might expect, Val Jupe’s first book of poetry is a mix of error and success. She should be pleased though. There have certainly been many first books without a shred of promise.  Hopefully she’ll learn how to avoid the trap of excess and hone her wonderfully sardonic wit. She possesses the technical skills, only lacking the maturity that teaches us to trim. She writes that she fancies herself “a restaurant critic to be reckoned with”. My advice would be: Think of your poems as entrées.  Too much of any one ingredient cloys. Sentimentality is as deadly to a poem as sugar to the main course. Just a little butter, garlic, and a touch of the caramelized leaf is all the Brussels sprouts need.

And lastly, knowing she’s someone who enjoys good food and wine, let her share with the reader her sensual experience of the world. A good poem appeals to all our senses: sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. In short, I hope some of her poetry becomes a little less declarative and little more sensual and suggestive.

If you’re interested in reading the book, click on the image above.

The kindle edition is available for free; and you can also visit her blog, and watch her make grilled cheese sandwiches, at KumoCafe.

21 responses

  1. Insightful and concise; and might I add it’s wonderful that you’re reviewing a book from an unknown poet without any “clout” solely because she commented on the blog. If I ever get around to publishing anything, I’ll let you know. :)

  2. Thanks for your review. I clearly already sent you an email saying such, but wanted to do so on here as well.
    I may have to use the word ‘mawkish’ in a poem for you, as you used it 4 times in your description ;)

    Thanks again though, I really appreciate it!
    -Val!

  3. Here is my email to you, for a longer reply here as well ;)

    Thanks for the review.
    Most of those poems were written a long time ago. Which isn’t to say I
    feel I have advanced much, but I’ll take your critiques to heart.
    I know the Kelly poem is rather direct. I put it in there because it
    is rather different form the rest. I’m glad you liked that one part of
    ‘on wildness’ and that you compared me to Parker, – the time’s I’ve
    read, I’ve heard that as well.
    ‘Words Hurt’ was decidedly one of my first poems, but somehow I still
    like it, even though it is decidedly direct.

    Sorry the ‘shaking weary fists’ line ruined the rest of the poem for
    you. It’s a shame, as I think the ending of the poem needs to be the
    strongest, and you seem to think a lot of my endings are weak. Will
    have to look at that more if I plan to publish more ;)
    Thanks again!

    And I think a club sandwich would be a good deal :)

    -Val!

  4. In defense of sentimentality and pretension…

    Let me suggest there is nothing wrong with pretension within our means. I remember a friend of mine with whom I got along quite well. We never had a fight but contested each other with our vocabularies. One day I told him, “You seem a little nonplu-sied.” “What?” he said. “Nonplu-sied.” “Spell it.” “N-o-n-p-l-u-s-s-ed.” “Nonplussed!” he corrected me, smugly. Anyway, thanks to our pretensions four decades later either of us can just about define any word in the dictionary. Pretension was the beginning of mastery, though not necessarily practicality. For that he married at 18 and became a really good diesel tractor mechanic.

    Also, anent sentimentality, I see nothing wrong with poets having sweets with their metaphysics. Emily Dickinson in her “girlish poems” certainly did. And I do believe Sylvia Plath would be alive today had she been capable of writing a single sentimental poem. Unfortunately she was not. So why hector these tender protective sensibilities into compulsive irony? I will find out soon enough “The Yearling” grows up.

    • Cliff, interesting take on things… and good that your friend corrected you. If you’d said nonplu-sied to me I would have been shocked :) I didn’t realize I came off as pretentious though, in the book, do I?

      And I agree with ‘UpinVermont’ that you should decidedly DL or buy my book and send me fan mail ;) Or even better, if you have a blog, write a review as well!
      I thoroughly enjoyed having this one :)

      PS: UiV – you could put your review on my book page on Amazon too mayhaps?

      -Val!

    • Hi!!
      That’s so cool that you found my poems on Poem hunter. The only one from there that’s in the book is the “ideals” quote poem.
      The poems on Poem Hunter are weird, I guess there was a strange time for me, but then, when isn’t?
      Thanks again:)

  5. Yes, if you ever publish those in book form may I suggest “Wild Girl Diary” as a title. Obviously you’ve matured since then based on the rather superb poems quoted in Patrick’s review.

    • “Wild Girl Diary” — actually, you know, I kind of like that. It does capture the spirit of some of her poems. And it would be more of an enticing title — for good or ill.

    • Mostly for good, because her collected poems published under this title would not just sell better but engage the reader in a progress–physically, emotionally, intellectually. The reader might blush for her in the beginning but certainly by the end—based on the poems you quoted—even Gary Puckett would agree: The girl is a woman now.

  6. What’s wrong with ‘Shattered Fragments of my Soul’? I thought my next book would be Fragment 2 – though I told my husband about the suggestion of ‘wild girl diary’ and he said ‘it would probably sell better’ ;D

    girl, woman… Those poems on poem hunter (aside from that i still like ‘skunks and ideals) were written when i was between 20-23… and obviously immature… I wonder why I didn’t put up any better ones?

    O well ;)

    I like the idea of engaging the reader and taking them through a journey… though that would require maybe more effort than I put into anything, and perhaps new poetry all around.

    Though I did (start) writing a new poem last night on an art piece I was given for a poetry + art thing our little town is doing.
    I think the ending is weak though, but it was my first attempt right before bed. :/ We’ll see..

    • Not to say that so-called “immature” poems are categorically verboten. I’ve written dozens of them and still do despite being old enough to be your daddy. They prime the pump, so to speak. But one anticipates an increasing range with age. If it’s any consolation, age for age you’re doing a lot better than I was. Your easy sincerity also excels me. For example, while I’ve had a few hangovers I would never admit it in a poem. And if I did it would be someone else’s fault.

    • ” Your easy sincerity also excels me. For example, while I’ve had a few hangovers I would never admit it in a poem. And if I did it would be someone else’s fault.”

      Oh that’s interesting… Why do you think that is?

      I dont really view ‘Fragments’ as being that way. tho i do think these fit that bill entirely!
      (this one almost exactly)
      http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/surprise-5/

      http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/robert-frost-said/

      I mean, cmon, am I right? ;)

      But it WAS fun to find this one again :)

      UT Film School – Poem by Valerie Jupe!

      People speak so readily
      on their films I’d opt to see
      faster in a garbage bin
      than on the TV screen again.

      *I* would purport artestry
      only if I’d gained it
      not on some dumb dumpy short
      that never could attain it.

      I’m a UT film-school-student
      but, caution, darling, I’ll be prudent
      in telling you my aspirations
      were not sparked by admiration.

      More, they’re moved by noting failure
      cultivated all around me
      – praised, applauded, given discourse
      ample to astound me.

      I hope that – once I’m gone from here –
      and people ask some day –
      what I think of the film program
      I’ll remember what to say –

      If you want an education
      and to be filled up with elation
      about all things on celluloid
      UT is one place to avoid.

      If you want to stock and store
      and simultaneously to adore
      cinematic form and theory
      – UT would only make you weary.

      (your eyes would tear, your heart embitter
      by all the ‘avant garde’ tripe littered
      around this town as on a platter
      – being lauded, plugged, and flattered) .

      I will ascend and overcome
      – and you’ll do best to save your praise
      for, truly, every cheer you utter
      spins poor Hitchcock in his grave.

    • You know how to make phrasing and rhyme work together and that’s not as common a gift as you might think. If you decide to stick with poetry, I’m going to be very interested in how you develop. You could be something like the next Dorothy Parker. You’ve got that kind of talent — a way with words and a razor-sharp wit.

    • Oh trust me, the husband can be brutally honest.

      Cliff – if that’s true, that’s really interesting ;)

      UiV – Im going to email u for feedback on this poem im writing for an art show….

    • “Oh that’s interesting… Why do you think that is?”

      Well, my original goal in life was to be a politician.

    • “Shattered Fragments of my Soul” is a bit affected—the sort of thing a teenager might write in her diary after her first breakup, just before she collapses in a pool of self-pity declaring she’ll never love anybody like that again—no, never, not ever. :-) Don’t go to your husband for honest feedback. When my wife asks me about anything that concerns her self-esteem, truth is not an option.

      And as for more effort — it can take me months to write a poem.

  7. Pingback: Publications by Friends & Readers « PoemShape

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: