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Jean Garrigue (December 8, 1912, Evansville, Indiana – December 27, 1972, Boston, Massachusetts) was an honored, widely read, and imitated poet during her lifetime. She was a contemporary of Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, and Randall Jarrell.
Life and career
Even apart from the poems, Garrigue’s life was fascinating both in itself, and as an example of a fearless and brilliant female artistic consciousness at large in the world. She was born Gertrude Louise Garrigus on December 8, 1912, in Evansville, Indiana. Her life is the story of a dreamy and intelligent young girl from the Midwest drawn irresistibly to the world of art and the creative life. She lived in Indianapolis for much of her early life then left to attend the University of Chicago, where she roomed with Marguerite Young, followed by a period of post-graduate study at the University of Iowa. When she first arrived to live in New York City she changed her name from Gertrude Louise Garrigus to Jean Garrigue. She eventually settled in New England where she wrote The Ego and the Centaur (1947), her first full-length publication. She travelled in Europe in 1953-54, 1957–58, and 1962–63 and this influenced much of her later writing. It is the story of a woman who deliberately evaded domestic comfort and happiness—never married or settled into a lasting relationship, never had children—in favor of continuous contact with raw and extreme emotional experience. Her story intertwines with those of several important literary figures. She was a lover of writers: R.P. Blackmur, Alfred Kazin, Delmore Schwartz, and Stanley Kunitz among others. The most important relationship in her life was her lengthy, but troubled laison with the novelist Josephine Herbst who died in 1969.
Garrigue edited a weekly newspaper in the late thirties, was a researcher at Colliers, edited a U.S.O. publication during World War II, and was an assistant editor of an aeronautical magazine The Flying Cadet. She was an instructor of English literature at the 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), the University of Connecticut, Storrs (1960–61), and Smith College (1965-66). She also taught at the University of Washington, the University of California, Riverside, and Rhode Island College. She was Poet-in-residence at a number of colleges and universities, including the University of California, Riverside, in 1971. She was a visiting poet at the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1970. In 1971, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.
She lived, moved, taught and wrote as an equal among them as one of the best-remembered poets of her generation. Almost as soon as she died, her life and work disappeared from critical and academic view. How this happened has puzzled her friends and admirers; Alfred Kazin has called it one of the most significant literary mysteries of the twentieth century.
Part of the reason may be the intensity and resolute unfashionability of the poems she wrote. Jarrell said that her work had “the guaranteeing and personal queerness of a diary,” and many others have remarked on its uniqueness and strangeness. The characteristic journey of a Garrigue poem describes a process of seeing—and a mounting tide of images and ideas associated with the object seen. Lee Upton, the author of the only critical study of Garrigue’s work, remarked on the poet’s “restless eye”: “the eye is as the self pouring over surfaces and in effect ‘reading’ them,” and many critics have observed the extravagance of her imagery. Her friend and sometime lover Stanley Kunitz described her as one “whose art took the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom. She was our one lyric poet who made ecstasy her home.” The gorgeous surfaces, intellectual depth, and wide ranging imagery of Garrigue’s poems have dazzled her fellow poets, but have puzzled and dismayed lay readers. Bonne August has said, “Garrigue is a ‘difficult’ poet, difficult in the formal demands she makes on the reader; difficult, too, in the demands she makes on her poetry: to take her past easy formulations, comfortable insights, or glib prescriptions, to the truth of thing.” Jane Mayhall noted her drive to the “dangerously deep levels of self.” It is a mistake to think of Garrigue's difficulty as gratuitous or merely idiosyncratic, yet it has cost her readers in the years since her death.
In addition, Garrigue did not belong to a poetic school or movement, and asserted her intellectual, artistic, and emotional independence throughout her life. Theodore Roethke once said that she trusted her own poetic instincts more than any poet he knew. There were other poets of various schools and stripes, and then there was Garrigue—whom they all admired, but could not claim. When she died she was at the height of her powers. There was no longer any occasion to review her work, so she ceased to appear even on lists of poets of her generation. Also, because she is difficult and can represent only herself, she has ceased to appear in any anthologies. Laurence Lieberman has said that “There are rewards to be secured in reading her best poems of a kind that can be found in no other body of work.” Those rewards include an unexampled lyricism and technical brilliance, elaborate richness in the service of startling clarity. Harvey Shapiro wrote that “Her way with language was Mozartean, breathtaking in its ability to ring change after change on a theme, Mozartean bursts of language, never leaving the subject, enabling the eye to see, clearly and more clearly, while delighting the ear with sound.” The landscape of her poems is romantic, and their strategies are multiple. By nature a formal poet, Garrigue ranged among the traditional forms, borrowing from the metaphysicals and modernists alike. Her characteristic subjects are ancient and modern and universal: love and its discontents, the process of vision, morality and generosity, desire, feeling, and the imaginative power of women. An inheritor—but transformer—of the “nightingale” tradition of poetry by women identified by critic Cheryl Walker, Garrigue was a brilliant poet of feeling and mind, of rich, passionate, and interesting thought.
A minor resurgence of interest in Garrigue’s work occurred in the decade between 1982 and 1992. In 1982, the journal Twentieth Century Literature devoted the better part of an issue to a symposium on her work, featuring commentary by both poets and scholars. In 1991, Lee Upton’s monograph appeared. In 1992, a Selected Poems (Univ. of Illinois Press) volume brought her work back into print for the first time since Studies for an Actress had appeared in 1973, a year after her death. In between, a handful of essays on her work, primarily by poets, also appeared. But by and large, Garrigue continues to escape the notice of the traditional critical establishment, with its preference for a classical simplicity and clarity, and of the more recent feminist critics, to whom she makes no overt appeal.
She held a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, which allowed her to travel to Paris in 1954. In 1961 she was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship and was nominated for a National Book Award for Country Without Maps.
- (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. (reference is for all titles)
- "Jean Garrigue". michnermuseum.org. Michener Museum. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- "Jean Carrigue". allpoetry.com. All Poetry. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- "Selected Poems-Jean Garrigue". books.google.ca. Google Books. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
- "Jean Garrigue Biography". jrank.org. Net Industries. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- "Jean Garrigue: The Poetry Foundation". poetryfoundation.org. The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- "Jean Garrigue:A Poetics of Plenitude". books.google.ca. Google Books. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
- Upton, Lee (Summer 1987). "In Audacious Light: Jean Garrigue's Restless Eyes". Soundings. 70 (1-2): 155–56.
- Kunitz, Stanley (1975). Kind of Order, Kind of Folly. Boston: Little, Brown. p. 256.
- August, Bonne (December 1989). "Vision and Revision: Examining Jean Garrigue's Working Papers". Hollins Critic. 26 (5): 1.
- August, Bonne (December 1989). "Vision and Revision: Examining Jean Garrigue's Working Papers". Hollins Critic. 26 (5): 2.
- Upton, Lee (Summer 1987). "In Audacious Light: Jean Garrigue's Restless Eyes". Soundings. 70 (1-2): 155.
- Upton, Lee (Summer 1987). "in Audacious Light: Jean Garrigue's Restless Eyes". Soundings. 70 (1-2): 155.
- Upton, Lee (1991). Jean Garrigue: A Poetics of Plentitude. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press. p. 13.