Sheck, Laurie 1953-
SHECK, Laurie 1953-
CAREER: Poet and teacher. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, writing instructor; New School University, New York, NY, instructor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, Ingram Merrill Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and New Jersey State Council for the Arts; Distinguished Contributor to Undergraduate Education award, Rutgers University; The Willow Grove was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Amaranth (poems), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1981.
Io at Night (poems), Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
The Willow Grove (poems), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
Black Series (poems), Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Ploughshares, the New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, Paris Review, and Seneca Review. Work represented in anthologies, including two volumes of Best American Poetry and three volumes of The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses.
SIDELIGHTS: Poet Laurie Sheck has published a number of collections, beginning with Amaranth, which Publishers Weekly's Sally A. Lodge said is written in a style that is "unequivocally feminine." Library Journal's Laurie Brown, meanwhile, noted that although Sheck often begins her poems with a historical allusion or myth, "the voice is her own, precise and trancelike."
Booklist contributor Joseph Parisi noted that the images that reoccur in Sheck's poems are dark and ominous—dead infants, unhappy children, locked rooms, dark spaces—but they are also symbolic of the frustrations and failures "in a somber world where, nonetheless, the poet's eye is almost always able to spot a secret beauty." Writing in Georgia Review, Peter Stitt said that "Sheck's strength is in her use of imagery, metaphor, and rhythm—her mastery, that is, of the dominant free-verse form of today."
Regarding Sheck's second collection of poetry, Partisan Review contributor Michael Collier wrote that "In Io at Night, Laurie Sheck locates us somewhere between the Garden of Eden and the Apocalypse. Io, who like Ganymede is visited by Zeus, represents our attempts to make sense of a world that is fragmented and imperfect, but whose wholeness and perfection seem attainable, either through one's memory of such a place, through the innocence of one's childhood, or through the promise of love."
To protect Io from the wrath of Hera, Zeus's jealous wife, she is turned into a white heifer, to live the rest of her life in this transformed state. In the first section of the book, Sheck revisits Io's predicament in a series of five poems and as a metaphor for alienation, exile, and longing for restoration in successive poems whose subjects include shop window mannequins, dolls, drawings of cows and other animals, paintings, and television images.
Henri Cole commented in Poetry, "No doubt there are readers who will long for poems less interior in voice and tone, or, perhaps, less bound to Io's biographical details, but there is something to be said, too, for mixing the worlds of art and life so consistently, over and over again, as one escape from the incipient autobiographical 'I' that tyrannizes so much contemporary poetry." America's Robert E. Hosmer, Jr. called Io at Night "is a rare achievement: A delicate, truly poetic sensibility has internalized and transmuted powerful myth, making memorable verse."
The Willow Grove is a reference to the grove of Perse-phone, which was blanketed with winter during the three months each year that she spent with the lord of the Underworld. New Leader reviewer Phoebe Pettingell noted, "Scattered throughout The Willow Grove are twelve lyrics 'From The Book of Persephone'—a monologue in which the goddess as a contemporary woman traces her emotions of isolation and loss through stages that culminate in her dream of a return to health in the spring. Instead of the traditional entrance into Hades, Sheck pictures a descent into depression and feelings of worthlessness, betrayal, contamination, and hopelessness." The Willow Grove was a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
In reviewing Black Series in the New York Times Book Review Adam Kirsch wrote that although The Willow Grove "frequently echoed Sylvia Plath," "Plath is less of a presence in Black Series, though she can be felt in the stuttering repetitions ('mouths and mouths and mouths') and an occasional witchery of atmosphere. But the new book owes more to Sheck's contemporary, Jorie Graham." Kirsch described Graham as "abstract, intelligent, metaphysical; Sheck is obsessive and violent, dealing in symbol rather than concept. What is most characteristic of Sheck is her combination of definite emotion and imprecise language." Finally, Kirsch wrote that Sheck's "language and style could not be more of the moment; to read her new book, Black Series, is an education in the poetic diction of our time."
Sheck's poems are about literal darkness, as well as the darkness found in myths, like that of the Gorgon Medusa, wherein any person who looked at the severed head was turned to stone, and the story of Eurydice, who was required to return to the Underworld because Orpheus looked back. There is historical darkness, as when Galileo, imprisoned during the Inquisition and with sight failing, was no longer able to view the planets he had seen through his telescope. And there is the urban darkness—mannequins in their displays, skyscrapers, and television screens. "Like wood and glass that have been tossed and smoothed by ocean waves and sand, these objects take on strange and rich new configurations." wrote Pettingell.
A Publishers Weekly writer said that "Sheck's fourth collection presents intricate verbal surfaces, with pointers to elaborate philosophical depths." Library Journal reviewer Doris Lynch wrote that Sheck "is the first poet that this reviewer has encountered who effort-lessly captures the cyberworld—both its hold on us and its otherworldly qualities."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, December 15, 1990, Robert E. Hosmer, Jr., review of Io at Night, pp. 489-493.
Bomb, spring, 2002, Laurie Wheeler, "Laurie Sheck," p. 40.
Booklist, February 1, 1982, Joseph Parisi, review of Amaranth, p. 694.
Georgia Review, spring, 1982, Peter Stitt, review of Amaranth, pp. 184-193.
Library Journal, October 15, 1981, Laurie Brown, review of Amaranth, p. 2033; December, 2001, Doris Lynch, review of Black Series, p. 130; April 15, 2002, Timothy J. McGee, review of Black Series, p. 90.
New Leader, February 5, 1990, Phoebe Pettingell, review of Io at Night, p. 20; October 7, 1996, Phoebe Pettingell, review of The Willow Grove, p. 16; November, 2001, Phoebe Pettingell, review of Black Series, pp. 40-42.
New York Times Book Review, December 2, 2001, Adam Kirsch, review of Black Series, p. 77.
Partisan Review, summer, 1993, Michael Collier, review of Io at Night, pp. 496-499.
Poetry, April, 1991, Henri Cole, review of Io at Night, pp. 44-47.
Prairie Schooner, winter, 1991, Sarah Gorham, review of Io at Night, p. 138.
Publishers Weekly, November 6, 1981, Sally A. Lodge, review of Amaranth, p. 78; October 22, 2001, review of Black Series, p. 71.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1997, review of The Willow Grove, p. 28.*