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Garrigue, Jean


Born Gertrude Louise Garrigus, 8 December 1914, Evansville, Indiana; died 28 December 1972, Boston, Massachusetts

Daughter of Allan Colfax and Gertrude Heath Garrigus.

Jean Garrigue was a respected poet, critic, and teacher of poetry. Born in Evansville, Indiana, she received her B.A. from the University of Chicago and M.A. from the University of Iowa, where she subsequently taught creative writing. Iowa was just one of the institutions where Garrigue instructed during her career. Others included Bard College, Queens College, The New School for Social Research, the University of Colorado, the University of Connecticut, Smith College, and the University of Washington. She was poet-in-residence at both the University of California at Riverside and Rhode Island College during the year preceding her 1972 death, at age fifty-nine, of Hodgkin's disease.

Garrigue was first published in 1941 in the Kenyon Review. In 1944 her initial large collection, "Thirty-Six Poems and a Few Songs," appeared in an anthology called Five Young American Poets. Her book-length debut was The Ego and the Centaur, a collection released in 1947.

As a poet, Garrigue—who changed her name from Gertrude Louise Garrigus in 1940, both to acknowledge the French roots of her last name and to assume what many viewed as a deliberately gender-ambiguous first name—was known for her complicated, technically excellent works. Most centered on the themes of love and the heart, but many also incorporated other interests, such as music, architecture, nature, and especially travel. She was reputed for her ability to craft unique phrasing from a precise choice of words. She wrote in a passionate, lyrical style that drew generously from the influence of poets before her, but remained her own.

Laurence Lieberman wrote in Poetry that Garrigue was "perhaps more skilled than any other poet writing today with the power to dramatize emotional thresholds between jeopardy and renewal.… In poem after poem her subject is the failure of events in daily life ever to measure up to her spirit's esthetic craving for perfectability." In American Poetry Since 1945, Stephen Stepanchev noted that "although her commitment to verbal magic sometimes draws her into a forest of rhetoric from which too much contemporary reality is banned, she succeeds in conveying, in her best poems, a sense of the world's danger and delights." Babette Deutsch, in Poetry in Our Time, wrote, "Miss Garrigue finds her subject matter in the give-and-take between the physical presence and the ideas, or more often, the emotions that attach to it. If she wears her feelings upon her sleeve, the embroidery can dazzle."

Garrigue's earliest works were generally considered her best. Her later collections each contained masterful individual poems but were not viewed as being as solid in their entirety as past efforts. Some critics were annoyed by her mannerisms and circuitous language, which was sometimes called "Jamesian" or "Wordsworthian." Some felt that her strong emotions were excessive, although all agreed that her confidence in her ability to manipulate language was warranted.

Her lengthy travel poems represent some of her most highly commended work. These include "Pays Perdu" from Country Without Maps (1964) and "The Grand Canyon" from Studies for an Actress and Other Poems (1973), published posthumously. Other book-length collections include The Monument Rose (1953), Chartres and Prose Poems (1958), A Water Walk by Ville d'Este (1959), and New and Selected Poems (1967).

After Garrigue's death, her poetry gradually went out of the public consciousness until two decades later, when Selected Poems: Jean Garrigue (1992) was published and revived her reputation. The book contained four previously uncollected poems in addition to reprinted works from each of her earlier books.

Phoebe Pettingell pointed out in the New Leader that Garrigue was a hyper-romantic who believed that an artist should be completely passionate in all aspects of life, even when that passion leads to hurt. The latter is an emotion that recurs throughout her poems. Selected Poems illustrates Garrigue's evolution from the beginning to the end of her career: in the early days she focused mainly on internal issues, but she later examined some of the political matters of her time. Examples include "Lead in the Water" and "Resistance Meeting: Boston Common," both first published in Studies for an Actress.

In addition to writing her own collections, Garrigue contributed poems to Cross-Sections, edited by Edwin Weaver (1947). She was the editor of Translations by American Poets (1970) and compiled Love's Aspects: The World's Great Love Poems (1975). She wrote a novella, The Animal Hotel (1966), and a work of nonfiction, Marianne Moore (1965).

Garrigue was also a poetry critic, essayist, and fiction reviewer, contributing to the New Leader, the New Republic, Saturday Review of Literature, Kenyon Review, and Tomorrow. Among the other publications to which she contributed poems or prose were Botteghe Oscure, Poetry, Commentary, Arts magazine, and the New York Herald Tribune.

During her career Garrigue won a number of awards and honors, including Rockefeller Foundation, Guggenheim, National Academy of Arts and Letters, Hudson Review, and Radcliffe Institute fellowships and grants. She also won a Union League Civic and Arts Foundation prize, a Longview award, an Emily Clark Balch first prize, and a Melville Cane award, as well as being nominated for a National Book award for Country Without Maps.


Thompson, D. E., ed., Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1917-1966 (1974).

Reference works:

Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature (1991). CA, 37-40 (1973). CANR 20 (1987). CLC 2 (1974), 8 (1978). World Authors 1900-1950 (1996).

Other references:

LJ (15 Apr. 1992). New Leader (29 Jan. 1968, 13-27 July 1998). NR (2 Nov. 1953). NYRB (4 Oct. 1973). NYT (28 Dec. 1972). Parnassus (Winter 1975). Poetry (Dec. 1953, May 1960, June 1965, May 1968). SR (19 June 1948, Spring 1954). YR (Autumn 1973).


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