Cover image for The woman I kept to myself : poems
The woman I kept to myself : poems
Alvarez, Julia.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, [2004]

Physical Description:
159 pages ; 22 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.7 3.0 85747.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3551.L845 W66 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3551.L845 W66 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



The works of this award-winning poet and novelist are rich with the language and influences of two cultures: those of the Dominican Republic of her childhood and the America of her youth and adulthood. They have shaped her writing just as they have shaped her life. In these seventy-five autobiographical poems, Alvarez's clear voice sings out in every line. Here, in the middle of her life, she looks back as a way of understanding and celebrating the woman she has become.

Author Notes

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950 and was raised in the Dominican Republic. Before becoming a full-time writer, she traveled across the country with poetry-in-the-schools programs and then taught at the high school level and the college level. In 1991, she earned tenure at Middlebury College and published her first book How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent, which won the PEN Oakland/Jefferson Miles Award for excellence in 1991. Her other works include In the Time of the Butterflies, The Other Side of El Otro Lado, and Once upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Alvarez's celebrated fiction, clarion essays, and welcoming poetry all flow from her fascination with sisterhood, mother-daughter relationships, and the angst of exile. Charming and intense at the same time, Alvarez writes candidly of epic concerns and everyday realities in this unfailingly lucid collection of autobiographical poems, each comprising three 10-line stanzas, a formal consistency that showcases both her directness and her sophistication. Cycling through her life, she remembers her Dominican Republic childhood, the nasty taunts of American children, her attempts to train herself to show / genuine feeling in a borrowed tongue, and how her mother's instruction,eep it to yourself, led to the habit of writing: And so, / Through many drafts, I became the woman / I kept to myself. Alvarez ponders unhappy marriages, late-blooming love, writer's block, love for animals and earth, spiritual conundrums, and deathdays instead of birthdays. I don't know I'm alive unless / I'm writing, she confesses.ust as readers wouldn't know what to make of life without the sort of literature Alvarez creates: generous, illuminating, and inspiriting. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Author of the popular novels How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, Alvarez continues to explore themes of cultural difference and personal experience in her new collection of poems. The book, which marks her fourth collection of poetry, comprises 75 poems of 30 lines each; the formal constraint is an organizing principle for these sometimes meandering autobiographical poems. A good many poems explore her development and status as a writer, specifically as a Latina: "Even I, childless one, intend to write/ New Yorker fiction in the Cheever style / but all my stories tell where I came from." The midsection of the book, "The Woman I Kept to Myself," roams from nostalgic reflections on childhood birthday presents to meditations on eating disorders to speedily resolved family conflicts to personal, and worldwide, losses: "Why did it take so long? Mom and Dad's deaths/ a friend's cancer, a cousin's accident/ the Twin Towers, the war on innocents...." Seeing the first signs of spring sets the world to rights again: "Then suddenly, a daffodil, a patch/ of crocuses... and back into the intact Towers flew/ stick figures, like a film in reverse." Most poems here arrive at similar recastings of hard truths; often, however, one feels that both sides of the equation are too easily won, drawing close to clich? and facile reconciliation: "I've woken to the world just as it is," she writes, "and that's enough-in fact, more than enough." (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Quotidian events, a storylike structure, and colloquial diction make Alvarez's latest book seem more like a memoir (albeit one written with attention to the sounds of language, especially alliteration) than a book of poetry. The author of four novels (including In the Time of the Butterflies, a National Book Award finalist), Alvarez at her best writes in a style reminiscent of Billy Collins. There are deceptively simple conversational poems, like "Saman" and several others here, which resonate in a bright mesh of metaphors. Yet most of the work in this collection does not attain that level. Some poems, like "Deathdays" and "All-American Girl," have a greeting-card tone; others go on too long, as if Alvarez were afraid that readers might not have understood the actual ending, which usually occurs in the penultimate stanza. Too many poems (e.g., "Why I Write") rely on clich?s, few of which are spun out into gold. Recommended for larger public libraries only.-Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-This tightly structured collection of 75 poems is divided into three sections, and each poem has three stanzas, exactly. Alvarez's voice, however, is as free and strong as the free verse she composes. The poet, who is from the Dominican Republic, writes about being raised with her sisters in New York. The subjects are personal-love, marriage, rejection, divorce, death, religion-but also universal. She says in "Why I Write," "Unless I write things down I never know what I think, no less feel." This book will appeal to readers not only for the eloquence with which Alvarez describes her feelings and discoveries, but also for the humor. In "Abbot Academy" she notes that as a schoolgirl she found that ladies "-learned to be blondies even if they were dark-haired, olive-skinned, spic-chicks like me." Readers who enjoyed How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1992) or In the Time of the Butterflies (1995, both Plume) will love her poetry. Teens approaching adulthood will appreciate the poet who turned to "paper solitude" and through many drafts discovered "the woman I kept to myself."-Sheila Janega, Fairfax County Public Library, Great Falls, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Seven Trees
Family Treep. 3
Samanp. 5
Weeping Willowp. 7
Maple, Oak, or Elm?p. 9
Arborvitaep. 11
Locustp. 13
Last Treesp. 15
The Woman I Kept to Myself
Intimations of Mortality from a Recollection in Early Childhoodp. 19
Anger & Artp. 21
El fotografop. 23
The Red Pickupp. 25
Spicp. 27
All-American Girlp. 29
Bellevuep. 31
Abbot Academyp. 33
By Accidentp. 35
Vain Doubtsp. 37
First Musep. 39
Lunch Hour, 1971p. 41
Heartlandp. 43
Bad-Weather Friendsp. 45
Sisterhoodsp. 47
Reunionp. 49
My Bottom Linep. 51
Love Portionsp. 53
Fightsp. 55
Tonep. 57
Hairbandsp. 59
Manholesp. 61
Canonsp. 63
My Kind of Womanp. 65
Musco del Hombrep. 67
Ars Politicap. 69
Naming the Animalsp. 71
The Animals Review Pictures of a Vanished Racep. 73
Why Don't We Ever See Jesus Laughing?p. 75
Addison's Visionp. 77
Winter Stormp. 79
The Therapistp. 81
Disappearingp. 83
Gaining My Self Backp. 85
That momentp. 87
Signsp. 89
Deathdaysp. 91
All's Clearp. 93
Now, When I Look at Womenp. 95
At the GYNp. 97
Grand Babyp. 99
Life Linesp. 101
Spring, at Last!p. 103
Regresop. 105
In Spanishp. 107
Youp. 109
Leaving Englishp. 111
Meditationp. 113
Aficionadosp. 115
Touching Bottomp. 117
Cleaning Ladiesp. 119
Tomp. 121
I Dream of Allen Ginsbergp. 123
Famous Poet, Years Afterwardp. 125
Why I Teachp. 127
Undercover Poetp. 129
Small Portionsp. 131
"Poetry makes nothing happen"?p. 133
Reading for Pleasurep. 135
Direct Addressp. 137
Passing Onp. 139
Keeping Watch
El serenop. 143
Looking Upp. 145
What We Ask Forp. 147
What Was It That I Wanted?p. 149
Keeping Watchp. 151
Why I Writep. 153
Did I Redeem Myself?p. 155