An Affair in the Valley by Steve Jackson is an uplifting collection of poems that present a captivating portrait of growth and inspiration.
An Affair in the Valley follows the life and struggle of a singular, recurring speaker, with readers ushered into the book with a strong sense that these poems were deeply inspired by Jackson’s life. The book’s vignette-like poems feature numerous characters that the speaker encounters along the way: family, friends, lovers, strangers, etc. At the hands of these characters or by what Jackson might call Fate or the Universe, he experiences abandonment, betrayal, grace, homelessness, limitless love, and an abundance of other twists and turns which ultimately shape the speaker’s evolution through life. Throughout the collection, Jackson also chronicles the similarly turbulent experiences of many of those other characters as well. The poems in An Affair in the Valley explore the duality of suffering and deliverance. Jackson paints a profound image of a man who has experienced unimaginable suffering. He refuses to shy away from the dissonance between how painful and how beautiful the world can be at the same time. He embraces the paradox of life. Jackson’s secondary themes emphasize the role of unconditional love and self-acceptance in one’s journey from darkness into the light, images which recur throughout several of his poems. An Affair in the Valley’s thematic substance is, by far, the collection’s standout feature. Without making any off-putting assertions, it tugs at bigger questions, and insists that there is a cosmic quality to the human experience that is bigger than all of us; it includes the love, the loss, heartache, joy, and everything in between. Jackson finds the right moments throughout the book to demonstrate his proficiency writing in a more traditional poetic voice, but most of his poems adopt a rather narrative approach. Many of them contain quite a bit of dialogue and are driven by different characters and the ways in which they have touched the speaker’s life or the ways he has touched theirs. This unique stylistic choice presents itself as a strength in Jackson’s poems. His style of poetry lends itself to his ability to tell a larger, interconnected, cohesive story about the speaker’s life and experience. The collection is grounded by a kind of chronology — an arc — not especially common in collections of poetry. In addition, when he embraces the fractured and abstract, we can sense that there is a deep sense of intentionality behind his different approaches. The hybrid style of poetry casts a wide net and will appeal to a wider audience of readers. In An Affair in the Valley, Jackson’s unique voice shines through loud and clear — enough so that we have no trouble hearing the compelling, beautiful message it declares.