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Terrible Terrain: Poems Inspired by the Life of Lavinia Dickinson

by Jean LeBlanc

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“I am sister to the one.” The poems in Terrible Terrain imagine life in the shadow of Emily Dickinson and other members of the Dickinson circle from the point of view of younger sister Lavinia. Family dynamics, small town society, daily life, and one's inner life—these poems explore the riddles that shape our days.

POETRY / General

ISBN: 978-1-956056-75-4 (print; softcover; perfect bound; 7 full-color illustrations)

LCCN: 2023931361

102 pages

Author Biography

Jean LeBlanc grew up in Massachusetts, just about halfway between Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau. She now lives in northwestern New Jersey with her husband and best friend, George Lightcap. She has taught writing and literature at Sussex County Community College since 1999, and is a member of several local poetry groups: the Writers’ Roundtable of Sussex County; the Paulinskill Poetry Project; and the Silconas Poetry Center (of which she is a past director). Her publications include poetry anthologies as well as collections of her own work. Her poetry advocates for an awareness of the beauty of this journey called life.


“Imagine being Emily’s sister! Reflective, resilient, a word-lover in her own right, in Terrible Terrain Lavinia shares her loving patience and sometime exasperation with her sister ‘who waves her odd hands in front of you like a flock of wounded birds.’ Jean LeBlanc has finely researched the Dickinsons with her poet’s talent for reading between the lines. Vinnie may have been ‘water’ to Emily’s ‘fire,’ but in these poems the younger sister has her own strong life, full of love and loss. In the end, Lavinia tells us, ‘I find my own way to defy.’”
Katrinka Moore, author of Diminuendo and Wayfarers

“Emily Dickinson’s sister Lavinia, two years younger, finally gets her own ‘letter to the world’ in this intriguing collection by Jean LeBlanc. What is it like to be ‘not the one’ but ‘sister to the one’? In the first poem, Lavinia wonders, ‘Do all somebodies worry about being nobodies?’ Both the poet and the sister who discovers and preserves the poems pose as nobodies, but loom large as women to whom we owe a great debt. Different as they are, these sisters have granted us ‘fastened to a page / preserved forever //Evidence of what once was alive.’ For Emily, Amherst was a sanctuary, but Lavinia feared Amherst would ‘swallow us alive.’ Thanks to Lavinia, Emily survives. Thanks to LeBlanc, Lavinia comes out of the shadows, becoming a poet in her own right, a woman fascinated with words, riddles, images, the tangle of relationships. The persona is Lavinia, but the poems are pure LeBlanc—inventive, musical, mysterious, at times chilling. ‘I’m nobody,’ LeBlanc pretends, as she takes on this role, but the poems in Terrible Terrain prove her a writer of prodigious skill and imagination. —Mary Makofske, author of World Enough, and Time and The Gambler’s Daughter

Jean LeBlanc’s Terrible Terrain is the most daring, illuminating, and meaningful book of poems I have read in years. If you read poetry, then this is the collection you should read immediately.
David Huddle, author of Blacksnake at the Family Reunion and My Surly Heart

Articles and Reviews

Rachel A. Brune, A Writer Reads (On the Shelf), Podcast featuring Jean LeBlanc. March 9, 2023


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