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Oct. 16, 2009 Tischman Auditorium, New York CityFrom the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

On April 27, 1934, Jean Valentine was born in Chicago, Illinois. She received a BA from Radcliffe College in 1956. She has lived most of her life in New York City.

In 1964, Valentine's first book Dream Barker was chosen for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Her recent collections include Break the Glass (Copper Canyon Press, 2010); Lucy (Sarabande, 2009); Little Boat (2007); Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems (2004), which won the National Book Award; The Cradle of the Real Life (2000); Growing Darkness, Growing Light (1997); The River at Wolf (1992); and Home Deep Blue: New and Selected Poems (1989). She is also the editor of The Lighthouse Keeper: Essays on the Poetry of Eleanor Ross Taylor (Seneca Review, 2001).

Though her work is frequently identified as having a political subtext, Valentine does not see herself as a "political poet" She explains: "I felt I was more in line with somebody like Elizabeth Bishop, who wouldn't talk about it usually very directly. She wrote a lot that had a political nature, especially after she was in Latin America, but she would never have described herself as a political poet. "Political poet" means to me that there's something present in the work, and in the poet, that isn't in mine or in me."

Valentine has been awarded grants and fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Bunting Institute. In 2000, she received the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America. She is the recipient of the 2009 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets

In response to a question about writing and revising, Valentine has said "It seems to me to be a process of looking for something in there, rather than having something and revising it. I don't consider that I really have anything yet--except inchoate mess. As I work on it, I'm always trying to hear the sound of the words, and trying to take out everything that doesn't feel alive. That's my goal: to take out everything that doesn't feel alive. And also to get to a place that has some depth to it. Certainly I'm always working with things that I don't understand--with the unconscious, the invisible. And trying to find a way to translate it."

Valentine taught at New York University until 2004, and in recent years has also taught workshops and seminars at the 92nd St. Y, the University of Pittsburgh, Sarah Lawrence College, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and Columbia University. She lives in New York City.


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Door in the Mountain

Jean Valentine, 1934

 

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Jean Valentine

Jean Valentine

The author of many collections of poetry, Jean Valentine has received such honors as the National Book Award, being selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets and the Wallace Stevens Award

by this poet

poem
I saw my soul become flesh     breaking open
the linseed oil breaking over the paper
running down     pouring
no one to catch it     my life breaking open
no one to contain it     my
pelvis thinning out into God
poem
The branches looked first like tepees,
but there was no emptiness.

Like piles of leaves waiting for fire:
at the foot of the wisewoman trees,
at the foot of the broken General,

next to the tree of the veteran
girl who died this summer       slow red
cloth
poem

You came in a dream, yesterday
—The first day we met
you showed me your dark workroom
off the kitchen, your books, your notebooks.

Reading our last, knowing-last letters
—the years of our friendship
reading our poems to each other,
I would start breathing again.