2004-2005 Writers at Rutgers Reading Series

Jean Valentine

Title: Jean Valentine
When: Wed, Oct 27 2004 | 8 PM
: Rutgers Student Center. Multipurpose Room - New Brunswick
: Writers at Rutgers Reading Series

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Admission: Free and open to the Rutgers community and the general public
The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing


Poet Jean Valentine has written eight books of poetry, her latest, entitled Door in the Mountain will be released this November. Nominated for the National Book Award, Door in the Mountain contains more than seventy new poems, as well as all of the poems from her previous books. The University Press of New England describes Valentine as “a brave, unshirking poet who speaks with fire on the great subjects – love, and death, and the soul. Her images – strange, canny visions of the unknown self – clang with the authenticity of a real experience.” Often autobiographical in content, Valentine’s poems refer to many obstacles in her life, including periods of alcoholism and depression.

Often described as sparse, fragmentary, and intensely evocative, Valentine’s poems reflect her strength of spirit. Other well-known poets and writers have praised Valentine's work and her impact on careful readers. Seamus Heaney states that Valentine's poetry “opens a path to a mature place where there is ‘no inside wall’: rapturous, risky, shy of words but desperately true to them.” Grace Paley comments: “After reading a couple of Jean Valentine's poems I need to catch my breath. Then I read further – maybe two or three to quiet myself, which happens for a while. But then I put the book down breathless.” Adrienne Rich writes: “Jean Valentine offers us the danger and depth of the ordinary, and we shiver with recognition and relief."

Valentine currently resides in New York City where she has lived for most of her life. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, the Graduate Writing Program at New York University, Columbia University and the 92nd Street Y. Valentine’s first book, Dream Barker, won her the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1965. Other awards and fellowships she has won include a Guggenheim Fellowship and awards from the NEA, The Bunting Institute, The Rockefeller Foundation, The New York Foundation for the Arts, and The Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Prize. Her other books are Pilgrims (1969), Ordinary Things (1974), The Messenger (1979), Home Deep Blue: New and Selected Poems (1989), The River at Wolf (1992), The Under Voice: Selected Poems (1995), Growing Darkness, Growing Light (1997), and The Cradle of the Real Life (2000).


The Basket House

The basket house:
to shelter me
inside the night cave
the emptiness
where the other one holds me

nurses me
in the emptiness,
holds me the way
paper made out of a tree
holds a deer.

And he holds me near:
he pulls the cord
out from me, in to him,
length over length.

The Coin

While you were alive
and thought well of me
there was always a coin in my fish-mouth
off in the night
or the day lake. Now
the little coin doesn't need itself...

More poems and interviews are available at Valentine’s website,


Five Questions for Jean Valentine

(Questions by Kelly O’Toole)

Q1. Are there any major themes that run through the new poems in Door in the Mountain?

A1. Love, loss, the life of the spirit.

Q2. How has your writing changed over the years?

A2. My poems have gotten shorter, and I suppose more fragmentary.

Q3. To what extent do you think of your poetry as autobiographical?

A3. To some extent, but only as a starting point.

Q4. As a teacher, what advice do you give to young poets?

A4. To follow their own voice, and not be too swayed by criticism or praise.

Q5. What are you working on now?

A5. A new collection of poems – I'm about halfway along I think.