Jean Valentine

Jean Valentine is the quintessential “poet’s poet.” Since winning the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1965, she has published ten collections of poetry to high critical acclaim. Among her distinguished fans is Adrienne Rich, who writes: “Valentine’s poems ask for a kind of reader that I hope is still being born-one whose senses are unblunted by the heave and crackle of bravura writing, of poetic muscle-flexers and weight-lifters.” Spare, intensely-felt, and often fragmentary, Valentine’s cryptic, dreamlike poems present experience as only imperfectly graspable. Says Seamus Heaney, “These are poems that only she could write.”

Poetry Center Readings:

Spring 2002

Spring 2013

Dream Barker

We met for supper in your flat-bottomed boat.
I got there first: p in a white dress: p I remember
Wondering if you’d come. p Then you shot over the bank,
A Virgilian Nigger Jim, and poled us off
To a little sea-food barker’s cave you knew.

What’ll you have? you said. p Eels hung down,
Bamboozled claws hung up from the crackling weeds.
The light was all behind us. p To one side
In a dish of ice was a shell shaped like a sand-dollar
But worked with Byzantine blue and gold. p What’s that?

Well, I’ve never seen it before, you said,
And I don’t know how it tastes.
Oh well, said I, if it’s bad,
I’m not too hungry, are you? We’d have the shell .
I know just how you feel, you said.

And asked for it; we held out our hands.
Six Dollars! barked the barker, For This Beauty!
We fell down laughing in your flat-bottomed boat, .

And then I woke up: p in a white dress:
Dry as a bone on dry land, Jim,
Bone dry, old, in a dry land, Jim, my Jim.

From HOME DEEP BLUE (Alice James Books, 1988)

Elegy For Jane Kenyon (2)

Jane is big
with death, Don
sad and kind – Jane
though she’s dying
is full of mind

We talk about the table
the little walnut one
how it’s like
Emily Dickinson’s

But Don says No
was made of iron. No
said Jane
Of flesh.

From THE CRADLE OF THE REAL LIFE (Wesleyan University Press, 2000)

To Plath, To Sexton

So what use was poetry
to a white empty house?

Wolf, swan, hare,
in by the fire.

And when your tree
crashed through your house,

what use then
was all your power?

It was the use of you.
It was the flower.
From THE RIVER AT WOLF (Alice James Books, 1992)