Valentine, Jean 1934-

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Valentine, Jean 1934-


Born April 27, 1934, in Chicago, IL; daughter of John W. and Jean Valentine; married James Chace (divorced); married Barrie Cook; children: Sarah, Rebecca. Education: Radcliffe College, B.A., 1956.


Home—New York, NY. E-mail—[email protected]


Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, poetry workshop teacher, 1968-70; Barnard College, New York, NY, professor of poetry writing workshops, 1968, 1970; Hunter College, staff member, 1970-75; Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, staff member in Department of Writing, 1974-2003; 92nd Street Y, New York, NY, professor of poetry writing workshops, 1975-83, 1987—; New York University graduate writing program, New York, NY, professor of poetry writing workshops, 1989-2004. Has served as poet-in-residence and professor at Bucknell University, American University, Columbia University, and the University of Pittsburgh; has read poetry at numerous institutions, including Yale University, Brown University, Sarah Lawrence College, and the YMHA.


Yale Series Younger Poets Award, 1965, for Dream Barker; Guggenheim fellowship, 1976; Shelley Memorial Award, Poetry Society of America, 2000; National Book Award for poetry, 2004, for Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003; received grants from New York State Council for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, and Bunting Institute.



Dream Barker, and Other Poems (Volume 61 of the "Yale Series of Younger Poets"), foreword by Dud- ley Fitts, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1965, 2nd edition, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1995.

Pilgrims, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969, 2nd edition, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1995.

Ordinary Things, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1974.

The Messenger, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1979.

Home, Deep, Blue: New and Selected Poems, Alice James (Cambridge, MA), 1989.

The River at Wolf, Alice James (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

The Under Voice: Selected Poems, Salmon Poetry (Galway, Ireland), 1995.

Growing Darkness, Growing Light, Carnegie Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1997.

The Cradle of the Real Life, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2000.

Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2004.

Little Boat, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2007.

Valentine's poetry also appears on the recording Jean Valentine and Cornelius Eady Reading Their Poems with Comment, Library of Congress (Washington, DC), 2001; served as editor for The Lighthouse Keeper: Essays on the Poetry of Eleanor Ross Taylor, Seneca Review, 2001.


Jean Valentine's poetry career began inauspiciously. For ten years she submitted her writing to publications, but each time met with rejection, perhaps due to what Times Literary Supplement reviewer Jay Parini described as "the stripped, unyielding quality" of her work, a quality Parini maintained "will admit few and discourage most of her readers." Finally, in 1965, Valentine's last-minute entry in Yale University's Younger Poets competition won her both the prize and publication of her first book, Dream Barker, and Other Poems. She has since established herself with the same obscure, suggestive style that characterized her first volume. "Valentine's audience has always been small but enthusiastic," wrote Parini, "which is the sort of response one expects for a poet whose work is dense, almost hermetic, yet striking and intense."

According to Praxis contributor Crystal Koch, who reported on a 1997 poetry reading attended by Valentine that was held at University of California-Davis, Valentine's audience found her work to be appealing and thought provoking; they appeared to feel connected to the "vivid images" that she presented in "a simple manner." Koch also commented that one of Valentine's strengths as a poet is "her ability to portray the down-to-earth quality of [her subjects]." The people and life on Saint Lucia Island and in rural Ireland are among the subjects she profiles in Growing Darkness, Growing Light, her 1997 collection. Koch related: "The poet expressed an empathy toward her subjects and a desire to convey their struggles, their attitudes and their feelings." The pieces in the volume "are marked by moments of brief intensity," stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who went on to declare Valentine "a commanding poet" and Growing Darkness, Growing Light "one of [her] best collections." Do not read Valentine's work as "straightforward logic," warned Barbara Hoffert in a Library Journal assessment of Growing Darkness, Growing Light, for her "poems are like little drops of pure, unfiltered feeling."

"Valentine's lifelong identification with poets like [Rainer Maria] Rilke and [Osip] Mandelstam is a key to understanding her own dreamlike but fierce stance," explained Carol Muske, reviewing Growing Darkness, Growing Light in the Nation. Valentine, who deserves to be given more considerable and considered attention according to Muske, is "a writer of deep-image, projective verse." Muske added: "What has distinguished her verse in the past is its refusal to be anything other than what the ‘conscience’ of her poetic vision has sanctioned. Thus, her poems are brief, unswervingly drawn to the oracular. Yet nothing is ‘enhanced’ or self-consciously mythic…. There are no unessential details, everything is given equal moral and aesthetic weight, as in a dream." Muske concluded that "the poems in Growing Darkness, Growing Light are indeed dreams, but precise dreams of waking: startling junctures of the abstract and the carnal."

Referring to Valentine's "dizzying, elliptical but seemingly effortless coincidence of emotion and idea within the confines of the pared-down lyric," Muske acknowledged that "Valentine's style definitely leans to the cryptic." However, the critic concluded that her "mastery of the form, the deep image, [is what] keeps these unlikely barks afloat." Despite such an assessment, in a review of Valentine's 2000 poetry collection, The Cradle of the Real Life, a Publishers Weekly critic remarked that Valentine's "command of form can't always equal her feeling." As such, concluded the reviewer, The Cradle of the Real Life is both "harrow- ing and frustrating." In her quest to compress, commented the critic, she creates "ostensibly completed poems and series [that] read like notes for poems not yet written." Ellen Kaufman more optimistically promoted Valentine's 2000 volume in Library Journal, praising The Cradle of the Real Life as a "mature collection from an important writer" who gives "spare form imbued with spirituality." Although "filled with sadness," remarked Kaufman, The Cradle of the Real Life "is a book of much joy."

Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003, published in 2004, gives readers an overview of Valentine's work from nearly four decades, clearly illustrating a number of themes that occur repeatedly through her poems, including love, marriage, politics, mysticism, feminism, children, and poverty, among others. The works included in this volume appeared in her nine previous collections, and so provide a true overview of her career to date and of the development of her voice. Ellen Davis, in a piece for the Harvard Review, observed that "Valentine makes a virtue out of spareness, producing increasingly elliptical lyrics to entice readers," and found the book "a tribute indeed to one of our most interesting and accomplished poets." Library Journal contributor Barbara Hoffert agreed, stating that the book "proffers one poet's great career."

With Little Boat, Valentine returns to new material, producing a volume of quiet, lyrical poems that focus on change and transformation, no matter how long and painful the process. One example, "The Eleventh Brother," which is based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, tells of a princess who must weave nettles into eleven coats in order to break the spell on her brothers, who have been turned into swans. Matthea Harvey, reviewing the collection for Publishers Weekly, remarked of Valentine: "Her minimalist, elided style is like the quiet concentration of a bank robber trying to crack a safe." Library Journal contributor Diane Scharper referred to the works in this volume as "tight, self-enclosed, camouflaged excursions into a dreamlike state of mind."



American Poetry Review, July-August, 1991, Michael Klein, interview with Valentine, pp. 39-41.

Harper's, January, 1980, Hayden Carruth, review of The Messenger, p. 76.

Harvard Review, December, 2005, Ellen Davis, review of Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965-2003, p. 253.

Library Journal, February 1, 1989, review of Home, Deep, Blue: New and Selected Poems, p. 66; May 1, 1997, Barbara Hoffert, review of Growing Darkness, Growing Light, p. 109; March 1, 2000, Ellen Kaufman, review of The Cradle of the Real Life, p. 96; November 15, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Door in the Mountain, p. 64; August 1, 2007, Diane Scharper, review of Little Boat, p. 92.

Nation, July 21, 1997, Carol Muske, review of Growing Darkness, Growing Light, p. 36.

Ploughshares, fall, 1993, David Rivard, review of The River at Wolf, p. 246.

Poetry, August, 1980, William H. Pritchard, review of The Messenger, p. 296; December, 1992, Steven Cramer, review of The River at Wolf, p. 159.

Poets and Writers Magazine, November 1, 2004, "The World as Her Own: A Profile of Jean Valentine," p. 48.

Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1997, review of Growing Darkness, Growing Light, p. 70; February 7, 2000, review of The Cradle of the Real Life, p. 70; August 20, 2007, Matthea Harvey, review of Little Boat, p. 48.

Times Literary Supplement, March 20, 1981, review by Jay Parini.


Jean Valentine Home Page, (January 21, 2008).

Praxis, (October 16, 1997), Crystal Koch, "Jean Valentine Poetically Enchants Audience."

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Valentine, Jean 1934-

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