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Jean Valentine

This-World Company

Kazim Ali

Publication Year: 2012

Over the course of more than four decades, contemporary American poet Jean Valentine has written eleven books of stunning, spirit-inflected poetry. This collection of essays, assembled over several years by Kazim Ali and John Hoppenthaler, brings together twenty-six pieces on all stages of Valentine's career by a range of poets, scholars, and admirers. Valentine's poetry has long been valued for its dreamlike qualities, its touches of the personal and the political, and its mesmerizing phrasing. Valentine is a National Book Award winner and was named the State Poet of New York in 2008. She has taught a number of popular workshops and has been awarded a Bunting Institute Fellowship, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and the Shelley Memorial Prize.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

I wish to acknowledge the work of my coeditor, John Hoppenthaler, without whose initial work on this project, this book would not have been possible. I want to further acknowledge Suzanna Tamminen, who gave generous feedback and advice at an earlier stage. Eric Gudas, Michael Klein, Kate Greenstreet...

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pp. 1-10

Perhaps the reason there has been little critical discussion on the work of Jean Valentine should be obvious: what do you say about work that traffics so sublimely in the half-said, the unsaid, more than that (or less than that?) the half-thought-of, the still unarticulated, ever evanescent? ...

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Little Light on the Road: An Informal Primer on Reading Jean Valentine, in Six Brief Sections

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pp. 11-17

“The pen that writes by itself”—how badly my young son wanted one. He used to hide under the booth at the local diner, where he’d copy the words from Jean’s poems into his ‹rst notebook. This is how he learned to write; in many ways, we both learned to write from this book. ...

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Dream Barker: Preoedipal Fusion and Radiant Boundaries in Jean Valentine

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pp. 18-38

Most often, Jean Valentine’s poems are not structured as quarrels nor do they have the ligature of narrative. Rather, they move through shifting images, often within the medium of dreams or in the first moments of her speaker’s awakening. ...

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pp. 39-42

Jean Valentine’s earliest books revealed a thinking voice that was new, disjunct, and functionally counter to the passive reader. From the beginning, the poems had the intimate sound of a woman’s privacy. Though it is not fair to say that her first books were unknown...

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Orpheus and Eurydice and Gestures of Turning: Palimpsest in the Poetry of Jean Valentine

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pp. 43-59

Jean Valentine writes in her poem “To the Memory of David Kalstone,” “here’s the letter I wrote, / and the ghost letter, underneath—that’s my work in life.” These “ghost letter[s]” underneath Valentine’s poems often shadow forth the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. ...

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On Jean Valentine’s The Messenger

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pp. 60-69

Some years ago, when she visited a poetry workshop I was teaching, Jean Valentine gave this preliminary praise to a student poem: “Even on first hearing, I like its strangeness; it’s wonderfully strange.” And she all-but-embraced the author with an across-the-table smile. ...

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“Through Such Hard Wind and Light”: Jean Valentine’s Elegy for Elizabeth Bishop

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pp. 70-74

In the year following Elizabeth Bishop’s death, Jean Valentine praised her as a poet who is “both simple and endlessly resonant with meaning” (“Hallowing” 31). Her elegy for Bishop, “Snow Landscape, in a Glass Globe,” included in the section of new poems in Home. Deep. Blue: New and Selected Poems (1988)...

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Jean Valentine’s Spontaneous Mythologies

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pp. 75-80

When I first tried to set down what is so distinctive about Jean Valentine’s poems, I sat looking out a window in midcoast Maine, and by chance a fox on the hunt appeared in the sodden, late-winter meadow. Here, I thought, is the image I’ve been looking for. ...

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Lost and Found: Jean Valentine’s Poems of Childhood and Motherhood

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pp. 81-91

Jean Valentine is one of American poetry’s great domestic fabulists, writing powerful, enigmatic poems about the darkly enchanted relationship between mother and child. While modernist path‹nder Sylvia Plath sends up postwar motherhood with the outrageous and outraged humor of “Lesbos”...

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Lit from Inside: Jean Valentine’s River at Wolf

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pp. 92-103

The poetry of Jean Valentine is unusually uni‹ed, cannily of a piece. Books repeat lines, even poems, from earlier collections; titles reappear in later volumes as (2) or even (3). More centrally, striking images and themes recur, sometimes after an absence of many years. ...

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Ghost Sonnets

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pp. 104-110

Jean Valentine’s poems feel less like a replica of a thought process than like thinking itself, somehow become available on the page. She’s shaped a record of an internal activity, an artifact of meditation so deftly that the poem feels effortless. Here’s a good example of what I mean. ...

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pp. 111-115

A poem in Growing Darkness, Growing Light by Jean Valentine is like a problem set out in the light. She wants to find where the failures in her own thinking are. When she knows this, then the poem is done. In some ways as cryptic as Plath, she is simultaneously pierced with Blake’s bitter pity. ...

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Remnants and Recognition

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pp. 116-120

When my son wants to be Batman he never needs the whole costume, which is convenient since it exists, if at all, in several undiscovered hiding places throughout the house. In fact, he usually just wears the cape, a black nylon cape that fastens at the neck with Velcro strips. ...

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Be Still and Know: Silence in the Poetry of Jean Valentine

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pp. 121-125

I sit cross-legged on the pink-dust-ruf›ed twin bed, in the room I share with my sister. Two hours after school, I am still dressed in the plaid skirt and maroon blazer of Catholic Central High School, a uniform that my friends and I detest, and routinely personalize with rhinestone pins and basketball tube socks. ...

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“This Close to God this Close to You”: Incarnation in Jean Valentine

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pp. 126-133

Jean Valentine’s work evokes the clarity of known life and the intangible other that is also life, that certain portion of living that is made up of interior wanderings that, because of their inexpressibility in words, seem to us more applicable to dream. Critics often note that Valentine’s poems can seem cast from...

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Globe on Fire: Jean Valentine as a Political Poet

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pp. 134-143

The core vocabulary of Jean Valentine’s poetry1 has always been oneiric and elegiac, and her central imaginative landscapes, dreams and loss. Because of this, her poetry has not often been characterized as “political,” pertaining to the large public world. For several reasons, I think this is a mistake. ...

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Everyone Was Drunk: Reading Jean Valentine through a Shot Glass Lens

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pp. 144-151

Alcohol, and Jean Valentine’s poetry—how does one begin to link two such primal forces? Jean has spoken honestly in public forums about her troubles with alcohol, and her journey of recovery, so the problem is not fear of “outing” Jean. But any attempt to say what is “alcoholic” in Jean’s work...

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The Gift of the Double Swerve (Jean Valentine’s Endings)

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pp. 152-158

Some poets remake the invisible. Along the way, they retool abstractions into linguistic substances. Jean Valentine is such a writer, circulating among ideas of the invisible in which nothing is tired, tried or previous. Yet Valentine rides in a possibility of nothing being there. Hers is an existentialist vision in motion, as if existence and essence were in a cab heading uptown...

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For Jean Valentine, Out of Thirty-five Years

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pp. 159-163

Much has been written, by now, about Robert Lowell’s “office hours” at Harvard in the 1960s. Really more an informal workshop, they were held on Wednesday mornings in a windowless seminar room in Quincy House. They were half a secret, since there was no published source for the place and time. ...

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“The History of the World Without Words”: Mysticism and Social Conscience in the Poetry of Jean Valentine

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pp. 164-188

Poetry, for Valentine, is listening put to active use, a lifelong vocation that includes “everything that happens,” from the mundane to the numinous, from Ordinary Things to The Cradle of the Real Life. As the title of her 2000 volume suggests, Valentine’s poems see divinity as inseparable from the quotidian...

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“Awake too you are everyone”: Gestures of Empathy in Jean Valentine’s New Poems

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pp. 189-193

The new poems in Jean Valentine’s Door in the Mountain explore the affective space of empathy. Gathered at the beginning of the volume, these are poems of thresholds and crossings, of losses balanced by marvels. Valentine’s new works continue many of her earlier concerns, from the numinous mysteries of desire and death...

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Where Do You Look for Me: The Afterlife in the Poems of Jean Valentine

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pp. 194-198

Early morning light blinked through the heavy iron window panes of Slonim House, the stately, Tudor-style mansion used by the graduate program at Sarah Lawrence College. We sat around a large oblong table talking with our teacher, Jean Valentine, about the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. ...

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Artifact as Metaphor: Reading Nearness in Jean Valentine’s Little Boat

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pp. 199-213

When Heidegger discusses modernity, he wonders that the concepts of distance, of the near and far, are dissolved by technology. Film, television, flight, the Internet and now cell phone technology all contribute to our inability to perceive distance. Something that is before us, this cup, this pen, this video clip of a mountain...

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Secret Book Written in the Dirt: Jean Valentine’s Lucy: A Poem

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pp. 214-222

Lucy, three million years in the earth. Lucy, sentry to our history. Lucy, a vessel for our woe, gone to earth. Lucy, the fossilized skeleton of a hominid, a kind of ape-human half our size, nearly chthonic, her face reduced to fragile bone unbelievable in its endurance. For longer than humans have walked the earth, her orbital bones have been silently watching. ...

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On Saying No: Valentine and Dickinson Break the Glass

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pp. 223-232

So ends the poem “As with rosy steps the morn” (10) from Valentine’s newest collection, Break the Glass.1 The poem is an elegy of sorts, in memory of soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; its opening lines evoke a world beyond, on the other side, of this one...

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The Umwelt of the Question: Notes on Territory and Desire

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pp. 233-237

What is a question? Literally, it’s a way of gathering information but not of processing it. As a mode of enquiry that’s also, linguistically, founded on doubt, on not having the words for what passed between you and another person at the end of a relationship, the question seals space. ...


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pp. 239-243

Further Reading

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pp. 244

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028610
E-ISBN-10: 0472028618
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051830
Print-ISBN-10: 0472071831

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Valentine, Jean -- Criticism and interpretation.
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