Jean Valentine’s poetic recognition came much later than for most poets, yet the postponement of her success serves to underline her determination and steadfastness in writing in a genre that receives limited recognition from the general public and publishers.
Nearly ten years after her first poem appeared in The Harvard Advocate, she published her first collection, Dream Barker, and Other Poems. She had almost given up on poetry and was working on a novel when her collection was chosen from more than three hundred entries to be published in the Yale Series of Younger Poets.
Valentine’s style is unique. Minimalism and brevity are the words used to describe much of her work. At times the sparse, taunting words almost attain the level of exclusion. However, readers can make a connection if they let go of the need for control and enter a dreamlike consciousness without boundaries. Valentine has frequently said her poetry is strongly driven and shaped by dreams. It is in that state of existence between waking and sleeping that connections to distant memories fill the mind. Her language works to catch the buried filaments of the readers’ experiences, to awaken their personal memories, and to allow them to shade in the white spaces she leaves behind. The links between the words on the page and readers’ memories are like gossamer tendrils reaching out and fastening on to feelings kept hidden, except during sleep.
Door in the Mountain
Door in the Mountain received the 2004 National Book Award in Poetry; this award created a larger audience for Valentine’s restrained and provocative style. In the title poem, Valentine thrusts the reader into the elusive world of dreams: “Never ran this hard through the valley/ never ate so many stars.” She is running while carrying a dead deer slung over her neck and shoulders, its legs in front of her. She ends the poem with “People are not wanting/ to let me in// Door in the mountain/ let me in.” The reader is left to interpret what the mountain is—sanctuary or rejection, success or failure. Just what the door is and whether it shuts people out or welcomes them in is not certain. Therefore, readers will view the door, the deer, and the mountain through their individual filters of experiences, making the poem’s impact personal and magical.
Mists of dreamy detachment, swirling with reason and imagination, are characteristic of Valentine’s lyrics. An abstract, ethereal voice urges readers to follow as the poet seeks to reveal the tangible world through language. Valentine’s evocative words pull readers...
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