Jean Valentine Named New York State Poet

Acclaimed poet Jean Valentine, who spent the majority of her teaching life at Sarah Lawrence College, has been named New York State Poet for 2008–2010. She was also awarded the New York State Walt Whitman Citation of Merit for Poets, as announced by the New York State Writers Institute.

Valentine is the author of eleven books of poetry including Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan), which won the 2004 National Book Award for poetry. Her most recent book, Little Boat (Wesleyan), was published in 2007.

Valentine began teaching at Sarah Lawrence in 1974 and worked closely with the late Jane Cooper, a former State Poet, and Grace Paley, all of whom contributed to the College’s national reputation for exceptional writing faculty.

Long time colleague Kate Knapp Johnson, who heads the College’s M.F.A. program in poetry said: “She is a compassionate and richly experienced teacher and advisor, a poet, whose lines return to me again and again at uncanny and extraordinary moments, literally informing me of the meanings of my own experience.”

Jean Valentine is known for poems of striking intensity that derive much of their structure and imagery from dreams. She has long enjoyed a small but passionate following of readers and fellow poets. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, David Kalstone said, “Miss Valentine has a gift for tough strangeness, but also a dreamlike syntax and manner of arranging the lines of . . . short poems so as to draw us into the doubleness and fluency of feelings.”

For her first book, Dream Barker, and Other Poems (1965), she received the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. Valentine has also been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Maurice English Prize, a Sara Teasdale Award, and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Bunting Institute, The Rockefeller Foundation, and The New York Council for the Arts. More recently, she received the 2006 Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Valentine’s other poetry collections include The Cradle of the Real Life (2000), Growing Darkness, Growing Light (1997), The Under Voice (1995), The River at Wolf (1992), Home, Deep, Blue (1989), The Messenger (1979), Ordinary Things (1974), and Pilgrims (1969).

The advisory panel that recommended Valentine included Maxine Kumin and Franz Wright, former State Poets Billy Collins, who also taught at Sarah Lawrence, and John Ashbery, as well as poet and Institute Director, Donald Faulkner. In describing her work, Faulkner said, “Jean Valentine is one of our most valiant poets. She is an intrepid explorer of the ‘thin places,’ the spaces where dream and waking, life and beyond-life, all overlap, blend, and sometimes merge. Her ability to give voice to this richness, combined with her insight and cunning craft, produces a poetry we need.” John Ashbery said, “As New York’s State Poet, the hugely gifted Jean Valentine may finally reach the wider audience she richly deserves.”